Rob writes: 100 days of Primera

Here’s Rob Griggs-Taylor with an update on his Nissan Primera. For more from Rob, follow him on twitter @robgt2.

Four months ago I travelled to London to collect our 2003 Nissan Primera from Ash and Peter, and started the drive home. So 4,447 miles later how are things progressing?

It’s OK I suppose.

I really bought this car as a temporary runabout while I was between jobs, e.g. redundant. A service at Stones Garage in Coventry showed up nothing to be concerned about and the only fault of any consequence was that the unusually warm weather on our summer day this year showed that the climate control wasn’t blowing cold air. A simple re-gas of the system solved that issue and so it’s possible to drive in sunshine without losing half my body weight in perspiration.

Oh, and yes, I did say climate control. For a nine year old mid-range saloon this car is surprisingly well equipped. In addition to the climate control there’s a rear view camera for reversing, something that’s a £500 option on a new Jaguar XF. Five hundred quid would buy quite a chunk of a 2003 Nissan Primera. It also has electric windows all round, remote central locking, a trip computer and automatic windscreen wipers.

Rear view of Rob's 2003 Nissan PrimeraWhat it doesn’t have is the merest smidgeon of excitement. From the plain navy blue paint to the grey upholstery there’s nothing about this car to raise your heartbeat above flatline. It’s an appliance, built entirely to adequately fulfill a specific design brief which probably reads, “get up to five people and some luggage to their destination reliably”.

This it does. It doesn’t do it quickly, or quietly, or economically. But it does do it. It has never given the merest hint of a cough, rattle or thump. The engine is loud and sounds like you’re proceeding at a greater velocity than the speedometer proclaims. Changing gear puts your hand in contact with a vague and sloppy gearshift, something you’d expect from a car with more than double the 67,000 miles that this one shows. The steering wheel is large and protrudes from the dashboard at a slight angle in both planes.

I had cause to drive through Milton Keynes, so there were plenty of opportunities to test the handling and roadholding on the considerable number of roundabouts that litter the town. I’m a fan of the roundabouts though – they can make for a fun journey if you’re driving something other than a dull saloon.

Interior of 2003 Nissan PrimeraThe level of body roll is dictated by your posterior’s ability to cling to the seat squab as there’s little side support from the seats, and you really have to back off the throttle to a significant degree if the road surface is wet. In fairness, some of the understeer can be attributed to the no-brand tyres, no two of which are embossed with the same manufacturer name. If you ever think that tyres make little difference to your car try replacing the front ones with the cheapest ones you can find, and drive enthusiastically round an empty, and preferably wet, roundabout. Once you’ve had your vehicle towed out of the railings and repaired I predict that you’ll be looking for some that say Bridgestone or Michelin or Dunlop or Goodyear or Toyo or Pirelli on the side.

So in conclusion, it would be fair to say that I’m not a fan of the Primera. Whilst realising that the strapline of PetrolBlog currently promotes the mundane I think I’m much happier fulfilling this brief by taking photographs of Shatchbacks rather than actually owning one. I’ve also now secured a new job which is fifty miles from home and I need the economy of a diesel car. Thus, the Primera is up for sale and currently waiting to be snapped up for a bargain price by someone who really doesn’t give a fig roll for the challenge, excitement and fun that we enthusiasts relish.

I’m off to buy something more exciting. Maybe a Toyota Carina, or a Morris Ital, or perhaps a Mazda 626. Did they ever do a diesel Ital?

Images courtesy of Rob and Palmdale.

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Rob Griggs-Taylor
Rob grew up with a paternal family of speed freaks. Even his ageing grandfather managed to obtain a speeding ticket in his Ford Orion. With some of his earliest memories involving his dad’s customised Morris Minor saloon it’s no coincidence that he’s grown into an ageing petrolhead. His dad’s Minor had an engine twice the size of the original but the exterior was completely standard, a Q-car in the truest sense of the word, which perhaps explains Rob’s liking for similarly quick yet discreet vehicles. It also once had a wheel fall off which similarly explains Rob’s OCD in relation to correctly torquing down wheel nuts. Only two things stand between Rob having a fleet of Q-cars: a lack of significant engineering skill, and a lack of money. Apparently with one you need less of the other so not having either is a bit of stalemate in this regard. He has made up for that sad state by buying a Bangernomics motorcycle instead, and by having a wife who was smart enough to choose a Ford Puma which he occasionally steals (err – borrows) for a blat up the back roads. Within the speed limit obviously.


  1. July 2, 2012

    Rob, what’s your take on the central gauge cluster, and the interior in general? It all looks… interesting, if you know what I mean.

    • July 4, 2012

      A couple of key things about the Primera that I should have mentioned in the story: (1) the wiring is so complex that even on Nissan forums they suggest that you don’t hack into it in order to avoid lengthy and expensive repairs later and (2) the dashboard has been the subject of some proper out-of-the-box thinking.

      As mentioned in my last epistle, the stereo is coded to the ECU so you can’t even replace yours with one from another Primera and (given that my local dealer wanted to charge £135 for a spare key including programming) I don’t think reprogramming would be cheap.

      The central instruments are described in the brochure (I’m paraphrasing) as being designed for safety as it takes a miniscule amount of time less for your eyes to go from looking at the road to looking at the central, high-level speedo than a traditional one. This may be true, but after *harumph* years of driving cars where the speedo is in line with your body I kept looking in the wrong place for the speed which dramatically lengthened my time not looking at the road. The cynical side of me suggests that a central instrument cluster is less expensive to assemble and probably requires fewer specific parts than a traditional dashboard.

      Nissan also designed the interfaces to use six of the dashboard buttons as ‘soft’ keys – e.g. they fulfill different functions determined by the context in which you are using them. Positive: not many buttons to choose from. Negative: every time (and I do mean every time) you need to change something you have to press at least two buttons, one to set the context and one to make the adjustment. I’m not entirely sure that this is an improvement on the traditional ‘one button for each task’ layout. So, if you want to change radio stations you have to first press ‘FM’ then the appropriate numbered memory button. If you want to speed up the heater fan you have to press the temperature knob then press button 2, one click for each additional speed.

      In fairness, the automatic climate function works well with a single-button override to clear the windscreen, but the rest is a bit “Curate’s Egg.”

      One other thing is that the button cluster is exactly the same in all models so even the base model has a ‘Nav’ button. However only the buttons that have the appropriate hardware/software fitted to the car actually do anything. I was initially quite excited to think that there might be satnav on the car but was cruelly disappointed! 🙂

      In summary, I admire Nissan’s different thinking but it was a genuine relief to move to a car where things were more commonly placed.

  2. July 2, 2012

    Sometimes, I have found that a seemingly mundane car can be fun. I recently had the opportunity to drive a V-registered Toyota Avensis 1.8 GLS, the lowly runabout for the garage which I use, in fact. It is a car which is quite comparable to the Primera above, and seemingly as exciting on the face of it as well.

    A spell behind the wheel showed however me that a book shouldn’t be judged by its seemingly plain cover. A beautiful ride and comfortable interior, with a lovely smooth and charming engine as well. Granted, it’s no Ferrari, and my description does sound like the definition of mundane, but it did challenge my existing perception that Japanese saloon cars are dull.

    One thing I must ask is how easy/difficult is it to adjust to the central speedometer layout? Personally I would hate it! (although maybe this is another unchallenged perception of mine!)

    • July 4, 2012

      Thanks for your comment!

      I agree – there are plenty of outwardly dull cars that are a genuine blast to drive. This isn’t one of them. And if you have a look at my reply above you’ll see my thoughts on the dashboard.

  3. July 2, 2012

    having been on the rampage for another car to replace my old volvo 480es a few months ago I looked a quite a few cars one being a nissan primera (earlier than yours) and was so impressed with I walked away and got a Rover 416 ……….ha ha

  4. July 3, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    Actually a little surprised to discover the Primera is that dull. I’d always thought, thanks to the styling, interior and rumours that the car handled well, that it’d be a bit of a hidden gem.

    If you’re after a diesel you could always have my Rover 75 for a pittance…

    • July 4, 2012

      I did notice that you were selling it but not until after I had purchased me replacement! Stay tuned to Petrolblog for the next thrilling installment… 🙂

  5. July 3, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Didn’t the Maxi occasionally get a couple of tons of Perkins in the front? Bet they were quick.

  6. July 6, 2012

    Hit the nail on the head calling it an appliance, they are like white goods, they do their job but you dont get excited about them!

  7. July 31, 2012

    An appliance indeed, we are breaking down a few of premiera’s that have been obliterated through modern day motoring nonesensary! On the plus side, it looks as though they took the bullet like a true war veteran, as neither of them appear to be bruised too badly, but undriveable none the less, here are a few photo’s of the premiera’s, and a list of all parts that survived in working order Bless them!


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