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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
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

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments