Fleet News

Nissan Primera

Nissan

Review

FOR those of you who thought the technology-laden Nissan Primera was too clever for its own good, I’m afraid it’s bad news because the car has just got decidedly ‘Mastermind’.

But if you thought interior quality wasn’t quite up to scratch and that it wasn’t as engaging to drive as the more conventional-looking pre-2002 model, then read on. If the current incarnation of the Primera appeared well educated, then the latest one has been to finishing school.

As before, the range starts at £14,600 for the 1.8 S, but the saloon has been dropped from the UK line-up after making up less than 10% of sales of the current model. However, the improvements are expected to boost the Primera’s chances with fleet operators against newer rivals.

The revised grade line-up includes a new SX specification, new dampers and suspension bushes have been installed and DVD satellite navigation is standard on SE, SVE and T-spec models. It comes with electronic traffic avoidance and the reversing camera shows the view from the rear in colour on all but entry-level cars. The centre console has been redesigned with extra storage, the DVD navigation disc now lives under the front passenger seat, which means sat-nav cars now have an in-dash CD autochanger.

Nissan’s ‘plug-and-go’ mobile phone control – available on most models – now has more functions. Developed with Nokia, a phone handset is slotted into a cradle between the two front seats where it is automatically linked up to the centre console controls and the car’s audio system. Some Nokia phones allow the address book to be displayed on the car’s N-form system screen, and can also show the identity of incoming callers already stored in the address book as well as notify drivers when text messages are received.

Although it was developed with Nokia, cradles for the majority of mobiles on the market are available.

The SX grade has been launched with user-choosers in mind, and has the colour reversing camera, six-CD autochanger, ‘plug-and-go’, cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and 17-inch alloy wheels.

SE cars come with DVD sat-nav, but smaller alloys than the SX and neither ‘plug-and-go’ nor CD autochanger, while the SVE has standard leather with electrically-adjustable front seats, xenon headlamps and an electric sunroof.

Range-topping T-spec models have a choice of black or beige leather, an electronic stability programme, free metallic paint and a tyre pressure monitor for the first time. The 2.0 T-spec now comes only as a CVT automatic and, as before, has ‘intelligent cruise control’ (still unavailable on the 2.2 dCi T-spec) where the car can adjust its speed to automatically maintain a steady distance from the vehicle in front.

Nissan fleet sales director Dave Murfitt said: ‘We hope the improvements will have a positive effect and increase the appeal of the car. We think sales will increase on the back of these changes, but we are realistic and are not competing in terms of volume with the big players in fleet. We expect to sell 5,000 Primeras to fleets in a full year.’

He said Nissan had witnessed a big switch from petrol to diesel in the Primera since the launch of the 136bhp 2.2 dCi, but there is no word on Euro IV compliance for this engine yet.

‘Like all manufacturers, we are working towards the deadline for Euro IV compliance by the end of 2005, but we are not yet in a position to say when it will happen. Murfitt added: ‘However, our 1.8-litre petrol engine is particularly competitive on carbon dioxide emissions in the upper-medium sector.’

Behind the wheel

WHEN the Nissan Primera was unveiled in the UK for the first time at the 2001 Fleet Show – nearly a year before it went on sale – its radical styling both inside and out ensured it stood out in a sector that tended towards the conservative.

If Nissan felt it had gone too far with the styling, with the result that it had put off some customers, the first major revision for the 2005 model year was its opportunity to tone things down a bit.

But the company has stood firm – very little has changed on the outside, while inside the only changes are to do with improving perceived quality, partly from customer feedback and partly from keeping a watchful eye on improvements from its rivals.

The grab handles and door handles are finished in alloy, the instruments have a new, more upmarket and easier-on-the-eye appearance, while the new centre console storage compartment has a damped cover and soft material covering the interior.

Steering wheel-mounted audio controls seemed like an afterthought on the outgoing model, with a cheap-feeling plastic attachment. Now, the Primera has a new steering wheel with integrated metallic buttons for the audio system and cruise control that would not look out of place in a premium car, not forgetting, of course that you would probably have to pay extra for it in a premium car.

The current Primera was criticised after its launch for losing some of the driver appeal of its more conventional-looking predecessor. It was a bit softer and less driver-focused than before.

However, the new one has noticeably sharper steering and rolls less in corners. It might not be a Mazda6, but there is a definite change of emphasis about the way it drives that moves it closer to the likes of the Mazda, Ford Mondeo and Peugeot 407 for driver enjoyment.

The 1.8-litre model might only boast 114bhp, but it scoots the Primera along at a reasonable speed. Performance comes with far less effort in the 2.0-litre model, with its six-speed transmission offering relaxed motorway cruising.

While the 2.2 dCi might lose out to the 2.0-litre petrol model in the 0-62mph sprint, it is better at ‘real-world’ performance. However, although it is generally quiet on the move, newer cars like the Peugeot 407 have the edge when it comes to the suppression of noise and vibration in the cabin.

The N-form system might be a completely alien concept to anyone who hasn’t seen it before, but after spending even 10 minutes fiddling about with the controls, it becomes more intuitive. The Birdview DVD satellite navigation is still one of the best systems available in any car and, although I didn’t encounter any traffic jams in my 150 or so miles of driving, it’s a reassuring back-up to have the Traffic Management Channel keeping a long-range look-out for congestion to prompt emergency re-routing through the sat-nav.

Driving verdict

THE Primera has been given a new lease of life with latest changes. Overall quality is much improved and it has become more enjoyable to drive. It is also still one of the best-specced cars for its price. Nissan Primera fact file

Model: 1.8 2.0 2.2 dCi
Engine (cc): 1,769 1,998 2,184
Max power (bhp/rpm): 114/5,600 138/6,000 136/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 120/4,000 142/4,000 232/2,000
Max speed (mph): 117 (auto: 110) 124 (auto: 116) 126
0-62mph (sec hatchback): 12.1(13.8) 9.8 (11.1) 10.2
0-62mph (sec estate): 12.3 9.9 (11.2) 10.2
MPG hatchback: 38.2 (35.5) 32.5 (32.1) 46.3
MPG estate: 38.2 31.0 (32.1) 46.3
CO2 emissions (hatch g/km): 177 (192) 208 (209) 164
CO2 emissions (estate g/km): 177 220 (209) 164
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 62/13.6
Transmission: 5-sp man; 6-sp man; CVT auto
Service interval (miles): 9,000 petrol, 12,000 diesel
Prices (OTR): £14,600-£21,250

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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