At first glance, a comparison between the brilliant Nissan Primera and the highly-developed Montego looks like a one-horse race.
However, as the owner of these two cars, Neil Turner, explains – choosing a favourite is never quite as simple as that.
Head-to-head: P10 vs LM10
At first glance, it maybe difficult to see what these two cars have in common, one starting life on the drawing board in the late 1970s while the other was launched in 1991, but they both play a big part in the British motor industry and brought with them new innovations.
The Montego (and closely-related Maestro) was one of the first cars to be designed and manufactured by CADCAM (Computer Aided Design and Manufacture) and featured nice touches such as wipers that parked under the bonnet line and fully colour-coded moulded bumpers.
Although it had a slow start, the Montego also came head-to-head with the Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 on the fleet market and ended up selling in good numbers. The Primera was also manufactured in the UK and set the bar for handling in the medium car sector. In fact, the Primera’s dynamics were so good that Ford even used it as a benchmark for the Mondeo during the design stage. It was also the first car in its sector to offer ABS brakes as standard across the range from 1994.
It maybe unfair to compare two cars that were designed more than ten years apart (even though they were sold alongside each other for a couple of years), but it’s closer than you may think.
The Montego drives like a typical 1980s car, with quite a bit of road and engine noise coming into to cabin, although in my opinion it’s more modern feeling than the Ford Sierra. The 1.6-litre S-Series eight-valve engine is quite smooth (more so than the O-Series 2.0-litre), and has a decently wide torque band, but its SU carb-fed engine only musters 86bhp.
Having said that it’s not exactly slow, and only falls behind the Primera’s fuel-injected 2.0 16v by less than a second in the 0-60 sprint. This 1992 version has the 115bhp SR20Di engine, which was replaced by the 125bhp multi-point-injection SR20DE engine in 1993.
The Primera, on the other hand, still feels like it can give a modern car a run for its money, especially in the handling department. Certainly, from my point of view, its great steering feel and light kerb weight (1200kg) give it the feeling of being light on its feet, but it still has a ‘big car’ feeling on the motorway.
What impresses me about the Primera is that it just doesn’t feel like a near 30-year-old car. Imagine 15 years ago driving a Mk4 Cortina or Mk1 Cavalier, would they have felt as close to their modern-day counterparts? I suspect not.
I should add that my Montego is quite rare (for a 1.6) in that it also has power-assisted steering, which was standard on the SL/SLX models, and improves the steering gearing to provide a faster response and turn-in. It is never going to keep up with a Primera along a winding A-road, but it’s not actually that bad, and makes up for it with a better damped ride. Both have very comfortable driving positions, although the Primera also boasts a height adjustable steering wheel and driver’s seat.
I have driven both the Montego and Primera on very long journeys (not these particular cars), and neither gave me problems like I have experienced in some modern cars (the B6 Audi A4 always gave me chronic right knee pain). Where the Montego excels is in rear seat comfort and space. It’s a nicer place to sit compared to the Primera and, added to that, the Montego’s boot is also bigger.
Another feature of the Montego is its great visibility, which seems to have been designed out of modern cars, in part due to structural strength requirements. Unfortunately, this is let down by poor mirrors, which do not have a wide angle and produce a large blind spot.
Summary: which would we have?
Ultimately, these two cars are from a different era, and even comparing a Montego 2.0i to a Primera 2.0i 16v would not really be fair let alone a 1.6 Carb, but in all honesty the Montego does not do a bad job against the Primera. Yes, the Primera is better built, and more reliable, but like the Montego it can also suffer serious structural rust issues.
It also handles better than the Montego and has very light and precise controls (although the PG1-equipped Montego is by no means sloppy or heavy). The 2.0-litre 16v engine also feels quicker than the 115bhp would suggest – in part, I suspect, due to the nature in which the engine loves to rev unlike the Rover 2.0-litre O-Series which was more about low down torque.
However, as you would expect, the Primera is the better car, and would be my choice if I had to drive one of them 300 miles… That said, though, I have a long history with the Montego, going back to 1986 when I was nine years old, and there will always be a place in my heart for it.
I imported the Montego from Holland in 2016. It has only covered 46,000km (28,000 miles). The Primera is a newer addition to my fleet, bought from Keith Adams earlier this year, and has done 53,000 miles. It joins the Nissan Primera P11 GT which I have owned since 1998.
- 1990 Rover Montego 1.6SL (LHD) – 86bhp 1598cc S-Series 8-valve
- 1992 Nissan Primera 2.0i LX – 115bhp 1998cc SR20Di 16-valve