First generation of the Serena which appeared in the early 1990s.

The Nissan Serena originally began life in the early 1990s as a smaller MPV than it is today. Although the company already had the Vanette as a dual-purpose vehicle for carrying people or cargo, that model was somewhat basic and the development of the Serena provided a more comfortable people-carrier. Over the years, the Serena has grown in size and has become increasingly popular in Japan as an alternative to the larger Elgrand. In fact, it is currently the best-selling midsize MPV in Japan this year.

It’s been available in Malaysia, assembled locally, and in its fourth generation with the S-hybrid powertrain, its popularity has increased since being launched in July 2013 as the first MPV with a hybrid powertrain (although the locally-assembled version was launched only in the following year). The popularity of this Nissan MPV has been its position as a large MPV without the pricing of the larger models. And as with many models which Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) offers, it has come with a good list of standard equipment and features which people have recognised as being good value for money.

The Serena has in fact become one of the top selling models for ETCM is recent years, partly because it is really in a class of its own and partly because the Grand Livina has been around some time already. Fortunately, Nissan has not stretched the model cycle for the Serena and in 2016 launched a fifth generation within the usual 5-year product cycle. This was timely for ETCM to prepare to localise the new model so it would also be within a 5-year period from the launch of the current model. In fact, it is actually more like 4 years if you take it from the time of the locally-assembled model’s launch.

In developing the new generation, Nissan may have decided that there were still many good attributes about the previous generation and has maintained the platform as well as powertrain, which helps moderate the cost. Instead, the savings have gone into expanding technological features, specifically the introduction of the semi-autonomous ProPilot technology for the models sold in Japan.

For the Malaysian-assembled version which will go on sale in the near future, ETCM has likewise enhanced the technological features of the new Serena. The product development team adopted three Nissan Intelligent Mobility themes for this new model and they were Nissan Intelligent Power, Nissan Intelligent Driving and Nissan Intelligent Integration. While they could not offer ProPilot technology because our motoring environment is not so suitable yet, there are other Nissan technologies which are available and are first-in-class.

The first is the Intelligent Around View Monitor which makes use of cameras at the front, rear and under each door mirror to create a simulated overhead view of the vehicle and actual images of each side of the Serena. For a vehicle the size of the Serena, this is definitely a welcome feature and certainly much better than just a rearview monitor.

The second, which is actually complementary to the first, is Nissan Intelligent Object Detection (above) which covers the areas on all sides, alerting the driver to moving objects (which would usually be human, of course). The system processes video imagery from the cameras and is able to detect certain moving objects in real time. It can determine the three situations – moving forward, in park or backing up – from the shift position of the transmission.

Another first-in-class is the ‘handsfree’ opening and closing of the two sliding side doors. So far, we’ve seen such a feature – where the foot is positioned under the bumper – for opening the rear door but this is the first time it is being used for side doors. It will prove really useful when both your hands are carrying things and once you enjoy having it, you may never want to get another MPV without the feature!

While designing the body, Nissan’s engineers also decided to be innovative with the rear door. Perhaps they heard from owners how inconvenient it is to have to swing the large door upwards, especially if the vehicle is parked right up against a wall. So what they have done for the new model is to split it in two parts but which can also be raised as a single door. The upper half is the glass part which can open outwards so small bags or groceries can be dropped in. Being half the height means that the opening arc does not swing so far back. It’s a clever idea and it’s also simple!

Moving inside, there’s been a revision of the dashboard and the overall cabin length is 180 mm longer and 65 mm wider even though the exterior dimensions are not much changed. But what’s new is the seating which is more premium in outlook. The front seats have the Nissan-developed ‘Zero Gravity’ design to reduce fatigue and enhance comfort while the second row are now ‘Captain’ seats. There are only two such seats while the third row can accommodate three persons, so the new Serena is now a 7-seater.

There are two variants – Highway Star and Highway Premium Star, with the latter being the better equipped one. The Highway Star variant is already pretty well equipped with 7 USB charging ports (now everyone can charge their device!), a large 7-inch display panel for the driver and a Clarion infotainment system with a 6.75-inch display. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available so whether you have an iPhone or an Android-based smartphone, you will be able to transfer many apps onto the system and use them.

If you opt for the Highway Premium Star, you get a more luxurious ambience with combination leather upholstery. There’s also a 10.1-inch ceiling mounted monitor for the rear occupants to enjoy movies. Kids will love the airline-styled trays behind the seats which include two cupholders (although they take up space on the tray if both are used). There’s also something called a Tech-On Tray Mat which is essentially a non-slip mat for tablets or other gadgets. And while the Around View Monitor does not record imagery, there is a compact video recorder to record video of the view ahead in case you need it one day to prove that you were not the guilty party in an accident.

We didn’t talk about the S-hybrid powertrain earlier since it is basically the same as before with a 2-litre MR20DD petrol engine that has continuously variable valve timing on the inlet and exhaust sides. Improvements to the engine have resulted in a 13% gain in fuel economy with the claim of 14.2 kms/litre. As before, an XTronic CVT is fitted.

There’s a secondary battery in the engine bay to power the ECO Motor.

What helps lower fuel consumption is the use of an ECO motor – a small 1.9-kW/48 Nm electric motor – which operates in the early stages of moving off. By giving assistance at this stage when the load is high, the demand on engine power can be reduced so less fuel will be burnt. The extra torque also enhances acceleration. Also helping in performance and fuel-saving is a new Dual Arm Tensioner which has lower tension on the arm belt.

Safety systems in the Serena are of a high standard with 6 airbags for the front and sides. To help the driver avoid accidents are Active Safety systems such as ABS, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Traction Control, Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brake Force Distribution. Hill Start Assist is also provided, making starting off on slopes easier while two ISOFIX points are present for compatible childseats.

The looks of the new Serena are certainly very refreshing compared to the outgoing model, especially the Highway Premium Star’s two-tone colour schemes (which make the roof look like it’s floating). The boxiness is made less ‘boring’ with dynamic character lines and the new V-Motion front end with slim two-level headlight units.

We had a chance to drive the new Serena very briefly today and while the 6-minute drive did not provide opportunities for much assessment, the performance was found to be good for a vehicle of this size. The steering is more responsive and stability is also quite good, as we noticed from weaving the vehicle at high speeds. However, engine noise is noticeable under hard acceleration although the engineers have tried to improve cabin quietness by adding sound-absorbing insulation in the wheelhousings.

To be launched in early May, the new Serena will be priced at not more than RM140,000 (without insurance) for the Highway Star variant and not more than RM155,000 for the Premium Highway Star variant. Test-drives are now available at Nissan showrooms and bookings are also accepted. To locate a showroom near you, visit www.nissan.com.my.

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[Chips Yap]

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