Happy Endings: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
Ever since the Nissan Cefiro Classic appeared on the pages of motioncars.com in December of 1998, we had nothing but problems to report with the car. Sure, there were a lot of great things about the automobile that made it a great companion on a leisurely drive to Tagaytay, but it seemed that in this case, the Dark Side was winning against the Force. In fact, if I had to summarize the first three years of the Cefiro’s life, it behaved like a dog on heat: unpredictable and unreliable.
Nonetheless, after it hit the 44,000-kilometer mark, it seems that everything turned for the better for our silver colored manual transmission example. In fact, as we close the curtains on this piece of Nissan engineering, we find little fault to criticize. It had gone from a dog in heat to a thoroughbred machine. Now at 51,000 kilometers old, we take a look back and retell the story that was the Nissan Cefiro.
Back in 1998, the Cefiro was launched with two simple variants: an automatic and a manual transmission model. It landed in Philippine shores with an array of new and seemingly sophisticated electronics that satisfied the techo-geeks anywhere: electronic release gas tank and boot lid, power everything (sans seats), a 10-disc Sony CD changer with 6-speaker system, wood paneling and most importantly the award-winning 2.0-liter 24-valve V6 VQ engine.
The reason to buy this car is the creamy-smooth V6 engine that purrs quietly all the way to its 6,500 rpm redline. Although performance isn’t as explosive as a BMW inline-6, the VQ does its job well of propelling this 1390 kg. car. The 155-bhp, 190 Nm unit returns an average of 6.33 kilometers per liter in normal everyday driving. Moreover, the engine displays an excellent level of sophistication and evenness in tone that it easily forgives stupid drivers. The ‘too-low-for-this-gear-rpm’ phenomenon is generally absent from the Cefiro. Mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission, the car is a snail even in the so-called power mode. Thankfully, the 5-speed manual is a different story, and it operates with tick-tock efficiency, although not to the same level as a Honda.
The bland exterior is counterweighed by a great cabin. The quality and space easily clobbers any other Japanese luxury car in this segment. Materials are generally soft-feel plastics and surfaces with faux wood don’t look too faux. The thick-rimmed leather steering wheel is easy to grasp and the overall driving position is adequate. Seat support is nothing spectacular, but it provides ample comfort for long-distance driving.
Bump absorption is forgivable especially with huge potholes and humps. Unfortunately, the car gets unsettled easily during slight road unevenness. Sometimes, the ride could even become jaw-jarring rides that become uncomfortable to rear passengers.
The reliability equation of the Cefiro seems to have been distributed equally in a Bell curve: a lot of problems during the start that is balanced out with none later on in its life. Within the warranty period, the Cefiro showed some awful problems that we thought were things to come: at the first fifteen thousand kilometers: the interior wood paneling came loose; the suspension squeaked every time the doors were closed; the cooling system went berserk; the clutch developed a strange howling noise; the windshield was replaced twice due to crack problems and some fuel knocking due to a faulty engine ECU (Electronic Control Unit).
Major headaches are caused by service centers as well. During the whole long-term test phase, the Cefiro regularly gets shipped to two service centers: Nissan Valley in Cainta, Rizal (thankfully closed now) and Nissan Gallery in C5, Ortigas. Though owned by two different companies, both showed a lack of sheer intellect in dealing with customer problems. Some faults had to be repaired or re-repaired twice because short-cuts were made to solve the issue. The steering instability problem that the Cefiro exhibited beyond the 40,000-kilometer mark was left unsolved by Valley and Gallery cheated by pumping the tires to 41 PSI on all sides! It took three dealers just to find out that the tires needed replacement.
Nissan Quezon Avenue has a battering average of fifty percent solving major problems but at the same time created a major boo-boo by mounting uni-directional tires backwards!
51,000 kilometers on the odometer and the whole car feels a bit older (sans the wonderful and youthful VQ engine). Small variations of squeaks and sounds are becoming more and more audible inside the triple-sealed cabin particularly in the area of the front suspension. The transmission is showing some signs of age as well, hesitantly shifting from first to second gear and vice-versa. The brakes have lost some of its bite as well, now feeling a bit soggy especially during late braking maneuvers. As mentioned earlier, the Goodyear NCT2s didn’t last up to 50,000-kilometers despite a rotation and had to be replaced with Bridgestone Turanzas that eventually improved the ride as well.
Inside, the fabric seats and upholstery still remain as fresh and excellent, and so are the plastics. However, the wood trim is beginning to show some sign of cracks in some places and some of the switch lights don’t turn on anymore like the recirculate and rear fog lamp buttons. The leather too is showing some signs of deterioration despite leather care especially on the shifter base.
The Nissan Cefiro Classic is one of the best cars out in the Philippine market in terms of value for money. Nothing else in the same price range has the same level of sophistication and refinement that this car has. Although driving excitement does fall flat, the Cefiro is a proven grand tourer that can take the pummeling of the different roads that Metro Manila presents in everyday life.
Unfortunately, Nissans still face a difficult road ahead because of the teething problems they have in terms of overall build quality and service. If Nissan were up to par with their American or European counterparts, then there is no reason to hate the Nissan Cefiro. Sad to say, there’s a lot not to hate about the car, but there’s a lot to hate with the company making it.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang
Originally Published August 2001 Issue