~ ~ Now and again when I’m wearing my ‘journalist’ hat, I get to borrow a new car for a few days when I’m planning to write a review on it. I’d been waiting for quite a while to get my hands on the latest model Primera from Japanese car manufacturers Nissan, which was released here in Ireland in the early spring of this year. (2002) We’ve owned an earlier model 1.8-litre Primera as our family car for about the past three and a half years, and I also run a Nissan Bluebird Executive as my taxi, so it would be fair to say that I’m a big Nissan fan, as the two cars have given us sterling service, and have never let us down. ~ ~ So it was with a sense of anticipation that I recently picked up my test car from Nissan for an extended three day trial, a brand spanking new 1.8-litre version of the new model Primera. You might go as far as to say that I was somewhat predisposed to liking the car before I ever sat behind the wheel. But, much as I don’t like to admit it, I have say that the design of the new model, while it has come in for a lot of praise from the motoring press, didn’t appeal to me that much, and certainly not in the way that the redesigned Nissan Almera model caught my attention when it hit the streets back in 2000. Ever since Nissan went into partnership with the French car manufacturer Renault a few years ago, their cars have become more eye-catching, and the French influence in the design sticks out like a sore thumb. Fans of Renault, and French car design, might well be delighted by this development, but personally it leaves me cold. But since Nissan are trying very hard to capture more of the lucrative European market, where the Primera has traditionally lagged well behind traditional competitors like the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall/Opel Vectra, and Renault’s Laguna, I suppose the changes are somewhat understandable. ~ ~ So what about these design changes?
I liked the older model Primera. It has bold, sweeping lines, with angles where there are supposed to be angles, but with the new model you’d be hard put to find any sort of angle anywhere. In fact, it looks more like an oversized coupe, rather than a saloon car. The new large Nissan badge and twin grille design dominate the front of the car, and with the sweeping windscreen, and large light clusters, this has the overall effect of making the car practically appear as if it has no bonnet! There are no rubber protective strips breaking up the line of the doors, and the side windows are also raked and very narrow, again adding to the coupe effect. Another large set of light clusters dominates the rear of the car, and big wheel arches add even more to the coupe effect. OK. If you like the coupe look, then I can see why the new Primera would appeal to you. In fact, you’d be hard put to distinguish it from an Audi coupe from a distance. But it’s not for me. So the new Primera doesn’t get high marks in the design department from the ‘mad cabbie’. I like cars that look like cars, and not like some large, tacky sports car clone. That said, the new Primera will probably appeal to a lot more people than the older, some would say bland, (I wouldn’t) design of the previous model. ~ ~ The first thing you notice when you sit into the car is the new centrally located console that totally dominates the dashboard, and straight away demands your attention. This is quite a clever trick on the part of Nissan, as otherwise that steeply raked windscreen would leave you with literally acres of bland plastic on the dashboard between you and the glass. They use a different colour of plastic for the console and the rest of the dashboard, which has the added effect of breaking up the huge area of plastic in front of you. Once you start to explore this central console, you’d be forgiven
for thinking that you’d made a mistake, and instead of sitting into a motorcar, had instead entered the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Instead of the usual collection of switches and dials you get in a car, everything seems to be controlled from this central area. It has a large LCD screen to display information on just about everything imaginable, with knobs, buttons, and a small joystick to help you navigate your way around. All very futuristic and 21st century to be sure, but did all these highly paid design experts stop for a moment and consider the safety aspect of all this highly advanced technology? I for one don’t want to be fiddling around with various knobs and joysticks, and having to concentrate on a huge LCD screen, when what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing is driving a car safely on a public road. You can’t even carry out a simple task like changing the radio station, or adjusting the heater or air conditioning, without first having to figure out what dial or switch is for what. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite, who’d be opposed to change simply because it is different, but to my way of thinking anything that distracts the driver from their main task of actually driving the car, simply can’t be a good thing. No doubt you would eventually get used to operating this console, and it would become second nature, that is if you don’t manage to involve yourself in a fatal accident in the meantime through having your concentration distracted by the damned thing! Mind you, Nissan have the safety aspect well covered, with dual front air bags, as well as side air bags as standard. One innovative advance is the small camera that Nissan have installed under the rear number plate. When you engage reverse gear, a sensor picks this up, and flashes an image of what is directly behind you onto the LCD screen. Clever, but you get the same effect if you fit a simple parking sensor
that beeps when you get too close to another parked car, or by the tried and tested method of simply looking over your shoulder. So while this rear view camera is innovative, it’s really just a gimmick. So while the central control console certainly does what it’s designed to do, I’m afraid that it’s not something that I personally would even like to get used to using, although the more gadget minded drivers among you might find it fantastic and great fun. ~ ~ The dials are centrally located as well, and are large, attractive, and above all, easy to read. In fact, the whole interior generally is far more comfortable and attractive than on the older models. You can adjust the driver’s seat backwards/ forwards/ sideways/up/down; in fact, any way you fancy to find your ideal driving position. The steering wheel and column is the same, so even the smallest or tallest of drivers will be able to get themselves comfy. And there is plenty of room in the back for passengers, although anyone who is six foot plus may find they have to crouch down just a tad because of that slanting roof. And the slanting rear window makes the rear view (without the camera) somewhat restricted. The boot is cavern like, with enough space to take the kitchen sink with you on holiday as well as all your luggage, golf clubs, air beds, or whatever is your own particular fancy. Equipment levels are impressive, with climate control, central remote locking, electric windows in the front, electric adjustable mirrors, and a powerful and impressive 6-speaker CD system. There are different extras included depending on what model that you go for. My test car was the 1.8-litre “Tenka”, which as well as all of the above, comes with an attractive set of 17” alloy wheels, rain sensitive wipers, a leather steering wheel, and a set of fog lights. As I say, equipment levels vary a bit depending on the model, so if yo
u were really interested in buying a new Primera, then obviously a trip to your nearest Nissan dealer would enlighten you far more that I can here in this opinion. But the car is generally very well kitted out. ~ ~ One department that the new Primera does excel in is when it comes to the actual nitty gritty; the driving and handling of the car. I found the gear change on my manual version test car both crisp and precise, and the ride comfortable without becoming too ‘spongy’, as is the case with some big cars. (especially Nissan’s sister company, Renault) The steering was a delight, and it cornered like it was on rails. It handled well on all road surfaces from motorways to twisty, windy back laneways, and at speed it didn’t move as much as an inch, even at speed and in a high cross wind on the motorway. And the ABS brakes stopped you on an old sixpence, so no complaints there either. Performance wise it’s no slouch, although it’s never going to challenge a Porsche in a 0 to 60mph sprint. The quoted 0 to 60 mph time is a respectable 11.9 seconds for the 1.8-litre, and develops some 114 bhp, topping out at 120mph. I know a few of my taxi driver friends who have purchased the entry level 1.6-litre “Visia” model though, and they complain that there really isn’t enough ‘poke’ in the smaller 1.6-litre engine, and that they find it struggles a bit when they are overtaking, or carrying a full compliment of passengers and their luggage. So unless the performance isn’t that important to you, it might be worth the extra money (nearly €3,000 here in Ireland) for the bigger 1.8-litre engine. What does seem a bit strange is that Nissan don’t offer a 2.0-litre petrol model here in Ireland, or some sort of ‘sports’ variant, but perhaps this will change in the future. (I think there’s a 2.0-litre available in the UK though) The quoted petrol
consumption is just over 30mpg for the 1.8-litre, which again is acceptable. I can’t really verify this, as I didn’t have to fill her up after my test period, (heh, heh) but I can verify that the petrol gauge didn’t move that much that it would have caused me any palpitations. ~ ~ But the version that is selling really well with the taxi fraternity here in Ireland is the entry level diesel model, the 2.2-litre “Visia”. Now, I have only driven this model for a very brief spin, (about 15 miles or so) so the information I’m about to impart is more hear say than personal. It doesn’t even have a Nissan engine, instead using the already proven Renault diesel unit. But it knocks out a massive 124 bhp, and has tons of pulling power and torque. I moved vigorously up and down the six-speed gearbox on the motorway, and have to admit that it was loads of fun to drive, fairly blasting its way past slower moving traffic when you dropped a gear and floored the accelerator. And the lads report that it’s returning better than 40mpg in town driving, which is brilliant if you cover a lot of miles annually. (as taxi drivers do!!) One point to keep in mind though is that diesels need to be serviced and to have their oil and filters changed more regularly than petrol cars, so your servicing cots are going to be a bit higher. Servicing on the petrol versions is at 12,000 mile intervals, and with the new technology on this vehicle you’re really looking at almost having to get it done by a recognised Nissan dealer with the proper equipment. There’s a full three year parts and labour warranty, although the total mileage is restricted to 60,000 miles, and the Nissan dealers (at least here in Ireland) are very loathe to give any sort of warranty to you at all when they hear that the car is to be used as a taxi. (unlike some of the newer marques on the market, like Hyundai) ~ ~ Pricewise the car is co
mpetitive, with the prices starting at a very respectable €22,995 for the entry level 1.6-litre “Visia”, and rising to a whopping €29,995 for the top-of-the –range 2.2-litre diesel estate. Prices in the UK start from around the £14,600 Sterling mark. For more information on pricing in the UK, might I suggest that you visit the Nissan website, www.nissan.co.uk, the AA website, or a dedicated car website such as “www.autotrader.co.uk”, which is one of my personal favourites when it comes to getting good information on prices on current cars, both new and used. ~ ~ I’ve now test driven most of the cars in this segment of the market, including the Ford Mondeo, the Renault Laguna, and the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra. I think that the new Nissan Primera shades them all, with the exception of the Ford Mondeo, and overall I found it very hard car not to like the car, despite that new ‘coupe’ look, which I simply didn’t take to at all, and the gimmicky central console. A eight out of ten rating from the ‘mad cabbie’. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Please note that the dooyoo illustration at the top of this opinion relates to the "old model" Primera, and NOT the car I have reviewed here. ~~~~~~~~~~~~ (A Euro is currently worth about 63 pence Sterling) ~~~~~~~~~~~~