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Monday, November 23, 2009

FULL REVIEW: Nissan Bluebird 2.0SSS-G @ Altima

FULL REVIEW: Nissan Bluebird 2.0SSS-G @ Altima


In this blog entry, I’ll post about 1993-1997 Nissan Bluebird 2.0SSS-G.. By end-94’ its no longer called “Bluebird”, rather its name changed to “Nissan ALTIMA”. Leather seats, alloy rims added. The car’s on sale in Malaysia Locally assembled (CKD) by TAN CHONG in Segambut, Kuala Lumpur until End-1997. By then, it was replaced by Cefiro 2.0i V6.

It’s available in BOTH 5 speed manual and 4 speed Automatic and back in 1993, it was priced between RM90,000 to RM96,000 OTR. Today, as at November 2009, a used example is yours at the following prices:

Year: 1993........1994………..1995……..1996……..1997
Price(RM): 10/12k….12.8/13.8k…15/16k……17/18k…..20/21k
(Man/Auto)

Note: Averaged price between August to November 2009 as advertised in The Star Metro Classifieds and Motortrader (last 10 issues).

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND this car, a very WORTHY BUY especially at these prices. Truly BEST VALUE for money. Why? READ ON…

As usual, I don’t have a car to test drive and brag about it… All is not lost… I dished out a VERY WELL WRITTEN ARTICLE published by my ALL-TIME FAVOURITE MALAYSIAN MOTORING MAGAZINE: “HIGHWAY MALAYSIA”, July 1993 issue. Sadly, this Magazine became a victim of 1997 ASIAN ECONOMIC CRISIS, last issue being published in October 1998.

Without further ado, let’s proceed to this WELL WRITTEN ARTICLE by its editor, “UNCLE CHIPS P.S. YAP”.

NISSAN BLUEBIRD 2.0 SSS-G: “RETURN OF THE TRIPLE S”


“Unlike most new models, the new Nissan Bluebird 2.0SSS-G is one car that we have encountered twice before its official introduction in Malaysia. Regular readers will recall reading about the new Bluebird in our February 1992 issue, following the Nissan Organised preview for Asian journalists in Penang. After a 50km drive on the twisty Balik Pulau road, we came away impressed, expressing admiration for the new and higher standards and lauding Nissan for the bold new styling concept.

Then, in December last year, we again met the Bluebird during a tour in Nissan facilities in the USA, driving its American made cousin, the “ALTIMA” between Los Angeles and San Diego. The Nissan USA people were proud of the Altima because its body was designed by Americans at Nissan Design International (NDI) Studio in San Diego. It had also been selling remarkably well since being launched in August.

And the car still had not been launched in Malaysia, NOT until May 1993! (NOTE: 15 months after Asian Premiere).

GETTING USED TO THE MONOFORM:




The other helpful thing about the delay of the Bluebird is that people now see the styling as LESS RADICAL. When we 1st saw in Penang, we thought the monoform shape too unique and even the Tan Chong Motors people had some reservations about its acceptance by Malaysians.

But we believed that it would “grow on you in a year’s time”. And indeed, looking at the Bluebird now, it appears contemporary because we now have similar rounded, wide-bodied shape in the Honda Civic (EG), Toyota Corolla (SEG), Mazda 626 and Ford Telstar – all of which came AFTER the Bluebird appeared in Japan, by the way.
So the people at NDI deserve a pat on the back for their belief that the styling trend would go in such a direction.

NDI’s proposal was chosen after a competition between Nissan’s stylists in Japan and NDI’s All-American team. The proposal by the Japanese stylists was thought to be ‘Uninspiring for the 1990s’ whereas NDI’s fresh, non-linear approach was bold – a genuine mould breaker - and just the thing to take the Bluebird away from the Conservative image it had acquired over the past decade, its rather insipid name notwithstanding.


The American way gives the occasional ‘great leap forward’, as evident in the Bluebird, but the Japanese one produces fewer mistakes. So what was eventually done was to use the NDI proposal and have the major engineering part be done by Japanese at the Nissan Technical Centre – a prime example of Cross-Pacific collaboration which, at times was done real-time by satellite.

Surprisingly, what seems to be like a very aerodynamic form yields a Cd of only 0.35. But this can be brought down with optional Rear spoiler to 0.34 for RM800 extra.

LARGER AND MORE POWERFUL:


The new Bluebird (the 9th generation of the model line which started in the mid-1950s) is longer than its predecessor by 65mm but almost the same width. It’s wheelbase of 2620mm is 70mm more than before and it is 30mm taller. The kerb weight has also gone up by slightly more than 100kgs in-spite of using lighter materials in many areas.

Only 1 engine is now available for the New Bluebird, partly because the 1.8L version of the previous generation didn’t sell too well and also because the Distributor wanted the “SSS-G” specification which is used only for the sporty versions of the Bluebird.

As many readers may remember. The Datsun 1600 SSS (or triple-S) was a 1970s saloon slanted towards performance in the same vein as the BMW 2002. The Ford TX3 didn’t exist then and if you wanted something muscular for street use, the SSS was it.

The last Bluebird SSS sold here was the last of the rear-wheel-drives (RWD) introduced in 1981. It had a twin-carb 1800cc engine and was loaded with goodies. Subsequently, the model specifications were toned down and the car was marketed more as a comfortable executive sedan.

Now the “SSS” badge returns and the new Bluebird is powered by a variant of the sophisticated SR engine series, the SR20DE. This DOHC 16valve engine is related to that used in the Nissan Pulsar GTI-R and produces 106.6kw @ 6400rpm with 178.4Nm torque @ 4800rpm.

Notable features of the engine include a long, large-diameter intake manifold, ‘aerodynamic’ ports that accelerate mixture flow at medium-low speeds, an aluminium oil pan and the use of Y-shaped rocker arms that reduce valve system inertia and help enhance intake efficiency.


The engine management system, known as Electronic Concentrated-engine Control System (ECCS), uses a 16-bit microprocessor to maintain the engine’s functions at peak efficiency. ECCS also controls the fully sequential fuel injection system to squirt a precise amount of petrol into each cylinder according to its own intake timing.

The engine has Chain-drive for the camshafts, not a Timing belt drive as used in many engines to reduce chain noise. According to Nissan Engineer, chain drives are becoming popular among Japanese manufacturers as it has been found that belts snap too easily.

The chain used in the engine is a single-roller chain that is light, durable and only marginally noisier than a belt. It has a semi-hydraulic half-ratchet chain tensioner to avoid clutter from the chain being loose and extend engine life. Like the Sentra, Cefiro, the Bluebird’s engine hooks up to a propriety diagnostic unit.

Both manual and automatic transmissions are available for the new Bluebird which, of course, has the driving wheels at the front. The lightweight 4-speed automatic transmission uses tandem servos to improve downshifting response.

HEIGHTENED DYNAMICS:

To meet to customers’ expectations of the “SSS” badge, the chassis and suspension have been developed for heightened dynamic performance. The front and rear suspension systems are mounted on sub-frames which reduce noise transmission while helping to increase compliance. Attaching the steering gear box to the subframe also help increase mounting rigidity.

The front suspension is ‘universal’ in arrangement, ie. MacPherson struts, coil springs and telescopic dampers. At the rear is the Super Toe Control (STC) Suspension, a passive form of rear-wheel-steering to neutralise the bad effects of forces exerted on the wheels. This also uses spring struts and employs 2 parallel links of uneven length to control toe angle. A more detailed explanation of the STC suspension is given BELOW: (double click to read it)


Disc brakes are fitted to all 4 wheels (ventilated in front), ABS is NOT INSTALLED though, as this is still a costly item. Standard wheels for the car are 6JJx14 pressed steel types which are shod with 195/65HR14 tyres. For RM1300, one can opt for the JRD 5-spoke alloy rims that are virtually identical to the original Nissan design. (see picture below. Picture also shows the optional rear spoiler RM800 extra which brings the Cd down to 0.34 (from Cd 0.35).


MORE RIGID, MORE SAFE:



Structurally, the new Bluebird is quite advanced as it uses 1-piece side body panels which have better rigidity. With computer analysis and simulations using Cray supercomputers, the engineers were able to increase torsional-rigidity by 40% and flexural rigidity by 10%. The overall feel of the car and its stability during lane changes is more secure with this increased rigidity. The car has large crushable zones at both ends which suppresses sectional deformity to protect the occupants from impact forces. There’s also protection from side-collisions by beams installed in the doors.

In dealing with noise and vibration, measures taken include using 2 hydraulic engine mounts that reduce low-frequency engine shake, smaller holes (for wiring and other linkages) between engine compartment and cabin, abolition of speedometer wire cable (an electronic speedometer is now used) and 3x front door sealing.

Given the modern methods of assembly and the use of galvanised steel for many panels, the Bluebird should last a long time. The car consists of more than 110 recyclable plastics and other rubber parts.

LUXURY SALOON AMBIENCE:

The longer wheelbase is fully exploited to create a cabin more spacious than the exterior suggests. There is efficient packaging and shows how well the interior designers adhered to “Neither TOO MUCH nor TOO LITTLE” theme. In fact, when the roominess inside is experienced, all thoughts of the unimpressive Cd will be banished!

Although this is a sport sedan, the interior does not reflect it and instead has the ambience of a luxury saloon. This not only comes from the classy wood panelling that stretches across the centre of the dashboard but also in the quality of the materials used.



For the driver, everything needed to drive the car safely, comfortably and enjoyably has been put within easy reach and view. The placement of the master switches for the power windows on an inclined panel is practical and makes operation easier.

The driving positions is adaptable to many different body shapes as there are 2 facilities for seat height adjustment and an adjustable steering column. Though the door pocket presses against the seat, it’s a good idea as it prevents making seat adjustments while driving.

The 2 door mirrors can be folded inwards by remote control, a feature which we thought unnecessary but later proved to be useful. Motorcyclists appreciate it if you fold the mirrors in when driving in a traffic jam allowing them to squeeze past without banging the mirrors!

The high roofline makes the rear part of the cabin more spacious. The seats too are generally proportioned and there’s a centre armrest. Seatbelts are provided for 3 persons, the centre ones being ‘lap-belt’.

But the mounting of the amplifier (a high-tech sound system available for RM3,600) under the front passenger’s seat does not seems to be a good idea. Rear passengers would put their shoe on it, we feel.

By using a space-saving resin fuel-tank design, not only can the Bluebird carry more fuel but there’s also better boot capacity of 395L.

ON THE ROAD:


Recollections of the old SSS, though vague, whetted our enthusiasm for testing the new Bluebird (our testcar comes with 5 speed manual gearbox) and we were not disappointed at all.

The 1st few runs (we normally do 10) for acceleration times were impressive as the car clocked low 9s with an average of 9.2 secs from 0-100km/h. With the air-conditioner on, the time only changed by 4/10ths of a second, a far cry from the days where the difference would be 1-2 seconds.

The Bluebird charges up to a high cruising speed very easily and it doesn’t take very long to reach the top speed of 195km/h, which we could only achieve in 4th gear at 6800rpm. Stability at that speed was excellent and inspired much confidence.

In the lower speed ranges, the ‘oomph’ available depends on which part of the torque curve the engine is at; up to about 3200rpm, the tractive power is moderate and would require a downshift from top for passing quickly. However, after 3200rpm, the torque generated is stronger and the car surges ahead very impressively. In driving dynamics, the new Bluebird is a paragon of balance and fine handling. It is also an entertaining car to drive on secondary roads while inherently good as a highway cruiser – roomy, fast and comfortable.

Torque steer is well suppressed and there’s unerring directional stability all the way to high limits. Crude or untidy cornering styles don’t upset the car as its roadholding keeps everything under control.

All our testers liked the car’s handling and found they could drive really hard without fear of anything untoward happening. Even when understeer was provoked, the car would ‘put up a hell of a fight’ (as 1 tester described it) before losing its grip. For most situations, lifting off will bring the car back into chosen line again.

No one on our test team could remember what the old SSS felt like though it probably had a good ride due to its independent rear suspension. The latest SSS also has an-independent rear end and as expected, it soaks up bumps effectively. The suspension is supple and yet not floaty in speed.

MUSCULAR SPORTS SEDAN:




Throughout our testing, there was this constant feeling that the new Bluebird is a REALLY GOOD CAR. Question was, what was it that made it feel that way?
After many hours of discussion, this was the sum-up; a very well-executed machine all round with qualities that a wide spectrum of drivers would appreciate.

At RM90,641 (OTR Incl. insurance, 5 speed manual), the new SSS quite obviously does not cater for the same sort of buyer as its predecessor did in the 1970s. But it might be perfect for someone who did own the original “triple-S” and who misses the pleasures of driving a muscular sports sedan. In his middle-age by now, he wound also wish for more comfort and more space, both of which the new Bluebird offers.”

SPECIFICATIONS: (double click to enlarge)

–END OF REVIEW-

NOTE: It took me THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS to painstakingly TYPED word by word (10 pages!), Scanned and resized the image and post it in this OTOREVIEW Blog! You should thank me for it…


That’s all folks, thanks for having the time and patience to read this LONG ARTICLE. It actually ran up to 10 pages! Unlike today’s CAR MAGAZINE where Car reviews are BRIEF @ 3 page-per-car average (some are JUST SUMMARY!) and NON-technical.

Eg. Asian Auto, Torque, Auto International. Auto International USED to be DETAILED review – also 8 pages per “COVER Featured” car + FULL SPECIFICATIONS, but NOT ANYMORE! The magazine Contents are deteriorating since 2005. What happened Mr. Shahrizan Hussien? – FOUNDER & ‘OWNER’ OF THIS MAGAZINE).

MAN! HOW I MISSED the GOOD OLD “80-page Auto International” (Now reduced to a pathetic 60 page + cover) AND “THE LATE” HIGHWAY MALAYSIA. In my HUMBLE OPINION (IMHO), STILL THE BEST MALAYSIAN CAR MAGAZINE BY FAR. No CURRENT Malaysian car magazine can MATCH ‘HIGHWAY MALAYSIA’. KUDOS to the 2 editors of the magazine, UNCLE CHIPS YAP and UNCLE LEEPS LEE. Again, Sadly missed…


References:
1) Highway Malaysia July 1993 issue. Page 22 to 32 by Uncle Chips Yap.
2) Motortrader magazine (Last 10 issues). For used ‘Bluebird Altima’ pricings
3) The Star Metro Classifieds (Last 10 days). Latest being 21 November 2009 (Sat).

2 comments:

  1. Nissan Bluebird U14 did not offer in Malaysia since 1997, replaced by Cefiro. Nissan Bluebird U14 was only in Japanese home markets.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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