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MOTORING: Road Test: Perfectly primed to take primed on the opposition; Nissan Primer a 2. 2 d Ci T-Spec.

Byline: Val Jessop

RADICAL, super modern, avantegarde, the new Primer a is all of these things which gives it a significant edge over many serious rivals.

But, however you view this capacious family chariot, it is far removed from the dull and the boring but highly capable offerings in an incredibly vast and competitive market.

Its distinct profile has already earned the new-look Primer a many accolades and, as is often the case, first impressions are all-important: those voluptuous, smooth and slinky contours can't fail to impress.

Nissan has managed to produce a large hatch back which looks as though it's been put through every wind tunnel in creation. The result -- a very attractive silhouette, despite all those metres of metal.

But there's more to all this 21st-century architecture. The cabin is contemporary -- almost space-age, emphasised by the large sweeping arc of the centrally-located controls pod.

I confess that the off-set dials pod was slightly unsettling: instead of staring straight ahead at the dials, you find yourself peering into a large black, plastic void. Therefore you have to divert your eyes slightly left to take on board speed and other information. It's no big deal because you soon become used to it and, when you do, you begin to ask why more manufacturers don't choose this preference.

I've never known a Nissan that was not well-kitted out -- even before you start with the so-called extras, but the list of toys that come with the test car, a 2. 2 d Ci T-Spec, is mind-boggling.

For instance, even the Primer a SE (one up from entry level) has colour rear-view camera as standard as well as ABS, EBD, electronic climate control, six-inch colour centre display monitor, remote control central locking, anti-hijack and perimetric alarm, and CD radio with six speakers.

Move on four paces to the top T-Spec, as in the test car, and the list is endless: satnav, intelligent cruise control, leather upholstery, electronic stabilityprogramme, giant alloys, rain-sensing and much more. You name it, the T-Spec's got it.

Nissan impishly hints in its literature that it was sorely tempted to stoop low and compare the lists with those of rival Ford Mondeo.

However, it resisted -- but only just.

The test car was powered by Nissan's 2. 2-litre four-cylinder common rail turbodiesel engine developing 138PS.

It was one of the most un-diesel like engines I have ever driven.

Apart from a faint ``knock'' at idle speeds, the d Ci unit sounds just like a petrol, so well is it suppressed.

With 0-62mph coming up in just 10. 2 seconds, it is no slouch either. Top speed, where allowed, is 126mph. Mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox, fuel consumption is frugal -- 46. 3mpg in the combined range.

The 2. 2-litre is a very competent power unit whose overtures are well insulated, so there's no major intrusion into the cabin. Wind noise and tyre thrum were also kept in check.

It drives well, mustering lots of energy, though, surprisingly, the accelerator and clutch felt a little aggressive.

Otherwise, the large, sophisticated hatchback, handled and cornered well.

The ride is good, but less accommodating in the urban jungle when it felt a little jiggly. Steering was fine, but there needs to be more driver feedback.

Cabin space is generous with plenty of room for five adults to sit comfortably. The cabin is airy as well, thanks to the low dashboard and generous glass area which aids all-round visibility. The boot is also big enough to take the whole family on holiday.

For just less than pounds 20, 000, the T-Spec offers a lot of car.

The FactsENGINE: 2, 184 cc 4-cyl 16V 138PS@4, 000rpm 314Nm@2, 000rpm PERFORMANCE: Top speed: 126mph 0-62: 10. 2 secs ECONOMY: Town: 34. 9/ out of town: 56. 5/ mixed: 46. 3mpg CO 2 EMISSIONS: 164g/km INSURANCE: Group 10 PRICE: pounds 19, 500VerdictTHE Primer a was capable and poised enough when pushed on twisty bits of road although there was a fair amount of body roll. The steering feels fairly lifeless at low speeds, but comes alive the faster you go.

CAPTION(S):

Its distinct profile has already earned the new-look Primer a many accolades; The cabin reveals a contemporary, almost space-age look
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:707
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