Look What the Tide Brought In – A Caledonian Curiosity

Ireland’s loss is Scotland’s gain. 

Image: R. Parazitas

It is early spring 2009, and Central Scotland is in the grip of an unexpected invasion. They came by the transporter load, unfamiliar little saloons and hatchbacks, unacknowledged by their Japanese maker. As I pounded the M8, M9, M90, and M74, I was briefly mystified – were they merely passing through, bound for another country? Nissan UK was glorying in a Qashqai-led purple patch – they had gambled the farm on an SUV for Focus / Astra money and hit the jackpot. What place was there for a nondescript and regressive basic transport tool?

If I’d been a keener reader of the nation’s red-top dailies, the mystery would have been solved sooner. Scotland’s largest car dealership chain had secured a job-lot of Nissan C11 Tiidas, originally intended for the Republic of Ireland, and now offered exclusively at tempting prices with an impressive equipment specification.

Had it been any other dealership, I’d have expected that a rap on the knuckles and a reminder of the terms of their franchise contract would have been delivered forthwith. In Arnold Clark’s case, I suspect complicity with Nissan to offload over-supply. Did somebody in Dublin click the order button before checking for an extraneous zero?

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A visitor from another planet who touched down in Scotland would probably assume that the characters A r n o l d   C l a r k signified the ubiquitous shiny things raised from the ground on four rubber propellers, such is the power and spread of the billionaire motor-trader’s organisation in the land. Among its specialisations is moving overstocks and distressed merchandise – there are still good zero-miles deals going to be had from Arnold, four years beyond the grave.

Unknown in Great Britain, the Tiida (Versa in the Americas) was a mainstay of Nissan’s global basic transport offering, on a 2600mm wheelbase version of the Alliance’s B platform, and built – or at least assembled – in Angola, China, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Taiwan, and Thailand.

In all probability, the Tiida, launched in the domestic market in late 2004, was never intended to be sold in Europe, but a bold product plan in which the lacklustre C-segment Almera was replaced outright by the Qashqai SUV from 2007, was considered to leave a damaging gap in markets with more traditional ideas of car morphology. Eighteen lucky nations* were on Nissan’s hit list. Sales ambitions were relatively modest – 30,000 cars supplied from the Civac factory in Mexico. (For comparison in 2009 Nissan shifted 180,468 Cashcows and 83,371 Micras in Europe).

When I saw my first transporter-load my first thought was Dacia Logan. There’s a certain similarity, and both are products of the same alliance. In many territories they perform the same function, but the link is coincidental, or at least limited to a few widely used Renault-Nissan Alliance components.

I’ll resist as far as I can commenting upon the styling. What we are now supposed to call the facia seems to have had some effort expended upon it. The rest is three-box basic in the extreme, tall, narrow and angular, but with the concomitant virtues of excellent visibility, access and egress, and interior space to footprint ratio. It’s easy to detect the embodiment of Carlos Ghosn’s “good enough” philosophy of offering products that deliver significant value for money to cost-conscious consumers.

Perfect then for those who fell for the exclusive Tiida’s superficial charms, typically just about managing small-town retirees, probably turning in a decade-old Micra or Corsa, and valuing dependability and low running costs above all else.

The equipment specification would have tickled them – it was way beyond what could be found in a sub-£10,000 car. The £8995 1.6 SE provided a CD player, Bluetooth phone connectivity, air conditioning, rear parking sensors and colour coded bumpers and mirrors. For £9495 the 1.6 SVE added climate control, a leather clad steering wheel, and cruise control. In December 2009, entry level for a Micra was £7995, for a Note the base price was just £10 short of £10K.

Only one engine type was available in Arnold’s bargain batch, the 1.6 litre HR16DE, an undersquare all-alloy four with twin overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, providing just over 100bhp, more advanced and powerful than might be expected in a basic transport tool in 2009.

Just how basic is demonstrated by the Versa’s US placing as a (just) sub-$10,000 car. In 2009 the USA registered 82,906 C11s. In the eighteen European sales territories the take-up was less than enthusiastic:

2007: 4,082
2008: 14,586
2009: 6,284
2010: 2,773
2011: 1,182

Perhaps that 2008 hump was the over-order. Going by the advert, Arnold’s cars were pre-registered in March 2009, from which point their three year warranty commenced.

The numbers sold by Arnold Clark are not known. 186,000 new cars were sold in Scotland in 2009, and at the time these new Tiidas seemed to be everywhere. Saloons outnumbered hatches – probably down to availability rather than consumer preferences. The spring 2009 job-lot was a one-off and sold quickly, buyers seemed unconcerned about future parts availability and orphan status.

R. Parazitas

Despite the exclusive Tiida’s ephemeral availability, twelve years on they are still a feature of Scotland’s carscape, which says something for the integrity of Nissan’s engineering and the functional virtues of the design.

* Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. In 2007 Nissan thought you were unsophisticated.

29 thoughts on “Look What the Tide Brought In – A Caledonian Curiosity”

  1. I never knew these were sold in Europe. But then again, I’ve never been to Scotland. I saw a lot of Tiidas in Trinidad & Tobogo where I spend a couple of years with my girlfriend working on architectural projects. The Tiida had a good reputation for reliability over there, but was also the subject of a lot jokes about bad driving. Sadly I can’t recall any of them now.

    Once I was in a car park at a mall and one car hit two others while parking. The reaction of the security guard was priceless: “Dear god, not another Tiida!” Turned out it wasn’t the first Tiida driver that day that caused a shunt.

    1. Is DTW the Saab of non-influential motoring sites?

  2. These are a car I know from the ROI. You see them almost universally in metallic grey with a grey interior. I won´t call it Nissan´s finest hour regarding style though as RP says, the dashboard´s not that bad. The front end styling worked better on Nissan´s larger cars such as the ((insert name of rarely-seen JDM saloon here)). The biggest victim of the Tiida´s brief appearance must have been the Suzuki Liana. I expect the Tiida customer is also the Liana customer – people interested in a local dealer, more car for the money and who are not interested in styling (which is unfair to the Liana as it´s a neat effort, good work applied to an unsexy package). Such is the predominance of the Liana hatch that I quite forgot there is a saloon version which in some markets was sold as a Baleno.

  3. What an interesting story, Robertas, thank you for showing me, at least, another car never heard of nor seen before.

    I liked Freerk’s analogy but has anyone else noticed the chaps name offering those Crunch Busting prices? Kevan Swindell – you couldn’t make it up, could you?

    1. You really couldn’t! I left that one for the readership to spot – also rings my ‘unconventionally spelled forename’ alarm bell…

  4. Good morning Robertas and thank you for this gem of a story. That photo of Arnold Clark is beyond parody!

    I’m strangely attracted to the Tiida. It is a very tidily styled small saloon and I really like the symmetry between the bonnet and boot lid treatment. The ‘Bangle Butt’ is handled rather more competently than on any BMW:

    As to ‘sophisticated’ or otherwise customers and markets, if a small saloon like the Tiida suits your personal circumstances, then it’s a more rational choice than a ‘fashionable’ crossover.

    1. I fully agree. I think this generation of Tiida/Versa was truly one of the great, honest, cheap cars of the mid-to-late 2000s despite (as a result of?) the CVT it most commonly came equipped with. CVTs are, fundamentally, best for this application of low-power motoring as demonstrated by the snowmobile/light ATV industry as well as DAF’s original efforts in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s unfortunate Nissan has generated such a reputation for unreliability with them, as I would imagine with adequate attention to detail there’s got to be a way to use them effectively and with good longevity; part of it has to be that journalists stop demanding fake ‘gear’ shifts! A CVT works best at peak engine horsepower RPM, that’s the point! I digress⁠—another element that I’ve always appreciated about this Tiida is the low windowline, something that would disappear on the next generation Versa which made it way tubbier and less tidy looking. This Tiida is the spiritual (and quite literal, in many countries) successor to the venerable B13 Tsuru as a functional, tall-windowed ordinary Nissan sedan.

    2. One reason people don´t buy this kind of car is that the manufacturers assume that to want a plain shape and a good package does not mean the car has to be grey inside and out. I´d much rather a simple, refined vehicle with pleasing, paint, trim and fabrics than a design statement available only with a black interior. Ford have wised up to this with the Vignale option which seems to have more uptake than the available but un-labelled cheery colours Opel often offered. I don´t propose my recipe to be the standard one. I´d like to see it among the choices though. At present, if you want a decent package and some nice colours I think you´re on your own. Is there a Vignale version of the Transit Connect?

    3. By the way, Renault don´t do a “domestic” version of the Kangoo any more in Germay or the UK. It´s sold only as a panel van. The Spanish can still get one and in nice colours as well.

      Good old Ford! The Tourneo Connect has a rear centre armrest. Superb. You can also have it in metallic orange. Well, that´s very nice indeed. These cars cost from 18-25K euros which is pretty good for all the space and versatility.

    4. Good morning Alexander. Here’s the Nissan Tsuru you mention in your comment, sold as the Sunny in some markets:

      I like its honest, rational design. It is what it is and has no pretentions to high style or performance. Car as domestic appliance, and none the worse for it

    5. The Tsuru is very tidy indeed. Imagine that with some nice cloth and a decent paint coating plus some pretty wheels. That´s a car for ten good years of pleasant motoring. The Tiiida is way too over-wrought in comparison.

    6. The Tsuru’s structural integrity isn’t all it could be, though.

    7. Thirty?…my dear, you don’t look a day over twenty-one. Ghosn? Never heard of him.

    8. Here’s an image that Richard will enjoy, the interior of the Tourneo* Connect:

      A rear centre armrest and non-black/grey trim. Nirvana!

      * Ford’s name for the passenger versions of the Transit

    9. That´s a very pleasing vehicle indeed. In some ways it´s doing all the great things a passenger saloon does and then some. You can see how the capabilities of the other classes of car are vampiring away demand for cars that are “just” saloons.

  5. I pressed “post” afore finishing…

    Autotrader has three for sale, the nearest to me in Rochdale on a Scottish reg plate for £1800. The other two are in Scotland with the tidiest looking and most expensive being a 2009 automatic , 1.6 saloon for £2700. The dash board appears a sea of grey plastic. The seats, again grey seem reasonable and you do get front and rear arm rests. Quirky, anonymous yet mildly interesting.

    I would set off to cross the Caledonian border imminently but I have an urgent appointment with a kettle and tea bag.

  6. There were (are ?) a few of these knocking around Kerry – I remember a dark blue one driven by a girl I used to work with, and wondering what she was thinking ! Complete antithesis of style. The only good thing about the Tiida was that Kim Kattrall did some amusing TV ads for it ( in Australia ?)…..

    1. I’m wondering if a substantial shipment of cars arrived with engines which nobody in Ireland wanted, but could be sold in the UK if they were cheap enough. Entry level for a Cashcow at the time was £14,200, and no doubt Arnold and Kevan’s boys and girls on the showroom floor were telling everyone who crossed the threshold that the ‘exclusive’ Tiidas were selling as fast as they could drive them off the transporters.

      Andrew’s Auto Trader researches show surprisingly solid prices being asked for 11 year old grey import cars. They’re no FTO or Figaro, but could there be some sort of Tiida scene out there?

    2. Robertas: If they were 1.6 petrols, that would probably have been awkward, given the motor tax situation here. A large(ish) engine in such a small car is not a recipe that works for the legislators round these parts.

      I’m trying to picture in my mind’s eye what a Tiida owners scene might look like… I imagine it might have to involve cross-stitch.

    3. Under the new 2008 CO2 tax system, the 1.6 petrol went from € 514 p/a to € 570 p/a – but they also offered a 1.5 diesel which was now € 280 p/a. No prizes for guessing which was more popular. The rates for CO2 tax were only announced half-way through 2008 so nobody bought cars in January to June – partly because of uncertainty about tax system and partly because of the recession. The CO2 had a bearing on the purchase price as well as the annual tax.

  7. The Note and Murano had the same corporate grille, at the time. I prefer the hatch to the saloon.

    I’m not sure that one can see it very clearly in the pictures, but the nose has something on the PT Cruiser about it in real life – the bonnet has tall sides.

    Autotrader has a few for sale for around £2k.


    I’m amazed that they managed to import these, although I guess that they would have had European type approval, which would have helped.

  8. Spain was another of the “lucky” countries that got the Tiida, although in five door form. You could choose 1.6 petrol or Renault 1.5 dci “power”.
    I don´t think anybody could accuse us for being too sophisticated; the number of Dacia Logans and Citroen C-Elysées seen on our roads is the proof. The Tiida sold poorly, though.

  9. That K9K diesel is not a bad old thing, at least in its evolved forms. I found it unexpectedly quick and quiet in an early J11 Caschcow, and also by far the best engine to power a Sandero – so good we can’t have them any more.

    Most North American C11 Versas got a 122bhp 1.8 from the Alliance’s MR series, with a six-speed manual gearbox for those who like that sort of thing. An impressive specification for a very cheap car.

  10. Once I had a 2007 Tiida hatchback for a week when my old CLK left me stranded. It was a competent car, not brilliant at all but good enough for me to recommend it.

    Visually, it looks a little narrower than it should be (blame it on the Clio III platform), but it has more than decent room for four. The rear bench slides back and forth (you had to pay extra for it) and the base model sold in Brazil had one of the best velour upholsteries I ever sat in.

    The driving position reminded me of my late Peugeot 307. I sat higher than on other hatchbacks but not high as in a crossover. The 1.8-litre petrol engine has decent punch and was mated to a 4-speed auto gearbox which, albeit unremarkable, was arguably a better bet than the CVT that was offered in other markets.

    Back then, Nissan was a left-of-the-centre choice in Brazil, and I would gladly have a Tiida hatchback – the saloon was too dreadfully styled.

    In 2009, Chrysler and Nissan held talks about rebadging the Tiida saloon and sell it as “Trazo C by Chrysler” (apparently it was not bad enough to be named Chrysler Trazo) in some Latin American markets, but the idea collapsed when Fiat bought Chrysler, leaving only some press shots:

    (the headline of this article translates as “Fortunately, the Dodge Trazo C is dead!”)

    1. Necessity really has created some really strange automotive bedfellows (or not, in this case!) Thanks for sharing, Eduardo.

  11. In the space of an hour today, I spotted (and I really wasn’t looking) two, (yes friends), two Tiidas. One in black. It lent it a surprising element of gravitas.

    Sorry, that last sentence was an utter fabrication. It didn’t…

  12. The Tsuru is a neat looking car, and seems to have succeeded the VW Beetle as Mexico’s national vehicle. However it fits into the old mould of emerging market products, a de-contented and simplified derivative of an obsolete Japanese or European mainstream big-seller.

    The Tiida fits better with the Schweitzer / Detourbet idea of using up to date knowledge to develop a highly cost-effective product capable of being sold profitably at affordable prices in just about every market.

    The automotive coelacanths are nearing extinction as global emissions and safety standards are being harmonised. Another factor is that closed markets are becoming rarer as a result of trade deals between the emerging economies.

    Returning to Tiida matters, I spotted this beauty in Christopher’s home city a couple of summers ago:

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