Company executives are confident the new range of diesels will help boost the manufacturer's fleet and LCV business throughout the year. In 2002, diesels accounted for 23.5% of the market and this is expected to rise to 27.5% this year. At the beginning of 2003, 10% of Nissans registered in the UK were diesel and the company expects this figure to rise to 16% by the end of the year.
Fleet business accounts for about 40% of Nissan's current total sales, which is line with the general market.
Its new range of diesel models were offered for test at an event staged at Seaham Hall in Sunderland, a stone's throw from Nissan's car factory. The first car I tried during an afternoon driving session was the Almera Tino 2.2 dCi that offers 136bhp, the most powerful diesel engine currently offered in a compact MPV.
The route I chose took in a few miles of winding country roads along the coast and a section of dual carriageway. This offered a good opportunity to test the car in different situations.
With a 0-62mph time of 10.5 seconds it was fairly quick off the mark and its cruising speed was ample. I drove a 2.2D SE version a couple of years ago and thought the engine was noisy. This new model is much quieter, although there is no mistaking it is a diesel.
The dashboard is neat and curvaceous and the exterior stylish, although not terribly exciting. This is the top-of-the-range model that comes with features including DVD satellite navigation, 16-inch alloy wheels, leather rimmed steering wheel and family-friendly leather/alcantara seat trim, which you can easily wipe clean should, or when, the nippers spill their drinks.
Model: Almera Tino
Engine (cc): 2184
Power (bhp/rpm): 136/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 224/2,000
Max speed (mph): 116
0-62 mph (sec): 10.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 42.8
C02 emissions (g/km): 181
BIK tax 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £868.80
CAP Monitor residual value (3yrs/60,000): £5,300/31%
Fuel capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Price (OTR): £17,350
But I found it was the Almera SXE that unleashed the new diesel engine's full potential. This is a quick car that ably demonstrates the extra pulling power produced by the 136bhp engine.
Priced at £14,500 on-the-road for the three-door model, or £15,250 for the five-door, you get DVD satellite navigation as standard. Its 0-62 time is 9.2 seconds, making it the fastest car in the current Nissan range until the 350Z is launched. Nissan claims it is the quickest diesel in its class, not counting the Golf GT TDI 150, which is £3,085 more expensive.
It really is an impressive drive offering excellent ride quality and comfort. And that power will certainly pull you out of any trouble you may find yourself in – it was even keen to offer more power while driving up a hill in fourth gear.
Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox found in the Primera, it returns 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and produces CO2 emissions of 161g/km. For company car drivers this means that for the 2003/4 tax year its benefit-in-kind band will be 19%, including the 3% diesel penalty.
Model: Nissan Almera
Engine (cc): 2,184
Power (bhp/rpm): 136/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 224/2,000
Max speed (mph): 124
0-62 mph (sec): 9.2
Fuel consumption (mpg): 47.9
C02 emissions (g/km): 161
BIK tax 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £630.76
CAP Monitor residual value (3yrs/60,000): £4,250/28%
Price (OTR): £15,250
Next on my Nissan list of vehicles was the Navara Pickup, or more precisely, the newest kid in the model range, the Outlaw. Powered by a 133bhp 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine, it has several unique styling features to differentiate it from the rest of the range.
These include load-bearing roof tubes, satin-effect centre console, a body-coloured styling bar over the load bay, body-coloured door handles and chrome tubular side steps.
The extra bits add £750 to the price of the standard Navara, taking its basic ex-VAT price to £16,850. On-the-road price is £19,984. Classed as a commercial vehicle, its benefit-in-kind value – for now at least – is £500.
This really is 'king of the road' Yorkie bar material and is great fun to drive. It's got a turning circle the size of the Home Counties and I found it to be an incredibly jolty ride to start with.
But I soon got used to it or I got used to driving it properly, I'm not sure which! The engine was noisy but I think that's part of the Outlaw's appeal – it sounds like it's working hard for you and the clatter only adds to the effect. You can't expect anything less in that sort of car anyway. Quiet and refined it isn't. Noisy, big and fun it is.
The fascia is plain but effective, it's got pretty much everything you need and its seats are very comfortable and provide a high position overlooking the road ahead.
Nissan is not just aiming the Outlaw at company car drivers. It expects to draw style conscious owners with VAT-registered businesses who want the back-up of a four-wheel drive vehicle and who will be able to claim back the VAT.
These people can take £2,948.75 from the on-the-road price of £19,984.75. This commercial vehicle will certainly make you stand out from the crowd.
And it wasn't the only commercial vehicle I drove. I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity of driving the Nissan Primastar, which looks fabulous for a van. Renault and Vauxhall take full credit for its design, of course, although Nissan has added some of its own styling touches.
In 1.9 dCi 82bhp format, I found it quite noisy and fairly sluggish but in terms of driving comfort, it offers a car-like driving experience. Those who want extra power can opt for the 100bhp version, which also features a six-speed gearbox.
Nissan's fleet sales director David Murfitt said: 'Japanese brands are not at the forefront of diesel technology but I'm delighted that Nissan now has a modern and comprehensive diesel line-up across the range.
'In commercial vehicles we believe we are an established player with a niche product but we now want to move into the mainstream. We currently have a share 2.6% of the LCV market and we aim to be at 4% by the end of 2004.' Nissan also used the event to unveil its new light commercial vehicle, the Kubistar, which is based on the Renault Kangoo.
Targeted at small business owners working in the service sector, it goes on sale in October with prices starting from £7,000 (Fleet News May 22).The UK line-up has yet to be finalised, although the company expects six different engines to be offered, including three dCi diesel units.
Model: Nissan Primastar 1.9 dCi 2.7t SE
Engine (cc): 1,870
Max power (bhp/rpm): 82/3,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 140/2,000
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,700
Payload (kg): 1,023
Towing weight (kg): 2,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £12,525 (ex-VAT)