Great indoors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2007, 12:00am


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Is it a car, is it a van, or is it a house on wheels? Perhaps because it's a combination of all three, the Serena is Nissan's best-selling MPV in Hong Kong and a popular choice with families and businesses.

Marketed by Nissan as big, good value and fun, the Serena is essentially a van with seats. But like most MPVs, it has been refined over the years, with improved handling, more versatility and better appointments (this model even features leather captain seats for the front passengers).

It's a sizeable vehicle. Nissan says the Serena's wide, boxy exterior gives it the largest cabin in its class, at 3.9 square metres. And with class-leading roof height it's as big as your spare room - and probably has similar contents.

Unlike your average van, acres of glass, enlarged front passenger windows and a double sun-roof help make the cabin feel airy and bright, as does the flat floor throughout. The Serena is a fully fledged eight-seater with three rows of seats and five doors - with the large power-sliding side doors (as in the Peugeot's 1007) proving especially useful for accessing the rear seats.

There's lots of space and Nissan has conjured up no fewer than 10 alternative seating arrangements. With the Serena's 'FF' front-wheel drive, flat floor set-up, you can pretty much slide and fold the seats around to create almost any layout you want, making a trip to Sai Kung with your family more pleasurable. Discounting for a moment the contrived 'pet's paradise mode', the other seating plans are useful for most eventualities. The walk-through mode lets you split the second row of seats apart for easy front-to-back access and the child-friendly mode allows you to slide the second and third rows of seats apart (backwards and forwards, respectively) to make space for a baby stroller - with safety belt couplings provided.

There are other layouts, from meeting-style (in which the seats rotate to face a central focal point) to lounge (allowing you to recline) and luggage (with the seats folded flat individually or in rows to make space). In home-moving mode, you can stow a fridge or a sofa.

For an MPV, the Serena is easy to drive around town, thanks to the light power-assisted steering, the independent MacPherson struts up front, and the responsive disc brakes. The Nissan doesn't roll in corners, as some vans do.

The two-litre, continuously variable transmission 16-valve engine delivers up to 90 per cent of its torque at just 2,000rpm, which is probably why it feels so punchy through traffic. The CVT helps deliver the power from the lightweight aluminium engine effectively, while regulating and minimising emissions.

The Serena is civilised to drive, despite its size. The caveat is that this van was test-driven without luggage or car-sickly children, so if you're interested in this vehicle, bring the whole family along - including the maid, and especially granny - to sample seating, light, ventilation, sound system and exits on a test drive.

The Serena has relatively low emissions. In Japan, it's certified as a super ultra-low emission vehicle (Su-lev) since it fugs 75 per cent fewer exhaust emissions than the nation's regulations allow. In Hong Kong, the Serena qualifies for a first registration tax break of 30 per cent under the Environmental Protection Department's incentive scheme for 'environmentally friendly petrol private cars'. That means you save HK$20,000 on its pre-April 1 price.

The Serena has a five-year warranty and seems a good deal, with lots of extras as standard, such as keyless entry, a rear-view parking camera, automatic headlights, fog lamps, a nine-inch LCD screen, DVD player and Clarion audio system. You also get wood-grain panel features, full-cabin air con, leather seats and steering wheel, a foldable front centre table, armrests and power sun-roof.

The Serena lives up to Nissan's claims of good value - and it's certainly comfortable and large. But if you have a small family, a wagon might be easier to park and run - unless, of course, you really do need a spare room.