UK Car Road Test

Nissan Primera 2003


UK Car Used Car Road Test

Nissan's Primera 2.2 SVE Turbo diesel 2003

The Primera replaced the now very old Datsun Bluebird many years ago. The Primera has been revamped many times with this current model being introduced back in 2002. Various body styles are available - saloon four door, hatchback and estate five door models. The engines are mainly petrol versions from 1.6 upwards with a smaller percentage being diesel turbo 2.2. Several specification levels from the S to SE and SVE, etc make the Primera range a very comprehensive one from which to choose the one that suits you best.

With such a grand choice of variables you might be inclined to consider one of these Nissans if you were in the market to buy a car. Once viewed, however, you might as well be offered just one body, one engine and one spec level because the first obstacle you would have to overcome would be the one I had and that is to do with its appearance. The very first thought I had when I viewed this car was, "What does this car look like"?  And quirky was my answer!

Nissan are making several models in its range at this moment in time which are borderline in looks and very odd in design. I personally don't get the ideas, formulas or direction in which the designers are heading towards. 

I remember the catastrophic advertising for Nissan some time ago in which Nissan literally advertised to us by saying "Don't buy one". What they actually meant was for us to buy one. Is this another ploy? Do Nissan think if they make ugly cars we will feel compassionate enough to actually to buy one? I doubt it! The advertising failed desperately and the Primera has now a smaller market share than any of its predecessors.

What can you say about this car? It is definitely not stylish.  It may be a little eye-catching but for the wrong reasons.

The body shape in all body type hatch saloon and estates consists of many angles, points and curves which don't all mix well together at all. This model tested is the SVE hatchback and is one of the highest spec levels in the range with alloy wheels, fog lamps, colour coding and chrome which all help to add detail to the car. It does not, in my opinion, exhibit any features which are either attractive, stylish or classy. Contemporary, yes, but then maybe even a little cheap and cheerful. I accept that looks are purely my personal interpretation and the car is for driving and not observing, but Nissan surely could have produced a better looking car to compete in what is probably the most competitive market sector.

Having somewhat criticised the exterior I am very surprised to find the interior quite acceptable, being modern in looks with a good fabric trim which is colour coded to the dash and door panels very sympathetically. The rear seating will accommodate three people easily but is far more comfortable with just two as the centre arm rest impinges on the available middle space. The front seating area is roomy and spacious in height and leg room. The dash instrument panel is positioned in the middle of the dash which you quickly accept and the consul protrudes out without being a nuisance to the driver or passenger, thus allowing easy access to the multi function display unit.



The Nissan Primera SVE has a great equipment level with standard features such as air con with climate, electric windows front and rear, as well as electric mirrors and even an electric sunroof. This high specification would make it a great choice if comparing to a Toyota Avensis of a similar price and Nissan have put a cherry on the icing on the cake to this car because it also gets a reversing camera and a DVD satellite navigation system with a high definition colour monitor.

The sat nav at first looked very different to the normal map-styled ones I am accustomed too. It had what Nissan call a birds eye view which is easy to understand as well as being very detailed, accurate and quick to calculate turnings and journeys. It was not, however, initially easily understood without the use of the handbook.

The heating, sat nav, fuel computer and stereo are all operated utilising the same buttons which tremendously reduces the numbers needed for simplistic appearance. However, it can be very complicated when used for the first time. Once I had driven the car for some time I had to pull over to read the handbook in order to adjust the temperature of the interior as I was baking inside. The combination of buttons numbered 1-6 for the stereo are also utilised for the heating controls and other features which made it very difficult to use at first. Then, to confuse you more, there are two dial-styled selectors and a mouse-styled multi-directional toggle switch which all added to the cockpit being effectively small but imposingly complicated. However, once you begin to understand the menus, it becomes much easier. This is maybe just because you know it can be adjusted by the buttons and knobs provided and your confidence increases with use even though you don't quite know how. Once I thought I had mastered the panel I tried the service light re-set menu but had to use the manual once again because it was more complicated than the service itself. 

Getting past the information panel, all else is as conventional as the next car. It has electric windows operated from the drivers panel, making them easily accessible. The stereo sounded very good with speakers fitted front middle and rear and it also had a remote adjustment fitted to the steering wheel. The now industry standard cup holders are fitted front and rear for the passengers or for your children to make a mess of the (thankfully) grey interior whilst in transit. With such a quirky exterior and a nice interior, I was left very neutral in my opinion of this car.


I say neutral in the knowledge that  most previous diesel Japanese cars I have driven have found to be poor in comparison to the European models available. This 2.2 is a four cylinder, transversely mounted, 16 valve, turbo boosted, lightweight aluminium, direct  fuel injected unit. It comes with this very credible 138 bhp earlier models were not as powerful. Turn the ignition and the engine fires up quite smoothly and relatively quietly. Press the accelerator pedal towards the carpet and the increase in rpms is very quick, unlike previous Nissan diesels I have driven.

At the time of using this Primera, I was driving one of the new Honda Accord 2.2 diesel cars which I thought was very good so this more affordable Nissan would have to be very, very good to come close and even then I probably would still prefer the European manufactured models.

The Nissan has a very close ratio 6 speed gearbox which drives the front wheels, the clutch is hydraulic, giving a very light pedal for city driving. I thought that the transmission was extremely good in selection and feel with exception to a little drag or maybe syncro wear on 2nd gear which would be a little disconcerting if you owned one (this car had covered over 70k which should make it just run-in). I have driven a few of these cars with this gearbox and they are all quite notchy in the lower gears and you don't become intolerant of it - you will just not be impressed.

Take off speed from the traffic lights is good for such a large bodied car with a diesel donkey and as you climb the gears the torque from the engine also increases to provide ample power for reasonable velocity. Whilst moving, the Primera is also very capable of credible speed changes for overtaking or simply driving with some spirit and even, dare I say, entertainment. Motorway driving is where this car performs best due to the low gearing as it cruises with aplomb at 70 mph and would be very easily persuaded to take you far beyond this pace if desired. Fuel economy is very good even at speed which diesels normally are not. Interior engine noise can be a little intrusive in the early gears but as the speed rises and other noise factors come into effect, the engine becomes subdued enough not to notice it's a diesel. As mentioned earlier, this car was driven consecutively with a Honda Accord diesel which brings me to the best compliment I can give this Nissan and that is that once I drove the Honda after the Nissan I missed the 6th gear and found the Honda to be extremely under-powered in the very low rev ranges. This in itself is a great compliment to the new generation Nissan diesels. I'm not sure I can compare this car to the VW, BMW or Merc ranges but it is definitely getting closer than it's ever been.

Service Interval Insurance Group Safety Rating Smog Rating
18000 8 Band (e)
Engine BHP CC Fuel Inj.
Turbo Diesel 4 Cylinder 16V 138 2184 No
Cyl Camshafts Valves/cyl Compressor
4 Single 4 None
Cooling F.Susp R.Susp
Water Independant NA
Top Speed 0 to 60 BHP per Tonne
123mph 10.9seconds 86
MPG@Urban MPG@Cruise MPG@Speed Fuel Type
32.1mpg 50.4mpg 46.3mpg Diesel
Kerb Weight Tow Weight Length Width Height
1450kg 1500kg 457cm 176cm 148cm
Boot Seats/up Boot Seats/Down Seats
450 Litres 0 Litres 5

As with all modern cars, Nissan are working with lightweight materials for added strength, more surefooted handling and additional performance. The car has independent suspension front and rear with large alloy rims for added contact to the road, with the power steering being very even throughout the car's speed range which all adds up to a very relaxing, and even sometimes almost a stimulating, drive. Stimulating is restricted though, to competing with other saloon cars of similar ilk and not any GTT TT sport of some description. It is, after all, a family saloon but, in reality, handles in a far more superior manner than sports cars less than only a few years of age.

Needless to say, the ride is very comfortable; the car copes very well with day-to-day use, even when loaded with four people it still performed well. The front end is clearly heavier than the rear which does show when scooting around corners without first restricting your speed. The steering feedback is tremendous on this model and is enhanced with the larger diameter alloys, along with wider tyre tread for increased contact but I'm certain that the other Primera models would not be too far behind. The brakes are very reassuring and effective, with just the right amount of servo-assistance as too much can be irritating; ABS is fitted as standard and the increase in driver assistance in most conditions is improved because of this.

Alloy Wheels from
Alloy Wheels
Disc Brakes Front & Rear from
Disc Brakes Front & Rear
Halogen Head Lights from
Halogen Head Lights
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim from
Height Adjustable Headlight Aim
Independent Suspension from
Independent Suspension
Intermittent Wash Wipe from
Intermittent Wash Wipe
Power Assisted Steering from
Power Assisted Steering
Rev Counter from
Rev Counter
Traffic Navigation System from
Traffic Navigation System


With a four star safety rating out of five, this car is not the best on paper and it does not win awards for it's passenger preservation designs. What it does have is a complicated SRS system which protects occupants front and rear in the event of an impact. The doors are fitted with reinforcement beams for added side strength and the body shell is designed with crumple zones. Indeed, if I were to be in a collision with another car of the Primera class, I would be very hard pushed to choose between this car and another make as the safety ratings in my opinion can be a little dubious. This is due to the manufacturers knowing where their cars are going to be impact tested and at what speed which makes it relatively easy to design stronger cars for specific impact testing. This would be ideal if all road accidents were carbon copies of pre-determined angles and speeds.

Passenger airbag.

Airbag located in the door pillar.

Air bags are plentiful in this car as they are now in most makes. They are very subtle and non offensive to the eye but I just wonder whether the car needs signs everywhere indicating where they are fitted.

Overall, the strength of the shell in this car feels very secure and strong which directly would help you in the event of any impact, small or severe. Security is again very modern with an immobiliser transponder in the key so that the car will only drive off if you have the key. The stereo, sat nav, etc are also as secure as it gets because even if you ripped them from the dashboard to put into another Primera they would not work. A thief would need lots of time to remove the enormous amount of cabling and communication wire for it to work. This all adds up to a high level of security which aids lower insurance costs and does away with that very sinking feeling when you approach you car to find someone has smashed your window for a quick grab and sale on ebay.

Alarm from
Antilock Braking System from
Antilock Braking System
Child Locks from
Child Locks
Engine Immobiliser from
Engine Immobiliser
Front Side Air Bags from
Front Side Air Bags
Front Twin Airbags from
Front Twin Airbags
High level brake Light from
High level brake Light
Locking Fuel Cap from
Locking Fuel Cap
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts from
Pre Tensioned front Seat Belts
Remote Central Locking from
Remote Central Locking
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts from
Three Rear 3 Point Seat Belts
Visible Identification Number from
Visible Identification Number


Apart from the quirky exterior looks of this car, I actually quite liked it and even preferred the drive to the Honda Accord which some will find astonishing as I know I did when I drove the Honda again after the Primera. At least it shows that I am open minded and my prejudice was overcome by this still ugly car.

The Primera started with ease every time, it provides power throughout the rev range, starting from 800rpm and it delivers a great mpg. The capacity for passengers is very generous and the boot will hide several bodies if you were odd enough to require such a provision. I found the car relaxing and easy to use daily. Once the gadgets were understood, the occasional adjustments became ever easier and the general feel when seated was very good. The Primera range is very affordable in the secondhand market place, I would not consider one new as the depreciation is very high which is a good reason to buy one three years old at a fraction of the new price. The engine is capable of driving the car around the world several times and still more and the overall engineering is equally high, thus cutting the cost of maintenance which is getting ever greater in modern cars.

To summarise, this car is ugly, a good drive and affordable. I guess two out of three in a car is acceptable but I would have preferred three out of three. I wouldn't accept anything less than three in my girlfriend so why should I in a car?



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UK Car Road Test Nissan Primera 2003

UK Car Road Test Keywords: DIESEL hatchbackPrimera