Published on Monday 10 March 2014 19:30
Ten Second Review
Nissan's Primastar is an oft-forgotten but very worthy and cost-effective choice for company customers in search of a spacious and efficient medium-sized light van. More affordable than its Vauxhall and Renault design stablemates in like-for-like model comparisons, it's a choice for business buyers who've clearly done their homework.
If your business is searching for a medium-sized light van, then you're certainly not short of choice. Ford's Transit, Volkswagen's Transporter and Mercedes' Vito may all be options that spring to mind, though in truth, these stand-alone models account for a relatively small slice of the European market for mid-range LCVs of this kind. No, the biggest sales in this segment are spread across just two main designs shared by a variety of manufacturers. First there's the model badged variously as either a Citroen Dispatch, a Peugeot Expert or a Fiat Scudo. And up against it is the design that takes nearly 30% of the European market in this segment, the vehicle we're looking at here, badged as either a Vauxhall Vivaro, a Renault Trafic or, as in this case, a Nissan Primastar.
The Nissan is the least familiar of these three on British roads, despite the fact that it's priced by far the most sharply of the trio. Like its two design stablemates, it's been continually enhanced since we first saw this basic design back in 2001, most notably with the addition of a torquier common rail 2.0-litre diesel engine, here available with 115PS and uprated to eco-conscious Euro5 standard. With anything between just over five and just under nine cubic metres of carriage capacity depending on the model chosen, it fits the bill size-wise for businesses in search of a van not too big and not too small. But how much has it to offer today's demanding operators in other respects? Let's find out.
Get behind the wheel and the driving position is as commanding as you'd want from a van in this segment. Under the bonnet, a modern Euro V direct injection common rail 2.0-litre diesel engine with a 115PS output and 290Nm of torque is all that's on offer here and with those sorts of stats, ought to feel pretty strong out on the road. So it proves on the move, pulling power constant through the rev range right up to the academic maximum speed of just under 100mph. Peak torque arrives low in the rev range with this unit from as little as 1,600rpm, just where you want it for urban low speed lugging. Or indeed for towing. There are maximum trailer weights of 2000kg (braked) and 750kg (unbraked).
The six speed gearbox manages not to be obstructive to fluid progress, though if most of your work is town-bound, you might want to consider the semi-automatic transmission option to save all that left foot clutch work. The steering isn't especially communicative - and is rather light for high speed cruising, but you'll be glad of it when trying to thread this van around tight city streets. Refinement is reasonably good, but is obviously severely affected if you opt for one of the entry-level models that do without a full-height bulkhead to insulate the cab area.
Design and Build
We're very familiar with this design now, though more so when it bears either a Renault or a Vauxhall badge. But it still has something of an avant garde look that works as well as today as when this vehicle first hit the market in 2001. The distinctive domed roof makes the cab easier to enter and improves side visibility. Other careful touches include the large front bumper with its integrated turn indicators and fog lamps, sitting just below the large, clear-glass headlamps. Build quality isn't quite as strong as you'd find in a Mercedes Vito or a Volkswagen Transporter - but then, you're not paying that kind of money.
Inside the cab, build quality is solid whether the Primastar you happen to have chosen originates from a British factory in Luton or a Spanish one near Barcelona. Either way, it's all very car-like - as you'd expect from a modern van. Comfort at the wheel has been properly thought through with features like wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and there's a three-way adjustable seat with height adjustment and a reach-adjustable steering column to ensure that most shapes and sizes can be catered for. All round visibility's great, with manoeuvring aided by big, split-optic, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors. There's theoretically room for three at the front but in practice, the gearstick gets in the way of the middle seat, even though it's dash-mounted.
Market and Model
Anticipating perhaps your most obvious question - why should you buy this Nissan when essentially, it's the same as a Vauxhall Vivaro or a Renault Trafic - I'd like to suggest the answer to be a very straightforward one. It's more affordable pricing. That's assuming you don't mind this Nissan's lack of engine choice. Both the Vauxhall and the Renault offer an additional lowered-powered 90PS entry-level version of this model's 2.0-litre dCi diesel, a unit that Primastar customers do without. But the 115PS powerplant that all variants of this Nissan must use is the one to have anyway, and if you'd already come to that conclusion, then you'll find that in Euro5 form, it can save you anything up to £1,500 over the figure you'd have paid to have it fitted in a Vivaro or a Trafic.
But if there's little choice under the bonnet, you can at least enjoy all the usual control you'd want over the shape of this model, with four size formats based on short or long wheelbase, low or high roof. That means carriage capacities that range from just over 5m3 for the most compact short wheelbase/low roof variant to as much as 8.36m3 for the biggest long wheelbase/high roof variant. And whatever size of space chosen, if your business needs demand it, you can keep the area cool by selecting between a choice of chiller and freezer conversions. Payloads range from 1045 kg to 1263 kg, depending on load configuration and engine type. There's a choice of Gross Vehicle Weights that range between 2790 and 3030kg depending on the model chosen. And if your carriage priorities centre around people rather than packages, you can order your Primastar as a 9-seater minibus.
Practicalities and Costs
Right, so just how practical will this Primastar prove to be in tough day-to-day use? Well, there's a reasonably low loading height which can be as little as 527mm and most of what you want to shove in should fit thanks to a rear door aperture that's 1390mm wide and either 1335 or 1818mm high, depending on your choice of either low or high roof height. That, along with your selection between short or long wheelbase models, will of course determine your interior cargo volume too, anything between 5.0m3 and 8.36m3. The loadbay itself, which really need ply-lining if it's to be properly protected, offers 1690mm on width, narrowing to 1268mm between the wheelarches. Loadbay height is anything between 1387 and 1913mm, depending on your choice of model.
If you're loading through the standard side door, which incorporates a useful step to make life a little easier, there's plenty of room for a standard-sized euro pallet thanks to an aperture width of 1000mm and a height of 1285mm. An optional extra offside sliding side door is available on some models. Once everything's inside, six cargo tie-down points are provided to keep stuff in place, but if you forget to use them and everything slides forwards towards the cab, then you'll be glad of the bulkhead provided.
And costs? Well, combined cycle fuel consumption for the Euro5-compatible 115PS 2.0-litre dCi diesel ranges between 37 and 41mpg on the combined cycle, depending on the derivative you choose, giving a decent operating range from the 90-litre fuel tank. While CO2 emissions vary between 178 and 207g/km, the lower figures being delivered by variants with the semi-automatic gearbox. Operators will also be interested in the Primastar's decently long 18,000 mile service intervals and low group 4T insurance costs. There's also a three year / 100,000 mile warranty and a 12-year anti-perforation warranty.
Given that this Primastar's basic design has been around for so long, it's perhaps surprising just how competitive it remains in the medium-sized light van sector. Credit for this lies not only with the excellence of the original concept but also for the way that the engineers behind this model have continually enhanced it to keep pace with ever-toughening competition in this segment. The Euro5-compatible 2.0-litre dCi diesel under the bonnet is a good example of this, offering pokey performance, yet running costs not that far removed from those of more compact LCVs in the market sector below.
So yes, the design's still good here. But should you select it with a Nissan badge rather than from a Renault or a Vauxhall showroom? More aggressive Primastar pricing suggests that perhaps you should, provided you don't mind choosing from a slightly narrower engine range. A tempting package then, for cost-conscious business buyers shopping in this sector. It won't be the first contender you think of in this segment but it remains one of the more sensible choices you can make.