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Nissan 360: Around the World in Two Days!

Roadfly.com was recently invited to Lisbon, Portugal for “Nissan 360.” This was the second “360” for Nissan, the first having been held in San Francisco, California four years ago. For those who don’t know, Nissan, when paired with parent company Renault, is the third largest automaker in the world. Therefore, Nissan 360 was a unique opportunity for journalists to understand the passion of the 224,000 people who work for the brand.

So why Nissan 360? According to Nissan, to help us understand global change in the auto industry. Future growth in the industry may come from markets and segments that did not exist years ago, with China and India heading that list. Nissan operates manufacturing and assembly plants and design facilities in 25 countries including Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, Russia, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Thailand, France, China, the United States, England, Switzerland, Mexico, Egypt, Iran, Brazil and more. Nissan vehicles are sold in more than 190 countries.

At the core of this global philosophy are worldwide design values. No matter the market, Nissan strives for: “Provocative Modernity,” or modernity with a strong and fresh presence that may create controversy; “Energetic Agility,” a sentiment of agility, energy and passion; and “Playful Function,” that says design is not merely functional, but is a joy to use. This global philosophy, along with innovative platform sharing, means Nissan can produce a lineup ranging from world class sportcars to microcars to full-sized SUVs.

Of the 100 test vehicles present, many were nameplates we’d not driven or even heard of before. Serena, Elgrand, Note, Livina, Micra, Cube Cubic, Moco, Qashqai, Sylphy, and Teana were some of the models offered in non-U.S. markets. We also got to drive some pretty interesting Light Commercial Vehicles (LCVs) named Clipper Rio, Cedric Taxi, Kubistar, Atleon and Primastar, among others. And Infiniti was present with their U.S. spec luxury cars, which are not yet available in parts of Europe (Infiniti will soon be a global nameplate for Nissan). I took the sexy G37 Coupe out for an extended drive, and thought I was behind the wheel of a Bentley. Folks stopped their cars and stopped whatever they were doing to check out the red beauty. I did not realize at the time that Infiniti has not yet entered the Portuguese market. But the Infiniti “experience” was repeated over and over again, as locals wondered what spaceship had brought the throngs of strange vehicles plying the roadways around Cascais, Portugal.

Our evaluation was a two-day affair, with day one consisting of LCV drives, Infiniti drives, an off-road course to measure SUV prowess, and racetrack time on the “Circuito Estoril” to assess the supercar performance of the Nissan GT-R.

I started with the LCVs, which we drove on a specially designed course that demonstrated the cargo carrying capacity, ease of driving, powerplant flexibility, and handling agility of these odd-looking vehicles. My favorite was the Cedric Taxi, which is an ancient design that just won’t go away in its home market, Japan. And for good reason, as the Cedric is as lovable as the once ubiquitous Checker cabs were in New York City. Cedric drivers wear white gloves, and open the side passenger door via a mechanical lever with a red knob! Way cool to drive and operate. Talk about turning heads! When the trip was done, I pressed a button for my “passenger” (Nissan executive Darryll Harrison) and gave him a receipt printed in Japanese!

Next up was the off-road course. Here, Nissans turned into Land Rovers as they plowed through a very difficult, custom built course with amazing aplomb. I never knew Nissans could handle their business like that! Side tilts on slippery logs, side changes to test vehicle chassis rigidity, uneven terrain to check power transfer, steep inclines to measure torque and serious declines to test engine braking were easily handled by the Nissan Patrol and U.S. spec Xterra. Having been off road in Land Rovers, HUMMERS and Jeeps, these Nissans will not take a back seat to any marque when going off road. Be sure to check out our Patrol video on the homepage.

After lunch, it was track time. Have a need for speed? Nissan has the answer in the form of the GT-R. If you don’t know, it’s an all-wheel drive, 480-horse Porsche and Ferrari killer. This car is purpose built to destroy performance cars with double and triple the GT-R’s base price. We were given professional instruction before we unleashed the fury that is GT-R. Power rushes in endless waves, with lap times seeming to come in seconds instead of minutes. Massive Brembo brakes slowed us down when corners rapidly approached. Switch off electronic safety aids, and the GT-R becomes a pure race car. It is not a car for the timid or faint of heart.

The GT-R rides on Nissan’s “Premium Midship” platform, which places the all-wheel drive system, transmission, transfer case and final drive at the rear, optimizing weight distribution and handling (see GT-R videos on the homepage).

Day two featured drives of U.S. and non-U.S. spec cars. Of the many cars I drove on day two, my favorites were the clean diesel offerings. Consider the Qashqai, essentially a slightly smaller Rogue for world markets (known as the “Dualis” in Japan). You have the choice of a 2.0-liter gas or diesel engine. Why anyone would buy the “petrol” engine is a mystery as the clean diesel generates 150-horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Hit the throttle, and you’d swear the engine was a turbodiesel as acceleration was swift, torquey and powerful. And it’s quiet. Diesel in cheaper than gasoline in Europe and diesel cars and trucks are everywhere. The U.S. needs to get on the clean diesel bandwagon as these vehicles offer enhanced fuel economy, greater engine longevity and less complex mechanicals. By the way, premium was almost $10 a gallon in Portugal!

The Micra (March in Japan) was another journalist favorite. This diminutive car is available in sedan or convertible form, again with your choice of two-cylinder (not a typo!) turbo-diesel or four-cylinder gas engines. Again, I wondered why anyone would buy the gas version as the turbodiesel was so much fun to drive. Oh, and luxury comes in this tiny package as Bluetooth, MP3 input, on-board phonebook CD changer, automatic on-off headlights and wipers, and rear parking sensor are all standard equipment.

For Futbol moms and dads worldwide, we liked the Serena and Elgrand people movers. Though similar in design, the Elgrand trumped the Serena when it comes to true luxury. With a front command driving position (including a nav/audio/TV monitor that you can adjust towards you), rear seats that look like they came from Business Class (including a sliding child safety seat), and tons of built in amenities, the Elgrand was the minivan that made the boldest statement. Speaking of bold, Elgrand features a massive grille with blue-tinted headlights. It turned as many heads as the Infiniti G37 on a run through downtown Cascais.

As a final treat, we got the chance to preview the all new Nissan Maxima for the U.S. market. Stay tuned to Roadfly for this one folks, as it’s sure to bridge the once narrow gap between Maxima and little brother Altima.

Nissan is the only large-scale manufacturer that gives the motor press the opportunity to sample wares from every region of the world. We applaud them for this effort, as it truly shows the commitment they have worldwide to custom tailor cars for the needs and desires of each market, while at the same time incorporating a global platform-sharing strategy that enhances the efficiency of the manufacturing process, allowing Nissan to constantly improve their products without exorbitant development costs being passed on to consumers.

About Brian Armstead

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