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Car reviews - Nissan - Serena - ST

Our Opinion

We like
Versatility of design, car-like cabin, creature comforts
Room for improvement
Still a little van-like to drive, 2.0 engine needs big revs for good performance, limited space for six and their luggage, silly name

25 Jun 2003

THE Australian family always seems to be on the move. Taking the kids to school or the hundred and one extra curricular activities involving family life including sport, ballet and birthday parties seems to be the parents' lot.

In the 1980s the choice of family transport was either the station wagon, born out of a sedan, or a crude, multi-seated van adapted from a commercial vehicle.

Then Toyota with its Tarago revolutionised the people-mover scene with a vehicle that had passenger-style comfort and safety. Other companies soon followed, including Nissan with the Serena.

Nissan had previously introduced the Prairie, a rather basic attempt at refining the people-carrier concept spoiled by ordinary styling, an undersized engine and crude ride and handling.

The Serena was introduced in 1992 and was more in line with the class-leading Tarago with a realistic 2.0-litre engine and seating for six.

The Serena is almost car-like in terms of performance, handling and interior layout although it has less people capacity than its rivals.

It is available in two models - the ST and the TI, which has air-conditioning, alloy wheels and power sunroof as extras.

Both models are powered by the 2.0-litre engine from the Nissan Pulsar, a lively twin cam, 16-valve unit. The engine is mounted north/south in the front and drives the rear wheels.

Transmission choices are a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual with stubby shift lever.

Suspension is independent all round with MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front and multi-link rear geometry with glass fibre transverse springs, to lower rear floor height.

Brakes are ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear, vacuum power-assisted.

The steering is power-assisted rack and pinion, rather low geared at 4.7 turns lock to lock but with a good turning circle of 10.4 metres.

Exterior styling is a compromise between the Tarago's sleek ultra modern lines and the "delivery van" style of the previous generation of people-movers.

The roof line is high as is the belt line (the lower edge of the windows). The rear is square which allows more room for rear-seat occupants or luggage - not space age but functional.

Inside, the engine bay intrudes on the front seat area and the rear is not as roomy as would be expected for the high roof line and relatively long wheelbase.

Finish inside is good, the light but practical trim giving an airy feel.

The rear seats fold down to give a large, bumpy sleeping area or the rearmost pair of seats can be folded to the side to provide a clear luggage area in the rear.

Standard equipment on the ST model includes central locking, power front windows, power mirrors and a radio/cassette player.

On the road, the Serena is a good performer despite its large frontal area and relative tallness.

The willing engine gives respectable acceleration although it needs to be revved - which it does willingly - to extract full performance.

The predominant handling characteristic is understeer, becoming more pronounced as the vehicle is pushed harder into corners. It is safe, as befits a family car, but not sporty.

Fuel consumption, important to the family user, is influenced by frontal area. The faster you want to go, the more air the vehicle has to push aside and the worse the consumption. At city speeds expect about 12.0L/100km and on the highway, provided the speed does not exceed 100km/h, about 9.5L/100km.

The Nissan Serena has not been one of the most popular of the people-movers, possibly because of its limited accommodation of six seats and limited luggage space.

But it is a well finished, reliable vehicle with good road performance and would provide good, economical family transport.

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