Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 84%

Ever since the original model of 1996, Nissan’s Primera has been synonymous with affordable, practical family transport, and the second-generation model that arrived in 2002 did nothing to dispel that.

The facelifted car of 2004 went even further, with an overhauled cabin, extra equipment and slightly recalibrated suspension – but no changes to the car’s external appearance.

Whether or not that was an oversight is debatable, but you can’t argue with the fact that as an overall package, the Primera makes for a tempting proposition.

1: Looks 8/10

Nissan has somehow managed to create a mid-sized family car that’s distinctive, bland and ugly all at the same time, yet even though the car has been out of production for several years, it still doesn’t look old-fashioned.

2: Looks inside 8/10

The deep-set instrument binnacle, multi-media screen and array of touch-sensitive buttons just below, give the Primera an air of high-tech, without it appearing overblown. Whether or not you could call the Primera’s cabin a thing of beauty is open to conjecture, but it certainly looks inviting, with plenty of toys, decent seats and build quality that’s everything you’d expect from this Japanese marque.

3: Practicality 8/10

The Primera holds an ace up its sleeve here, as it doesn’t matter which bodystyle you buy, there’s masses of luggage capacity on offer. Even the hatch can offers 780 litres of storage space with the seats down, but if you opt for the estate that more than doubles to a brilliant 1,670 litres.

What isn’t so good is the space available to rear seat passengers. Leg room is reasonable, but the sharply sloping roofline towards the rear means tall passengers don’t have as much space as they should – but if you’re after something to stick the kids into, the Primera should suit your needs just fine.

4: Ride and Handling 8/10

Despite its dowdy image, the Primera has always been a car that’s pretty competent dynamically. The chassis balance is stacked in favour of a comfortable ride rather than razor-sharp handling, but this isn’t a car to attract hard-core enthusiasts anyway.

There’s a fair amount of body roll if you corner in a spirited fashion and the steering could offer more feedback, but on the UK’s badly surfaced roads, Nissan’s engineers have gone for the right focus in terms of the car’s ride/handling balance.

5: Performance 9/10

All three of the engines offered in the Primera are worth a look; even the entry-level 1.8-litre petrol unit gives the car a 116mph top speed, with 0-60mph taking 11.3 seconds. While that’s hardly the stuff of legend, in practice it’s fine, if most of your driving involves motorway cruising.

If you do find yourself invariably plying motorways, you’d be better off with the excellent 2.2dCi, as tested here. With 136bhp and 232lb ft of torque, this turbodiesel powerplant isn’t as refined as some rivals such as Honda’s Accord unit, but with a fat slug of torque available from the lower end of the rev range, it’s a very relaxing unit to drive.

If you prefer a petrol engine, the range-topping 2.0-litre unit is also excellent, but performance is virtually identical to the turbodiesel’s – yet the latter unit is rather more economical. As a result, you’ve got to really like that extra-wide power band or the price must be right, to opt for the petrol unit.

6: Running costs 9/10

Low running costs are often the sweetener for a raft of failings elsewhere, but not here. Although the Primera offers a stack of great attributes, it’s also generally cheap to run thanks to affordable insurance levels and efficient engines.

Those efficient powerplants ensure plenty of power and torque without a heavy penalty at the fuel pumps. While the 2.0-litre petrol unit can burn fuel at the rate of 30mpg, the 1.8 petrol should happily return closer to 40mpg while the 2.2dCi unit will return 50mpg all day on a run.

7: Reliability 7/10

Nissan may have a reputation for unfailing reliability, but in the case of the Primera it’s not entirely deserved. While many Primeras have proved to be trouble-free over tens of thousands of miles, not all owners have been so lucky.

Some cars have suffered from failed crankshaft sensors, leaving cars running badly or unable to start at all. The timing chain and tensioner of the 2.2-litre turbodiesel is prone to failure unless it’s changed twice as often as Nissan recommends, while the turbocharger on diesel engines can fail if not allowed to cool before switching off; look for blue smoke from the exhaust, signalling oil being burned.

Meanwhile, the rear anti-roll bar of some early cars could come adrift; longer bolts should have been fitted by now. Handbrakes can also fail, so check the car is held on a steep incline, and because the electrics can give trouble, check everything works – especially the electric windows and central locking.

8: Safety 8/10

Although the Primera was launched as long ago as 2002, it still managed to turn in an impressive score in EuroNCAP’s crash tests. Racking up a four-star overall score is a good showing for such an old design, although Nissan had to resubmit the car after early examples were shown to need some reinforcement at strategic points.

That high score was notched up thanks to a stiff bodyshell and plenty of safety gear being fitted as standard to all models. This includes anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, six airbags, a trio of three-point seat belts in the rear and active head restraints.

Move to the top of the range (T-Spec) and to this list you can also add electronic stability programme and a tyre pressure monitoring system – which means that you’ve got everything you could possibly need to help you stay safe.

9: Equipment 10/10

There would have to be something seriously amiss for Nissan to give the Primera the bare minimum of equipment. Japanese family cars have always been laden with goodies and it’s no different here, as the Primera comes with everything you could want – and in many cases some more besides.

Even the cheapest Primera gets remote central locking, climate control, an alarm, CD player and electric windows in the front. You only have to move up one level before there’s also cruise control, powered windows for the rear, a CD autochanger and alloy wheels.

Range-topping Primeras carry even more kit, such as leather trim, sat-nav, metallic paint and an electric sunroof – plus a very natty multimedia screen that includes a rear-facing camera to make parking easier.

10: X-Factor 9/10

There are few good reasons to avoid the Primera, with its space, practicality, affordability and dynamic competence. It’s well equipped too and generally reliable, while also being quick and safe. While everyone else is clamouring for a Mondeo, the Primera sits in the shadows; we’d suggest you take a closer look.

Key facts

Model tested: Nissan Primera 2.2dCi SVE
On the road price: £18,250
Price range: £14,600-£21,250 (Hatches and estates, April 2005)
Date tested: March 2009
Road tester: Richard Dredge