".once into its stride the engine keeps itself to itself"
The Nissan Primastar Minibus arrived on the scene around the same time as the Renault Trafic minibus, which is typical in that the public at large waited years for a Renault or Nissan minibus to turn up and then two came along at once. The vehicles are broadly identical because, as anyone in the commercial vehicle know will be able to tell you, the Nissan Primastar panel van is a rebadged version of the Renault Trafic. The Vauxhall Viraro is the third member of this platform-sharing triumvirate and it too is offered in Minibus form. It's the Primastar Minibus we concentrate on here and it's basically a short-wheelbase, low-roof 2.9T Primastar panel van with windows and seats bolted on inside. Obviously, there are other additions to the package as well, little extras to add the degree of comfort and quality that passenger-carrying vehicles need but vans usually don't. There's space for nine people inside: that's a driver and two passengers in front, as you'd get in the panel van, then two rows of three tucked in behind. Access is good with sliding side doors on both sides and a glazed tailgate that must be one of the largest on any vehicle currently available. This huge top-hinged door swings upwards to reveal a 1.24m3 luggage area behind the third row of seats. While this giant flap is open, it creates a large sheltered area behind the vehicle which may be handy when the British weather does its worst. If you need more capacity for bags, you'll have to forgo some of your passengers but the back row of seating can be folded down, increasing the space available to 2.49m3.
Nissan have selected their 100bhp 1.9-litre dCi diesel engine to take pride of place under the shapely Primastar Minibus bonnet. It's a common-rail injection unit that's capable of returning a creditable 36.7mpg and if your last experience of minibus travel dates back twenty years or more, it will be a revelation. Where the Minibus used to be a rough, agricultural thing, devoid of airs or graces, the Primastar is a bit of a smoothy. With a useful kick of torque from just 2,000rpm, it's eager enough to pick up its heels and get up to cruising speed, although acceleration is never particularly brisk. Far more important in this multi-passenger vehicle is refinement. It's not passenger-car quite but once into its stride the engine keeps itself to itself. It's clean too and a huge step on from minibuses of yesteryear where the rear view mirror was rendered virtually obsolete by the thick plume of acrid black smoke perpetually billowing from the exhaust. Further to all of this, there are two trim levels to choose from - E and SE. The E forms the base of the Range and comes well equipped with power steering, engine immobiliser, steering wheel controls for the RDS Stereo, driver's airbag and remote central locking, ABS with EBD and three point seatbelts on all seats. In addition, the SE squeezes in an ultrasonic rear parking sensor, that emits a series for bleeps to warn of impending car park collisions, as well as electric windows, a CD player and electric, heated door mirrors. From the driver's point-of-view, the Primastar package is difficult to beat - in a commercial vehicle anyway. It features the kind of dash-mounted gear lever that's all the rage in panel vans at the moment and represents a genuine step forward in design. You can neatly punch your way through the gears with the short stick providing a real feeling of solidity and control. It's a far cry from the traditional floor-mounted arRangements with their long bowing gearsticks waving around and making for a comparatively detached, awkward drive. What's more, the lever's position frees-up floor space for improved cross-cabin access. A lot of thought has gone into the utility and comfort of the cabin too: you get storage space by the barrow-load and the materials used are hard wearing but do underline the minibus's commercial vehicle routes. The Primastar Minibus has a stylish look that certainly won't do the image of your company or academic institution any harm. The unique hump-backed roofline is the most prominent feature but the flared wheel-arches, massive bulging headlight lenses and the dramatically plunging bonnet line run it close in the race to be the vehicle's defining aesthetic attribute. The overall effect is certainly eye-catching, especially when you view the Primastar in context of the decidedly bland competition. If you want a minibus with a modern look that stands out on the road, look no further. The Primastar Minibus looks a very good package. Possible drawbacks could be that its nine-seater capacity won't be enough for some and that the 100bhp dCi engine isn't as lusty as those available with many rivals but otherwise faults are difficult to come by. The existence of two broadly identical minibus products from Renault and Vauxhall won't simplify the decision making process and, frankly, if you narrow the decision down to one of these three, you'll be all right. Whichever you pick, it won't be bad choice.
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance VAN: Nissan Primastar Minibus Range ENGINES: 1.9-Litre dCi diesel. 100bhp FUEL ECONOMY: Combined - 36.7mpg SEATS: 9