NEVER underestimate the influence of company car drivers. Those who have a degree of choice over what they drive are much sought after by manufacturers, particularly those who supply the dwindling volume upper-medium sector.
With so much choice from niche cars – small MPVs, small SUVs, four-seat coupes – and premium badges, it can be easy to persuade drivers that they should give up their keys to the traditional upper-medium hatchback.
Nissan tried to disguise the traditional upper-medium hatchback as a spaceship a couple of years ago with the latest incarnation of the Primera, but the ploy was not 100% successful.
Looking rather like a prop from the set of Star Wars, the Primera had many unique features at the time, including reversing camera, N-form dashboard, Birdview satellite navigation and – not least –outlandish styling.
However, the Primera has suffered along with other more traditional upper-medium cars, and even Nissan’s own X-trail is threatening its D-sector sibling in the sales hierarchy.
Unbowed, Nissan has refreshed the Primera and launched a specification aimed at business drivers looking for company car park cred.
The SX comes in at £500 less than the SE but has some important features over the more expensive model as well as the expected riches over the entry-level S.
There are 17-inch alloy wheels, a CD autochanger with remote audio controls (much more stylish integrated metallic switches compared with the cheap-looking plastic buttons on recent Primeras), lumbar support on both front seats, automatic dimming rear view mirror, front foglamps, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, cruise control and Nissan’s Plug and Go hands-free mobile phone integration system.
Paying the extra £500 for the SE means you lose some of these items and have to make do with 16-inch alloy wheels but you get a seven-inch screen with satellite navigation.
Nissan believes most company car drivers will find the collection of items on the SX a far more tempting proposition than those on the SE.
While it looks the same as the previous version, the refreshed car has undergone much work under the skin.
Criticism that the 2002 Primera was not as good to drive as the previous model have been addressed and the new car has more responsive steering and sharper handling than before.
It is more fun to drive, but is not quite in the same class as the Mazda6, Ford Mondeo and Peugeot 407 because the ride is less composed and feels more nervous with sudden direction changes at speed.
The reversing camera, which has since appeared on certain premium cars since it was first seen on the Nissan, now shows the rear view in colour and the interior materials have been upgraded, with metallic interior door handles and some higher-quality materials.
Nissan sensibly charges just a £500 premium for the 136bhp 2.2-litre common rail diesel over the 2.0-litre petrol, and while it is not as refined as the Peugeot 407 2.0 HDi, it is both torquey and muted at speed.
So, as a fleet operator, the next time you hear your drivers make wish lists of what they want in their cars, don’t be surprised – the manufacturers are probably also listening.
Three rivals to consider
OUR Nissan comes in at the lower end of the price scale, bettered only by the remarkably good value Mazda6. Delivery charges on both the Vectra and Avensis bump up their P11D values on what would otherwise be a closely matched comparison. Nissan offers a CD auto-changer, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control and premium audio system for the money, which seems more generous than the others.
No deal breakers here, with £102 the difference between the least expensive Nissan Primera and the most expensive Vauxhall Vectra, respectively on £1,296 and £1,398. However, it is worth pointing out that the Japanese trio manage to offer lower SMR costs than the Vectra with fewer visits to the dealer for servicing, with intervals around 9,000 to 10,000 miles and up to 30,000 miles for the Vauxhall.
THE Vectra’s new diesel engine pays dividends against the Japanese opposition and would theoretically work out cheaper than the Primera over 60,000 miles by just £354, based on the official combined fuel consumption figure. The Mazda6 seems to be an under-achiever in this area, with a combined fuel consumption figure of 43.5mpg, translating into a likely fuel bill of £5,670, compared with the Nissan’s 46.3mpg and £5,328.
THE Mazda6 wins the depreciation battle despite having a lower retained value than the Avensis, with 31% against 33%. The battle is won on a front-end price more than £1,100 cheaper than the Avensis. The Nissan fares badly on its residual values, despite being a refreshed model and there is no obvious explanation except that secondhand buyers aren’t fans. The Vectra loses out from an equally bad RV at 26%, while having a higher P11d value.
THE revised Primera loses out to the Mazda6 on its keener P11D value and stronger residual value, and the Avensis through its stronger RV and lower fuel cost.
In the end, it beats the Vauxhall Vectra by £30 over three years/60,000 miles but is better equipped and substantially cheaper to lease. Our contract hire quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance put the Nissan Primera at £292 per month – about £40 cheaper than the Toyota Avensis and Mazda6 and nearly £80 cheaper than the Vectra.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
NISSAN’S worst round. The Primera’s CO2 emissions are not as low as the less powerful Avensis and Vectra, and it is the only one not to comply with Euro IV emissions requirements.
It means a 22% taxpayer can expect to hand over £62 per month for the privilege of being behind the wheel of the Nissan, compared with £57 for the Mazda, £52 for the Avensis and £49 for the Vectra. Bear in mind that drivers will have to do without some toys in the other cars, and if they add them as options it might go some way towards redressing the balance.
STAND-OUT styling and plenty of equipment are not enough to win the Primera first place in this comparison.
The Avensis makes the most sensible fleet choice, while the Mazda6 would be the better choice for the driver who enjoys driving. The Primera just beats the Vectra in running costs and its extra kit, power and adventurous styling secure third place.
WINNER: Toyota Avensis 2.0 D-4D T3-X
Nissan Primera 2.2 dCi SX
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £16,077 CO2 emissions (g/km): 164 BIK % of P11D in 2004: 21% Graduated VED rate: £135 Insurance group: 9 Combined mpg: 46.3 CAP Monitor residual value: £4,125/26% Depreciation 18.63 pence per mile x 60,000: £11,178 Maintenance 2.16 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,296 Fuel 8.88 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,328 Wholelife cost 29.67 pence per mile x 60,000: £17,802 Typical contract hire rate: £292 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance