Motoring: Road Test - Out of the black hole

The Nissan Primera: about as charismatic as a breeze block? Not any more. And it's good to drive, too.

This is a question for all makers of imageless cars. How do you make a dull car look desirable, sexy even, without obviously tarting it up and invoking the mutton/lamb, appropriate clothing for, argument?

Strangely, if the starting point is one of an identity no more distinctive than a black hole, the task becomes easier. Take the case of the Nissan Primera. No-one can picture what it looks like, beyond sensing that recent examples look similar to the first ones though there was a complete model change along the way. Play it safe, keep it familiar, because we're too cash-strapped to take any risks: that was the idea. It was the inward- looking philosophy of a manufacturer in trouble.

Now, if an up-front revamp makes people notice the Nissan for the first time, they won't be comparing old with new. You can see the result of this thinking. A big, bold face with a topological distortion of the usual Nissan "winged" air-intakes, giant headlights with polycarbonate lenses, assertiveness all around: it's all very millennial.

Those headlights bring Nissan into the modern technological world. I was at Nissan's European Technology Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, in 1996 for a preview of the then-new, second-generation Primera. Many car-makers had started to use shatterproof polycarbonate headlights, so I was surprised Nissan had kept with glass. "The technology isn't ready yet," I was told, although this was clearly not the case. Anyway, Nissan hascaught up; as well as polycarbonate lenses, the top Plus models have the xenon gas-discharge bulbs beloved of upmarket German car makers.

This nose is the focus of the new Nissan. Apart from the nose, the smoother bumpers and the tapering rubbing strake along the flanks, all designed to make the car appear lower and more dynamic, little else looks to have changed. But looks deceive. This is much more than a cosmetic makeover. The Primera has always been fun to drive, thanks to precise steering, strong roadholding, crisp responses and fluid, interactive handling. "It's a driver's car. So drive it," ran an old ad; occasionally it appeared in magazines with a fold-out page which, if creatively folded back in, caused the giant lettering to read "Sod it". We won't expand on that.

Trouble is, the driver's car was noisy at speed, and its interior had as much charisma as a builder's yard full of breeze blocks. There was nothing to entice you to buy a Primera instead of one of its sleeker, smoother, more refined, more alluring rivals, so people didn't. Might they now? The shapes of the interior's components are little altered, but the colours and textures are more pleasing and the switchgear is tidier. Top versions get a six-disc CD player of terrific sound quality. The driver's seat is still hard, with either a lump or a hollow at the base of the backrest, depending on adjustment. The new range offers two extra variations on the driving experience, in a 1.8-litre engine to bridge the chasm between the 1.6 and 2.0-litre units, and - for the 2.0 only - a Hypertronic continuously-variable automatic transmission. There's a sporty sub-variant of this called Hypertronic CVT M-6, which allows you manually to select from six pre-set virtual gear ratios, and I have been driving a Primera 2.0 Sport Plus so fitted.

That CD player isn't wasted, because the new Nissan is dramatically quieter at speed. The main sound comes from the Sport's wide, low-profile tyres, which make up for this failing by making the most of the Nissan's excellent handling, and soaking up bumps better than you might expect. The engine does make itself heard if you demand maximum acceleration, as the CVT lets the engine speed to its maximum-power point and stay there.

It's better, perhaps, to select one of the manual ratios, keep the revs down and let the engine's ample mid-speed musclepower do the work. The manual override is good for fast, twisty roads, too, avoiding the response delay you would suffer as the CVT finds its optimum setting. Otherwise, the manual shift is largely redundant because the CVT is so smooth and painless. Why have a dog and bark yourself?

From obscurity, Nissan's Primera has finally found a presence. You could never call it beautiful. But it's now worth looking at.

Specifications

Model: Nissan Primera 2.0 Sport+ CVT M-6

Price: pounds 19,200.

Engine: 1998cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, produces 140bhp at 5,800rpm.

Transmission: CVT automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive

Performance: 126mph, 0-60 in 11.2sec, 28-33mpg

Rivals

Ford Mondeo 2.0 Ghia: pounds 19,000. Ageing but capable and fun to drive, if less roomy than some rivals.

Honda Accord 2.0i ES: pounds 20,100. British-built like the Nissan, the Accord has superb handling but is expensive.

Peugeot 406 2.0 GLX: pounds 17,485. Revamp rivals prestige German makes for quality. Real value, too.

Vauxhall Vectra 2.0 SRi 140: pounds 17,400. Also recently revitalised, the Vectra is more fun to drive but still stodgier than rivals.

Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Sport: pounds 19,510. Passat still defines the class quality standard. Turbo makes up for engine-size deficit.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee