Motoring: Nissan, Volvo and Land Rover

  • 1 October 1983
  • test

Nissans grass is greener

Nissan Datsun's town and country Prairie does not have an equal vehicle type worldwide. It's new, it's innovative, and it's designed to fill a marketing void. And no doubt it will succeed. But the name Prairie belies this estate car's true attributes in as much as it carries out its suburban duties in an efficient, comfortable, and very driveable fashion, and yet will outperform some saloon cars, carry heavy, large and awkward loads, and convey the family complete with excess baggage on a camping holiday to the most inaccessible parts of this fair land.

All this and yet it is capable of returning average affordable fuel consumption figures of 32mpg (city driving), and 37.7mpg (country driving) using mostly fifth gear.

The front-wheel-drive Prairie owes its excellent performance to the use of the very potent and flexible 1488cc engine and transsmission unit of the Sunny Sentra, albeit with a lower final drive ratio of 3.895:1 enabling it to cope with the extra weight and carrying capacity of the Prairie.

The Prairie, with an air drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.4, (a very low figure for such a tall vehicle), manages to slip through the air stream in a very efficient manner.

This characteristic together with low engine revs in fifth gear results in a fuel consumption figure of 45mpg at a steady 56mph. (UK Dept. of Transport official figure.)

Gearchange and clutch action is light, although when changing gear quickly from second to third and from fourth to fifth it is all too easy for the gearchange action to be blocked between third and fifth, and the reverse blank gate respectively. Considerring the above average distance between clutch and brake pedals it is surprising to find that there is insufficient space in which to rest one's left foot between the central bulkhead and the clutch pedal.

The Prairie is very well equippped to include stereo radio, tachometer, 3-speed wipers with variable adjustment on the interrmittent cycle, and a separate rear passenger heater with 2-speed blower located under the front passenger seat. However, the normal heater is not of the biitemperature variety so it is not possible to have, at the same time, face level cold air and f ootwell warm air.

Nissan engineers have gone to the trouble of providing a warning buzzer together with a lock-up device to prevent the right rear sliding door from opening when the petrol filler lid is open. This device effectively prevents the sliding door from accidentally disslodging a petrol pump filler nozzle when filling up.

Visibility from the reasonably comfortable driver's seat is very good indeed. The driver's armmrest needs either to be lengthened by about two inches or re-located rearward by the same amount in order to provide proper support particularly for long legged drivers with the seat adjusted back fully.

Strong self centering action together with the heavy front end (as a result of the frontdrive layout) produces heavy steering at slow speeds and when parking. Other anomalies include an instrument panel binnacle that reflects in the windscreen, sunnvisors that are not deep enough for sunrise/sunset conditions, and a "T" bar type handbrake lever that a child could accidentally release by twisting same.

These relatively minor critiicisms apart, the Prairie is good value at £8,875 for a vehicle that satisfies a desire in those people who dream of owning but cannot afford a Peugeot 505 family type vehicle for example which costs £14,995. This is not in any way suggesting that the Prairie would compete with or be compared to the 505, but it does illustrate the market niche that has been heretofore uncatered for and full marks to Nissan for filling it.

At the end of this year Nissan will celebrate 50 years in the vehicle manufacturing business by introducing a very special and more expensive limited edition Prairie to worldwide markets inncluding Ireland. We are precluded from saying anymore about it at this stage.

Safety Conscious Volvo

At the recent launch of the booted version of the Volvo 340 and 360 in West Germany We were reminded of Volvo's commmitment to safety. Only last year at the International Safety Connference (ESV), which was held in Japan, Volvo appealed to the car industry worldwide to improve its knowledge concerning personal injuries resulting from collisions. T~e net result of Volvo's continuuing safety research is the transsformation of knowledge gained into safety related design and. construction of Volvo cars. For example Volvo were first to introduce the concept of head restraints and shock absorbing bumpers, and fitted seat belts as standard equipment before anyyone else.

As 'a result of statistics gatherred concerning personal injuries resulting from side collisions Volvo fitted steel impact bars in the front doors. The 300 series is the only car in its class with

this type of protection and it is one of the few cars to benefit from the standard fitting of a high impact type laminated winddscreen which is twice as thick as a normal laminated screen and is able to prevent a 5lb steel ball from entering the interior at speeds of up to 13mph.

The 300's front-hinged bonnet is locked in position in such a way as to prevent it being forced through the windscreen in the event of a collision. And a headdon crash in a 340 will cause the rear engine carrier to break off thus dropping the engine onto the road and preventing possible leg injuries to the front seat occupants.

Unlike many hatchbacks on the market today the latches of the 340/360 folding rear seat backrest are of the "crash safety" type. In other words in the event of an accident the luggage will stay in the boot. And unlike many of its competitors the 300 series is not equipped with. a split rear seat because say Volvo their tests have shown that it is' very difficult to safely lock a split rear backrest in position.

In the event of the car turning over after a crash, petrol leakage is prevented by a system of check valves. Volvo engineers consider what they call dynamic safety (prevention of accidents) as of equal importance to crash safety. That's why they opted for the excellent handling characteristics, responsive and accurate steering, and balanced braking, that a front engined/rear gearbox, reardrive design can provide.

Another interesting feature of the new 340/360 is the use of asbestos-free friction material for front brake pads and clutch disc. The kevlar rayon material used instead is claimed to last longer and possess better anti-fade prooperties.

The new saloon fitted with low rolling resistance Michelin MXL tyres, reduced fuel connsumption of between eight and thirteen percent depending on the model, and a lower Cd factor of 0.38, was launched on the Irish market on the 28th September. Prices are £9,385 for the 1.4 litre 340 GL and £12,475 for the 115bhp fuel injected 2 litre GLE.

Off the Beaten Track.

When one thinks about "cross-country" or "road and track" vehicles the Land Rover immediately comes to mind. The Land Rover was first introduced to the public back in 1948 at the Amsterdam Motor Show. Now, thirty-five years and 1.3 million Land Rovers later, there are few countries in which the vehicle is not used, and few places that Land Rovers have not been.

However, wealthy farmers, construction companies, and the American market have always demanded something a bit more luxurious than the "workhorse" Land Rover, hence the introoduction of the Range Rover in 1974 now priced at £27,780 (2 door model).

Other vehicles that have apppeared on the Irish scene include the Toyota Land Cruiser . Station Wagon (£21,250) the Datsun Patrol Estate (£20,965), and within the past few months the Mercedes G-Wagon priced at £32,987 (300 GD 2-door).

All of the above vehicles are classified as private passenger vehicles because of having rear seats. It's really a Government tax rip-off because without rear seats and rear windows the Mercedes 240 GD G-Wagon for example, costs £19,108 compared to £32,351 for the estate version as tested by Magill. This massive price difference highlights the huge gap between the import duty rates of the two vehicles, 11 %% compared to 64%, and makes a nonsense of a system that charges £13,243 for the privilege of a back seat with a view.

We decided to combine the G-Wagon test with a one week touring caravan holiday. That way, fully-laden test conditions would be achieved together with a high mileage for realistic fuel consumption figures. Also, it enabled us to sample first hand a caravan type holiday.

Young Caravans Ltd obliged us with the loan of a 14 foot, 5-berth Piper caravan for which they are sole Irish distributors. The new Piper and Abbey Acclaim range of caravans are manufactured by Co salt Caravans Ltd of Grimsby, England, and were introduced to the Irish market last year.

The majority of touring caraavans in this country are hired from between one to three seasons before being sold to the public in September/October at an average price reduction of 15% off the original retail price. The retail prices of the Piper range (unused) varies from £3,644 for the 11 ft, 4-berth to £4,541 for the 16 ft, 6-berth.

If you want the combination of a low-eost family holiday and the freedom to move where I and when you like then hiring a touring caravan could be the thing for you. The G-Wagon proved to be an added bonus with its ability to convey one's family complete with picnic to the most inaccessible mountain regions. In low-ratio 4-wheel- drive, the G-Wagon can traverse the most difficult of terrain and its small overhang front and rear provides good clearance when crossing deep gullies.

The 2.4 litre diesel engine is powerful ann flexible enough for off-road work including sand dunes, and indeed for hilly road work pulling 626 kilogrammes of caravan, but its overtaking abilities, minus the caravan, leaves a lot to be desired. The fuel pump governor cuts in at 52mph leaving the G-Wagon breathless around the all important overtaking speed range of between 50 and 60mph. With a modest maximum power output of only 72bhp pulling a 1.9 tonne G-Wagon plus about 0.3 tonne of passengers and luggage its not hard to see why this poor power to weight ratio makes fast road work impossible.

However, adequate power is only one of the ingredients that go to make for safe, fast driving in a vehicle of this type. The other ingredients are accurate and precise steering, and good handdling and roadholding. And it is in these areas that the G-Wagon excels no doubt aided by its clever coil spring suspension settup and precise power assisted steering.

When towing a caravan one can expect an increase of up to 20% in fuel consumption so an overall 21.6mpg for the G-Wagon's 700 miles of motoring is very good indeed. The more time one spends at the wheel of the Merrcedes G-Wagon the more one appreciates its many capabilities, like being able to select fourrwheel-drive, and low ratio, and the front/rear differential locks while on the move. In fact the low ratio effectively splits the existing four speeds in half resulting in the availability of eight speeds if required.

The alloy wheels on the test vehicle were not standard but are available as an optional extra together with wider tyres and flared wheel arches at a cost of £1,800.

The G-Wagon and Piper, painnted coincidentally in similar colours, made a handsome couple and many heads turned as £36,121 worth of machinery rolled into each caravan park for the first time. In contrast with this the total cost per overnight stop varied from a mere £3.00 to £5.00 depending on the caravan park. And in some cases that would include the free use of a tennis court, TV room, hot showers, and electricity. In fact facilities in the majority of official caravan parks were more than adequate.

However, if you want to get away. from it all then avoid caraavan parks beside a good beach.

'Most of these are like mini villages with the majority of ground space taken up by large permanently sited mobile homes. Examples of these are The Burrows, Rosslare and Clonea, near Dungarvan. For those who do not relish the "goldfish bowl" experience try Powers The Pot in the Comeragh mountains near Clonmel.

The Piper handles well on tour and the low front and rear winndows makes rear vision possible via the interior rear view mirror. The five berths are made up of one double and one bunk at one end of the caravan and cordoned off by a curtain,' and another double at the other end. A total of three reading lamps are fitted, two electric and one gas. For the electric lights to work off the normal car socket, the socket should be wired according to international EEC standards. The socket on the G-Wagon was not, so we solved the problem by connecting temporarily a length of single core cable from the battery "positive" to No. 2 terminal on the socket.

Other standard fittings in the Piper include a toilet, ample cuppboard space, a two-ring and grill gas cooker, and a sink unit commplete with foot pump. And of course touring caravans on hire will usually include cooking/ eating utensils and a week's supply of gas.

Hire charges per week for the Piper range varies from £54 to £73 for the 11 ft model dependding on the time of year, to £73 to £97 for the largest 16 ft job.

Considering the fact that a three bedroom frame tent commplete with all necessary equippment costs about £72.50 to hire for one week (peak period) the caravan hire charges are by no means exorbitant. However, a reefundable £40 damage/breakage deposit is required to cover possible caravan damage or equippment breakage. And if the caravan has not been cleaned out on return £10 will be retained from the deposit.

Your insurance company must be informed about your intenntions to tow a caravan although usually additional charges are not made.

Young Caravans Ltd produce an informative leaflet entitled 'Hire A Luxury Caravan 1983', but Young's have managed in this leaflet to site Killarney in the British Isles under the heading of "There's no place like home", and they quote" ... the majestic beauty of Killarney, boasting what is probably some of the most breathtaking scenery in the British Isles."

The Piper is fitted with an essential ball hitch lock to hinder or even deter, a would-be caravan thief, but alas Young's do not supply clients with a key!

On the whole, and provided one is blessed with fine weather and a Mercedes G-Wagon, a tourring caravan type holiday can be fun - and relatively inexpensive.