Nissan Kubistar
Nissan Kubistar. Click image to enlarge

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Nissan 360, Part one

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Article and photos by Bob McHugh

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Nissan 360

Lisbon, Portugal – A highly excited Murray Walker (legendary F1 racing commentator) was describing another great passing manoeuvre (in my head) as we chased another car into the famous Parabolica, a seemingly never-ending right turn that leads to the front straightaway of the Estoril race track, also called the Autodrome.

“No passing allowed… and it’s time to pit, anyway,” was the cool and likely bored-stiff comment from my driving instructor in the passenger seat of the Nissan GT-R.

The GT-R is a supremely forgiving and easy-to-drive sports car that offers performance on par with Porsche 911 Turbo – for about half the cost.

Nissan Clipper pickup and van
Nissan Clipper pickup and van. Click image to enlarge

Also on hand at Estoril was GT-R chief test driver Tochio Suzuki to take passengers on a “hot” lap, or two, assuming they enjoy driving sideways. Suzuki recently achieved a lap time of seven minutes and 29 seconds at the famous Nurburgring in Germany, in a stock GT-R.
Apparently this proves, beyond doubt, that the Nissan GT-R is one of the fastest production cars in the world – not that I needed any convincing. As it turned out, my driving instructor let it slip that he also drives for Porsche. And his hushed, somewhat embarrassed, response to my obvious question was, “This is a quicker car.” But in the real world, away from a race-track, I’m not sure what you can do with a car that has a 480-horsepower engine.

The GT-R has a highly sophisticated all-wheel-drive system. Similar to a Corvette, the transmission and final drive gear is in the rear, but a transfer case feeds power through a second drive shaft to a front differential.

Nissan Primastar
Nissan Elgrand
Nissan Primastar (top) and Elgrand. Click image to enlarge

Possibly the most promising aspect (for Nissan) of the Renault-Nissan alliance has been the development of its light commercial vehicle (LCV) fleet. With a little help from Renault, Nissan has launched nine new LCV vehicles since 2004 and LCVs are currently in 57 per cent of its world markets, including China, Mexico, Europe, and the Middle East. Here’s a selection of LCVs that caught my eye at the 360 event:

Clipper: Nissan’s first mini-commercial vehicle comes in two body types, a truck and a van. Powered by turbocharged 660-cc, three-cylinder engine it has as a surprisingly large cargo-carrying capacity and nimble manoeuvrability. I was simply too big for these vehicles -the driver space provided is very limited. The van version has an oversize rear door and flexible seating.

Kubistar: Made in France (via Nissan’s alliance with Renault) and sold in Europe, this light commercial vehicle is available with three engine options, two body lengths and several different door configurations for maximum flexibility. The test van came with a smooth and quiet running 1.5-litre diesel engine. The Kubistar is ideally suited to the narrow twisty streets in older European towns.

Nissan Patrol
Nissan Wingroad
Nissan Patrol (top) and Wingroad. Click image to enlarge

Primastar: An interesting cargo van, the Primastar comes in combi (crew-van) plus seven-seat and eight-seat minibus versions. There are two wheelbase versions and two vehicle-height options. Made in both Spain and England, the Primastar is built on a Renault platform.

There were more than a few interesting passenger vehicles of interest too, here are four examples:

Elgrand: Very popular with retired Japanese business people, the Elgrand is, as its name suggests, a big and luxurious vehicle.
The first-generation model was launched in 1997 and has consistently held the top share of the high-end minivan market.
Plush carpeting, reclining sets with footrests and the latest electronics make this is a first-class minivan.

Patrol: Though it’s about the same size and looks a bit like a Pathfinder, this is a different vehicle with a history that dates back to 1951. Known as the Safari in Japan, the Patrol has found its biggest markets in Europe, and it was recently voted 4WD of the Year in Australia. A past Paris-Dakar rally winner in its production class, the Patrol is known for offering exceptional durability and longevity.

Nissan Taxi (Cedric)
Nissan Taxi (Cedric). Click image to enlarge

Wingroad: Made in Japan but sold primarily in South America, the Wingroad was first introduced in 1996 and the current model was launched in November of 2005. The test car came with a 1.8-litre gas engine mated to a CVT transmission and fuel economy was rated at 16.1 km/litre, which is excellent. On opening the rear liftgate we discovered a clever pop-up tailgate seat with cup holders.

Taxi (Cedric): The Crown Victoria of Japan, Cedric the Taxi has a left rear door that can be opened or closed by the driver. Got to love the lacework on the upholstery (how come we don’t have that?) and those white gloves worn by the driver. The Cedric runs on compressed natural gas instead of gasoline, and we were not allowed to take it out on public streets.

The Nissan 360 event was indeed an interesting way to sample products from around the globe. Sky-rocketing Canadian gas prices made those fuel-efficient models on show even more appealing.

Click here to read Part one of Bob McHugh’s Nissan 360 article.

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