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Nissan Primera P12 2003 Road Test

Wed, 07 May 2003

I first clapped eyes on the Nissan Primera P12 at the 2001 Barcelona Motor Show. Wow, that's different, I thought. It simply didn't need the gorgeous girl standing next to it in a dress split from her ankle to her waist.

"Please can you get out of the way so I can take a picture?" "No?" "Oh, all right, then."

Apparently the designer was inspired by cars parked in the street covered in blown snow.

Inside is no less of a shock to the senses. All the main instruments and controls are in the centre. And they require a little bit of learning.

For a start, the Primera P12 doesn't have rear parking bleepers. Instead it has a TV camera that transmits what's behind to the TV screen in front of you. So you can actually see small children, pets, bicycles and low-lying stone buttresses. There are no excuses for a flat cat or bent back bumper with this car.

The screen doubles up as a display for the radio/CD player, for the climate control and for the trip and service computer. There's not much it doesn't tell you. And on the SVE model it trebles up as the display for Nissan's brilliant 'Birdview' satellite navigation system.

Don't worry. This isn't mind-blowingly complicated. Like most modern computer kit, it's so intuitative you'll get it worked out in minutes and be using it as if you've had it for years. Once you've keyed in your destination and the computer has worked out the route, it guides you by voice, by junction map and by a birds-eye map of where you are. And because it's left of line-of-sight, it's not even distracting. Many people will buy the new Primera car for its looks and instrumentation alone.

That's fortunate because, as a driving experience, the 1.8SVE I borrowed is nothing special at all. It's not bad. It handles okay with no nasty surprises. It's goes reasonably well, but no better. Like some members of the opposite sex it just doesn't match up to the promise of its looks. And that's strange, because the bland-looking Primera II was a quick, sensational-handling car, with its multi-link rear suspension fine-tuned on the Nurburgring.

I suppose I put my problem with it down to the steering. It's very light and quite often I couldn't feel what the car was up to through it and ended up chopping my way through a corner rather than following the proper line. Even holding the car on line through a well-known corner it started to drift where an old-shape Mondeo would have held its line. Don't get me wrong. The handling isn't terrible. But this is no modern Peugeot or Ford, and that's a shame.

The other bugbear is the 1.8 engine. It puts out an apparently healthy 116PS at 5,600rpm and 163Nm torque at 4,000rpm, but punchy it isn't. 0–60 is a really slow 11.5 seconds, top speed is a weak 117mph and, though the combined consumption is supposed to be 38.2 mpg, all I managed was 31.5.

The 138 bhp 2.0 16v with six-speed gearbox is only £500 more, so if you want a petrol engine this is far better value for money. It also drives much better and is more relaxed on the motorway. But to accelerate you have to change from 6th to 5th or 4th. And it isn;t fantastically economical. I only averaged about 31mpg.

If you want economy, it has to be 136PS 2.2 Di diesel, also with six-speed manual box. Its average consumption of nearly 50mpg, strong performance and relaxed cruising at 30mph per 1,000 rpm are worth the price premium and the car is an excellent alternative to the previously class leading Passat 130 TDI PD and Mondeo 130 TDCI.

What's my verdict? There's a lot to like about the Primera 1.8SVE, but as a driver's car it doesn't hold a candle to the Mondeo 1.8LX. The 2.0 litre petrol and 2.2 Di are hugely better cars and much more competitive against the opposition, especially the 50mpg six-speed diesel. For a busy, high-mileage rep, the 2.2Di with Birdview satnav has to be an excellent package.

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