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Special report: SMMT test day

Primera hatches a new model

THE peculiarities of the UK fleet market mean that in the upper-medium sector, a hatchback is needed for true success.

With the exception of the Volvo S40 and the Volkswagen Passat - cars whose brand image is strong enough to sell the products regardless of body style - the main fleet players have a hatchback in the line-up.

Although Nissan says sales of its new Primera have been going well since its launch in March, the launch of its five-door version this month will ensure greater fleet appeal.

The only difference in this European-designed variant of the Primera is that the rear is a hatchback and it is a little more practical than the excellent saloon version.

The real appeal of the new Primera is in its unusual shape - this car is not from the same mould as the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat, or Vauxhall Vectra. It is also more adventurous than the Citroen C5 and Renault Laguna.

The innovative styling continues inside with the 'N-form' dashboard layout providing central instruments and controls.

Quality inside is first rate and the use of two-tone plastics helps lift the interior from the traditional dark colours.

The new Primera is roomier than before with comfortable seats and refined performance from its 2.0-litre engine allied to the continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Ride and handling are geared more towards comfort than driving enjoyment and while the Primera is not dynamically equivalent to the Mondeo, it offers a supremely comfortable and quiet driving experience.

All Primeras come with a monitor on the dashboard and the SE model comes with a rear view camera as standard for reversing. It might sound gimmicky but it really does help and avoids those nasty 'touching bumper' moments.

The Primera's predicted residual values are just about on a par with the Mondeo - good for a car that is so unusual-looking, and if the design is ahead of its time it only means it will look more 'normal' in three years at the end of its fleet term.

Make: Nissan
Model: Primera 2.0 SE 5dr auto
Engine (cc): 1,998
Max power (bhp/rpm): 138/5,600
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 142/4,000
Max speed (mph): 116
0-62mph (sec): 10.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 32.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 209
Service intervals (miles): 9,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £17,400
CAP RV (three-years/60,000-miles): £5,025/29%

Power boost for Corolla diesel

IF you have not got a common rail diesel - or unit injector like Volkswagen Group - then as a volume manufacturer you are likely to get left behind.

As diesel technology has surged forward over the past five years, so more manufacturers are adding the latest high-pressure direct injection technology, more often than not with common rail injection for improved performance, refinement, economy and emissions.

Toyota has a growing range of common rail diesel engines. A 3.0-litre D-4D appeared first in the Land Cruiser Colorado, then the Avensis gained a 2.0- litre version, also found in the Previa, RAV4 and Avensis Verso. The Yaris has a new 1.4- litre D-4D and since the beginning of the year the new Corolla has benefited from the technology.

The 2.0-litre is the workhorse unit and most versions pump out 89bhp. But the range-topping T Spirit model comes with a more powerful 109bhp version.

The T Spirit is not cheap at £15,295. However, it comes in slightly cheaper than the Ford Focus TDCi Ghia (£15,845), undercuts the Golf 1.9 TDI PD 100 SE by £25, and is significantly less than the Peugeot 307 Dturbo (£16,600).

But the Fiat Stilo looks good value alongside it at £13,835 for the 1.9 JTD Active, and a few options boxes can be ticked to bring the prices level.

T Spirit cars have a long list of standard kit, with all the safety features found on lower models plus a trip computer, white instruments, leather-trimmed wheel with audio controls, electric windows, electric sunroof, CD radio and climate control. But the biggest difference with this version is in the performance. The extra straight-line urge indicated in the performance figures is genuine and the car has a surprising turn of speed.

The Corolla is also an entertaining car to drive quickly - if you view the difference from the old Corolla to the current model as the step from a Ford Escort to a Ford Focus.

With residual values shading all rivals apart from the Volkswagen Golf, the Corolla proves to be a tremendous all-rounder, performing well in the key fleet areas, even at this unfashionable top end of the lower-medium sector.

Make: Toyota
Model: Corolla 2.0 D-4D T Spirit
Engine (cc): 1,995
Max power (bhp/rpm): 109/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 184/2,000
Max speed (mph): 115
0-62mph (sec): 10.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 48.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 154
Service intervals (miles): 9,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £15,295
CAP RV (three-years/60,000-miles): £5,350/35%

Matrix offers a decent mini-MPV alternative

HYUNDAI has leapt into the mini-MPV market with surprising speed, bringing the Matrix to the UK a few months ago with a choice of two petrol engines and a common rail turbodiesel.

The Matrix 1.5 TD faces a tough challenge in the mini-MPV sector and it needs to be a decent alternative to the flexible and innovative European and Japanese models that dominate this sector, such as the Citroen Xsara Picasso, Renault Scenic, Vauxhall Zafira and Nissan Almera Tino.

It is off to a good start with clean Pininfarina styling, which exaggerates the depth of the windows in the doors, creating a particularly airy cabin. And, like the Picasso, the Matrix has the main instruments in a central binnacle on the dashboard, angled towards the driver, with a bank of warning lights placed behind the steering wheel. The 1.5-litre turbodiesel is up-to-date with most rivals, if lacking a little in horsepower - 81bhp when most rivals offer about 90bhp.

But the three-cylinder motor chugs away keenly and offers more torque than the 1.8-litre petrol model. It also gets close to matching its main rivals' fuel economy with more than 47mpg on the combined cycle.

The diesel comes in GSi trim only, which means four airbags and ABS with electronic brake force distribution are standard.

Other standard features include air conditioning, a CD/radio, seven cup holders, electric windows and mirrors, storage compartments under the front passenger and rear seats, alloy wheels and central locking.

This is the kind of impressive equipment list we have come to expect from Hyundai and seems good for the £11,795 asking price. Interior quality is also good - no excuses are needed here about the car being from a budget Korean brand.

The downside is that the brand doesn't have the same perceived status as its rivals, which hurts the residual value figure. But for a small business with a good relationship with a local dealer, the Matrix could make a strong case for itself.

Make: Hyundai
Model: Matrix 1.5TD GSi
Engine (cc): 1,493
Max power (bhp/rpm): 81/4,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 136/2,000
Max speed (mph): 99
0-62mph (sec): 17.9
Fuel consumption (mpg): 47.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 158
Service intervals (miles): 2,500 then every 10,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £11,795
CAP RV (three-years/60,000-miles): £3,800/33%

Trekka has the tools to take on tough jobs

IF your work occasionally takes you off the beaten track then it is to be expected that your company car should be up to the job. However, four-wheel drive vehicles can be expensive and some are not as practical as they first seem.

And soft off-roaders such as the Suzuki Jimny and Daihatsu Terios, although capable in their own ways, do little for the street cred of the driver.

Following the success of the Renault Kangoo, both as a van and a budget mini-MPV, the vehicle is now available as a sport-utility vehicle, boasting an engine choice of 1.6-litre petrol and soon a 1.9-litre common rail turbodiesel, extra ground clearance and permanent four-wheel drive.

The 1.6 model tested features alloy wheels, ABS, overhead storage compartments, electric front windows and mirrors, remote central locking and alarm. Like other Kangoo models it also has a rubber floor covering, sliding rear passenger doors and load anchorage points.

Based on a van, the Kangoo driver already has to make compromises in performance and handling for the enormous versatility and practicality offered. However, the Trekka is an accomplished performer on moderately demanding off-road terrain, scaling steep inclines as long as you give it plenty of 'welly' before you set off, and keeps things calm when creeping down the other side - with occasional dabs of the brake pedal.

It also does a fine job of traversing muddy tracks, with limited slippage thanks to the four-wheel drive system ensuring the wheels with the most grip are the ones pulling the car out of ruts.

It has the all-important fun factor to give it extra appeal, is well equipped for the price and offers four-wheel drive with unrivalled practicality.

However, we think it will be worth waiting for the diesel version, which will offer better running costs, increased economy and lower emissions.

Make: Renault
Model: Kangoo Trekka 4x4
Engine (cc): 1,598
Max power (bhp/rpm): 95/5,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 109/3,750
Max speed (mph): 95
0-62mph (sec): 14.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 32.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 205
Service intervals (miles): 18,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £10,995
CAP RV (three-years/60,000-miles): £3,450/32%

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