Looking Back: 2001 Nissan Primera

I remember seeing the concept car upon which this car was based. They included it at the 2000 London Motor Show though it was originally unveiled in Paris. Nissan intended to make a car as bold as the previous version had been blandly, if neatly styled.

2001 Nissan Primera: autoevolution.com
2001 Nissan Primera: autoevolution.com

Automotive Intelligence said this: “The Fusion concept is based on an ambitious philosophy. The brief to the Nissan designers was to develop an innovative style which adds strong emotional involvement to the traditional technical excellence of Nissan’s products; and to integrate western taste and Japanese roots, interpreted in a modern and even futuristic way.”

I feel it’s worth a giggle to quote the rest of the PR steam that described the exterior: “Their answer is a monosilhouette shape that smoothly encompasses bonnet, cabin and boot. The traditional emphasis of saloon car design has been almost entirely left behind and is replaced with a fluid and aerodynamic new profile dominated by the cabin. Little interrupts the profile of the Fusion. A sense of tension is achieved along the length of the bodyside through subtle sculpturing of all the main panels and through a stretching of the bonnet and boot best seen in plan view.

In marked contrast to the soft bumper sections, other applied elements – wheel arches, door openings, the rocker panel – all appear to have been integrated into the smooth central mass. This technique, known to architects, furniture and product designers as ‘constructivism’ is one of the key themes of the Fusion. The side panels’ design is very smooth and at the same time delivers a sense of power. The design of the 18″ wheels aims at reinforcing that feeling.”

Nissan Fusion concept car: www.thecarconnection.com
Nissan Fusion concept car: http://www.thecarconnection.com

Judging by the timing of the show car’s release and the actual launch of the production car, this “concept car” was probably styled after the production car. The main shapes are the same but the bumpers and details differ enough to give the impression – the impression- of something wild and conceptual. This is probably another example of the sort of show car that is there to soften the blow of the shock of the production design.

2002 Nissan Primera estate: autoevolution.com
2002 Nissan Primera estate: autoevolution.com

The brief description is that the 2001 Primera’s shape is focussed on blurring the three main volumes of the traditional saloon as much as possible. While the exterior and interior struck a futuristic note, the chassis concept was a step back. Car called the earlier car one of the sharpest handlers in the class, which is some compliment given the accepted excellence of the Mondeo and the Xantia. Peter Nunn wrote in Car that the car scored “highly for comfort, stability and refinement but you miss the immediacy and poised, grippy handling of the current Primera. Different kind of car, you see.”

2001 Nissan Primera interior: Parkers.co.uk
2001 Nissan Primera interior: Parkers.co.uk

A 2.5 litre motor was available in other markets but not in Europe where a 1.6  and 2.0 petrol and a 2.2 diesel could fill the engine bay. Despite its general competence, the market for C-D class saloons spelled trouble for the Primera. Nissan intended  selling 18,000 units but by 2004 it was managing 10,000 but also selling 10,000 X-Trails (they imagined selling 4,000 of those annually). By and large, the Primera is a good second hand-buy. The worst Honest John  has to say is that the 1.8 litre unit is dull to drive. The interior is also a bit small for the class.

I have driven one of these, in its estate car format and the lasting impression this car left me with was that it really ought to have been a Lancia. I say this because my idea about Lancia was that it ought to have embodied modernity and comfort which is what this car is about. The striking interior, one of the most radical since the Fiat Multipla, is the kind of thing I’d expect from an ideal version of Lancia, rather than the mock-wood Italian-Rover styling they served up in cars such as the Lybra which a similar size.

The combination of overt modernity and comfort would have neutralised the criticism that such a Lancia would have been staid or viewed as “old person’s car” leaving Alfa Romeo to combine retro styling with aggressive performance and ride characteristics. Such a car would not have claimed sales from the 156, finding an entirely different clientele.

Nissan gave up on the Primera in 2006, after having revised the car very thoroughly..

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

13 thoughts on “Looking Back: 2001 Nissan Primera”

  1. Thanks (again!) for featuring another car that I always enjoy watching when I come across one on the roads. I always liked the styling of this car, it’s a design that (unusually, I find) has a particular cohesion, as if the whole was designed by just one person. I also drove one (during my “car hire” years) and was astonished at the level of equipment – it was the first car I drove that had integrated SatNav – and the boldness of the interior design. It was, as you explain, a very plain drive with a pretty rough drivetrain. I recall that the Almera I drove in the same era was very similar in that respect (except that the styling was far less interesting), bot sharing a pretty loud and rough edged petrol engine and long winded/ disconnected gear-box.

    This was one of the last truly “brave” designs in this class, before conservatism washed over the market. In that respect, these days I think it easy to consider it a bit naive and foolish, but I admire it nevertheless. I can see why you would liken it to a Lancia, and I can see quite a lot of Renault in there too – perhaps more so in the Fusion concept than the final Primera design.

  2. Another car within touching distance of greatness. I remember seeing the concept at the Birmingham Motorshow and being impressed by its simple, pared down geometry. Certainly there did not appear to be anything within the concept that could not translate to production. Indeed, if Nissan had been a bit braver in retaining the concept’s nose and tail treatments, design writers would be talking about the Primera with the same hushed reverence as the mark 1 Focus.

  3. The Fusion always seemed as though it could have been a Renault proposal – did Le Quement have any influence on it?

    I walked round a London square last year and came across a red Primera parked on its own and it looked so well that I took its photo.

    I remember that the previous model was supposed to be a nice handling car beneath its dull body, and it’s odd this model took a step backwards in that department. The interior looks well, but centrally mounted instruments(another Renault cue) are a 1990s fad that deserves to be made illegal.

  4. At the time, the designers said something like: “Imagine a (…) familiar, practical car, but imagine it covered in snow. Think about how the snow softens the lines of the car and distorts its shape, no matter how familiar that shape might be. That is what we were trying to achieve with Fusion.”
    I’ve always liked the simplicity of Primera’s surfaces and the way it’s all successfully tied together.

    1. That stuck in my mind as well,that line about the snow-covered car. What do you think about the negative fold on the upper body? I was not sure about that. Formally, it was clever as it was a previously untried way to resolve the body to glass house relationship. What I never saw was this car with a really nice paint job and a really nice interior. I love the styling of the interior but the Renault-like materials and colours struck me as less than robust and less than warm. I´ve driven this car. It´s quite unremarkable and the estate version is a shade too small. My brother in law has one as an estate and I told him that a Volvo 940 estate was more down his street – that proved to be the case. Getting his kids and their stuff into the car on holidays has never looked like a pretty sight. My point is that the estate´s utility was marred by the stylist´s heavy hand.

  5. ….The saloon is still shouting Lancia at me. Not because of any nod to a Lancia look but because it is what I have in mind as the kind of modernism Lancia needed to contrast with Alfa (say, the 156 of the same period).

  6. When this car came out I remember thinking it somehow reminded me of a dolphin. To my surprise, one of the Primera’s T.V commercial then featured a dolphin which I think was the inspiration for the exterior styling.

    1. It´s a fairly forgotten car now despite being very capable and rather unlike the other cars in the class and the handsome but understated predecessor. And one of those parks in my neighbourhood. When I see it, I am struck by how small it is, not unlike the dimensions of the E36 BMW 3-series. It gives off the air of a very purposeful sports saloon. This one didn´t say anything like that: more modern and not very sporty but still able

  7. My favourite is the 1st gen Primera too, before the facelift and in 4-door guise, not so keen on the liftback. The saloon is very handsome and even athletic-looking somehow.

  8. Here’s the ad with the dolphins and the tagline ” A new form of intelligence”.
    Come to think of it most of the Primeras of that era I’ve seen where in that grey reminiscent of the mammal.

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