The Primera MK1 surprised quite a few people with its
willing engines and good handling when it was launched back in 1990. Compared with the faded old Bluebird the Primera had a fair amount to offer in terms of its driving ability. Petrol engines were thrashy but very responsive, even the 1.6i Manual had a 0-60mph time of less than 10.5s. Fuel economy was surprisingly good too, 38.0+mpg combined for the 1.6i was pleasing. When it comes to image and style, it is a very sad story. A lot of Primera's continued the theme of the Bluebird, as a reliable but ultra-dull mini-cab that one would see on local roads for years and years.
Mini-cab drivers warmed to the Primera for its economy and
continued Nissan's historic big car mini-cab image. A car with this image really
is not favourable to most;
Nissan also seemed to devoid adding even an ounce of style to this range. Models badged 'SE' (special equipment) from 1995-1996 had chrome-look door handles and a chrome-look grill, these really, really do not suit the car's character or staid appearance. This is a sad way of trying to tart up the car, which is obviously a cost-cutting one too.
Equipment levels were good; most models featured 4x e/windows and PAS. The interior was a similar story to the exterior, offering no design flair at all. When I sat in a 1990 Primera it reminded me of being in an old graveyard on a cold and damp winters evening, hardly a welcoming ambience. This is because of the mass of grey (of 1 different shade) plastic everywhere. The only non-plastic material in the car are the seat fabrics. Finish is also so-so, when compared to the 1992-1997 Mazda 626 range.
The 626 is also filled with plastic, but of a far more tasteful
and aesthetically sound fashion. Rear legroom is poor, and the lack of rear
headrests on 'LS' models makes it
an uncomfortable place to sit back and relax. Front seats are reasonably comfortable though. Switchgear doesn't wear well and shows up nearly every spec of
dirt. Nissan also tried to tart up the interior of SE' models with fake wood trim; at least this lowered the level of dour greyness. A good thing about the Primera is that it is extremely reliable and as said above it handles with dignity. The steering feel is pleasing; it offers a quick and well-poised response, which would delight the keen driver. Those nippy engines invite being driven hard, too, but they become noisy and gruff when pushed.
Safety levels are fair, an airbag from 1994, and ABS on some. Build quality is also good, even though it doesn't quite match the Mazda 626's or the Toyota Carina's. The buying packages weren't as simple as the 626 or Honda Accord; Nissan added some special editions to the range like 'Equation' and 'Precision.'
These were budget editions only with 1.6i engines. Overall the Primera MK1 is a dutiful but dull family car that is reliable but unexciting in every way. The car will respond well to keen drivers and families on a budget but otherwise it offers little else in terms of style and finish. A 626 or Carina would be a better proposition unless you are looking for a cheap mini-cab. Colours do the car no favours; gold grey, anthracite, and brown were on the list. Avoid the thirsty and slow diesel, if you are going to buy a Primera then make it a 1.6i model special edition or a fast 2.0e GT. The MK2 model is a much better bet; it
offers more style, refinement, and a better cabin even though its low image remains.
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