Japan's New Car Of The Year, Nissan's Brougham, boasts design featuring a curious mix of sharp edges and curves
This one's for a VIP in a hurry Nissan's Brougham -- PHOTO: TONY WATTS

AFTER selling more vehicles than any other car-maker here last year, Nissan has gotten off to a fast start in the new millennium.

Besides having a comfortable lead in overall registrations, it has a bestseller in the two-litre segment for the first time, the two-litre Cefiro. With Nissan shedding its cheap-car image finally, the logical move is up market. And what better way than to move one rung up on the Cefiro with a car that won the award for Japan's New Car Of The Year 1999-2000?

One reason for winning the accolade could be its styling. The cutting-edge design features a curious mix of sharp edges and curves. It may look strange at first glance, but the shape grows on you.

A large chrome grille, flanked by four clear xenon discharge headlights, gives the new Brougham the presence of a VIP. It is a pity about the design of the hood ornament - the downward shape of the two lateral strips creates a feeling of asymmetry which is not conducive to a relaxed state of mind when driving, something Hokkiens call "kau ek".

In contrast, the perfect balance of something like the three-pointed star gives the driver a sense of well-being.

The rest of the fittings cannot be faulted. The cabin has a quality ambience, with tasteful use of "wood" inserts. The fascia is futuristic, with "virtual screen meters" that light up only with the ignition on.

Pride of place goes to the large liquid crystal monitor in the centre of the dash. The clear readouts give the usual parameters - fuel consumption, average speed, distance travelled and warning displays. In addition, the large audio operation screen gives useful information on radio station presets and indicates which channel is broadcasting. But learning how to operate the screen takes some getting used to - being a domestic model, the Brougham's buttons are labelled in Japanese.

Seats are upholstered with soft factory-fitted leather. Besides the usual electrically-operated adjustments of seat height, rake and fore-and-aft movement, the driver's seat shifts backwards automatically when the ignition key is removed. The steering column also moves upwards, so even the obese will find getting in and out of the VIP a cinch.

Rear doors that open almost 90 degrees also help the less agile, but huge people will find rear passenger space just adequate.

Even the most ardent petrol head will find performance much more than just adequate. The award-winning VQ V6 three-litre engine has been turbocharged to deliver 280bhp at 6,000 rpm, with a whopping 387Nm torque at just 3,600 rpm.

This translates to enough performance to out-drag many a boy-racer machine, with 0 - 100 kmh in just 8.1 seconds. Best of all, this acceleration is delivered in a quiet, refined manner with no trace of harshness. Top speed is limited to 180 kmh by Japanese law.

Gear changes are barely perceptible, even with the "Power" setting. It is a pity Nissan did not see the need to give the VIP five rather than just four forward gears.

Besides sheer performance, the Brougham impresses with its overall refinement. The body has a tight solid feel, with impressive insulation for road, wind and engine noise.

Although it is a domestic model, this new VIP is fortunately not soggy in its suspension. There is a reassuring firmness in the ride, with handling matching the overall power. Unlike earlier models, the new VIP does not have a chassis to scare you if you drive energetically.

It is rear-driven, but the Brougham has been set up with a trace of reassuring understeer to eliminate any signs of nervousness when cornering hard. Sensors in the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system control braking power and power output when the front or rear starts to slide.

At $234,000 with COE, it runs smack into Lexus territory, with the GS300 being its closest competitor. The Lexus has an established quality image and superior handling, but its normally aspirated in-line six cannot match the outright performance and quiet of the V6 Turbo of the VIP.

SPECS

Nissan Brougham VIP

Price: $234,000 with COE

0 - 100 kmh: 8.1 seconds

Top speed: 180 kmh (limited)

Max power: 280 bhp at 6,000 rpm

Max torque: 387 bhp at 3,600 rpm

For enquiries: Call Tan Chong Motors on 466-7711