Fleet News

Road test: Nissan Primastar light panel van

TO the outsider, the world of van manufacturing must seem a crazy place indeed. Take the Nissan Primastar, for example. Designed by Renault and Vauxhall, built in Spain and bearing a Japanese maker's badge, it appears to be a rather curious conundrum.

But the reality is simple. As vehicles become more and more complex, development costs are rocketing skywards at such a rate, few firms can afford to go it alone any more. Sharing technology is the obvious answer – after all it is commonplace in the car sector.

So as 2002 progressed, Nissan was busily using its tie-up with Renault to launch a new range of LCVs in a bid to grab a bigger slice of this lucrative rising market. Interstar was first (a rebadged Renault Master), Primastar next and later this year, a Nissan-badged Renault Kangoo will complete the line-up.

And what better van to copy than the Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro. Launched in 2001 to a huge fanfare of trumpets, these twins have been feted wherever they go. In short, they are the best bar none in the light panel van sector.

So why, you may ask, has Renault risked diluting its Trafic sales by allowing Nissan – in whom it has a controlling share – to ape its top gun? And hereby lies another conundrum.

Van buyers being a curious bunch of people at the best of times, it transpires that badge snobbery is rife. Peugeot, for example, is regarded as a premium marque while Citroen is looked upon as rather down-market. The fact that Citroen and Peugeot vans roll off the same production line doesn't seem to matter.

And Nissan claims it already has a loyal following among car fleet buyers who would happily add Primastar to their shopping lists, thus picking up new sales conquests rather than stealing business from Renault.

Primastar is offered in two formats, 82bhp and 100bhp and with gross vehicle weights of 2,700 or 2,900 kgs. The van on test here is the higher powered model with the lower GVW, priced at £13,210 ex-VAT.

Outside

As Renault has emerged as the style king of the vehicle manufacturing world, it has launched one stunning model after another – who can ignore the sassy looks of the Vel Satis, for instance. And so it is with this van – the 'jumbo' roof and slitty headlights give it a look that no other commercial vehicle has.

Not everyone likes it, but for me it works a treat. And it is not purely a matter of form over function either. That curved roof means more headroom in the cab and the huge plastic bumpers and rubbing strips all round mean these vans are likely to remain scrape-free during their fleet lives.

In the front

Climb aboard the Primastar for the first time and you can't fail to be impressed with the van's quiet opulence. This vehicle is designed to be car-like and it hasn't failed. The dash sweeps majestically across the cab, under which a pleasing display of instruments is arrayed. Huge areas of glass all round give it a light and airy feel.

There is no shortage of standard goodies – Primastar boasts as standard an alarm, rear parking sensor, electric windows, driver's airbag, twin passenger seats with three-point seatbelts, full steel bulkhead, powered and heated mirrors, remote central locking, tinted windows and remote audio controls. Add to that a superb sound system with CD player and you have a dazzling package.

Our test van had as extra satellite navigation at £745, ABS brakes at £400, passenger airbag at £220, air conditioning at £650 and metallic paint at £300. Care must be taken when selecting options – you don't want to make your drivers feel too much at home, but on the other hand they are entitled to a few creature comforts. If I was a fleet manager, I'd certainly opt for the air con – after all it could be argued that a cool driver is a safe driver – and metallic paint will add value to the van at selling time. The rest is up to the individual conscience of the fleet decision-maker.

Seating is superb and despite the full bulkhead there was plenty of room for my leggy 6ft 3in frame, which is more than can be said of some vans I have tested recently. Passenger seats are comfortable too, both coming with three-point seatbelts. A visit to Ikea with two family members aboard – a round trip of some 300 miles – resulted in no grumbles. That's some achievement with my family, who are never short in coming forward with their views!

In the back

The Primastar's side loading door slides back with silky smoothness to reveal a good square cargo area measuring 4,782 by 1,904mm. Primastar is available with an optional second side door (£250 ex-VAT) and lift-up tailgate. If rear doors are specified, they can either open to 180 degrees or there is a 250 degree option.

The side door is big enough to take a Europallet and there is choice of one tonne or 1.2 tonnes payload. Load volume is 5 cubic metres. There are six load lashing points in the floor.

On the road

The Primastar comes complete with Renault's superb dCi common rail turbodiesel powerplant, as found in everything from Renault Clio to Vel Satis.

It provides smooth, sure power with amazing fuel economy and despite the fact that this van will just about top 100mph on a good day, it is still capable of returning a combined mpg figure of 38.2. At 60mph, the engine is turning over at just 2,000rpm. The smaller power unit comes with a five-speed gearbox but the test vehicle had an extra cog.

Firing up the van, even on cold days, reveals just a low hum and once under way, the driver will discover that Nissan's boast of a car-like driving experience is no idle one. This van really does drive like a large car.

With a slick dash-mounted gearbox, nice light clutch, power steering balanced just right and handling that some manufacturers would die for, I couldn't imagine a more pleasant vehicle in which to spend my working life.

All Primastars come with a rev limiter which shuts off the power after 3,800rpm. It's a trifle disconcerting at first but once you get used to keeping an eye on the rev counter and rowing round the gearbox, the van can be hustled along at a rapid pace.

Verdict

Under a Renault and Vauxhall badge this van has had nothing but praise heaped upon it. In Nissan guise there is no reason to believe that anything will change.

##Primastarint--none##

Nissan Primastar 1.9 2.7T fact file
Model: Price (£): Engine (cc): Power (bhp): Torque (lb-ft): W/base (mm): Load vol (cu m): GVW (kg): Payload (kg):
E dCi82 Dsl Tbo 11995 1870 82 140 3098 5 2700 1023
SE dCi82 Dsl Tbo 12525 1870 82 140 3098 5 2700 1023
dCi82 Dsl Tbo 12525 1870 82 140 3098 5 2700 1023
SE dCi100 Dsl Tbo 13025 1870 100 176 3098 5 2700 1023
dCI 100 Dsl Tbo 13025 1870 100 176 3098 5 2700 1023
2.9t dCI Dsl Tbo 13425 1870 100 176 3098 5 2900 1216

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