Whipping the Cefiro into shape

AS THE lull takes hold after a record-breaking number of launches in the past 18 months, a number of normally staid Japanese manufacturers are displaying a sudden fetish for leather and kitting out their cars accordingly in an effort to inject some spiceinto the market.

Acura is pushing television promotion of its new leather edition Vigor, while Nissan is busy parading its '93 Cefiro, clad for this season in leather. Underneath, little has changed in the middle-aged Cefiro which still offers meaty promise.

To look at however, the Nissan Cefiro is not a particularly inspiring number and does little to ignite a burning desire to get behind the wheel and behave like a Formula One maniac.

As with its Skyline stablemate though, where the car's stylists have aesthetically fallen flat on their faces, the powerplant boys have come up trumps with a 2.0 litre engine that is well ahead of the pack.

The RB20DE six-cylinder in-line DOHC workhorse throws out 152PS of output at 6,000 rpm and 182 nm of torque at 5,200 rpm. This is only half the story. Coupled to the straight-six is an unusual automatic transmission, offering five forward gears, rather than the more standard four-speed set-up.

In addition to an overdrive, the transmission's rpm settings can be switched to automatic for a more economic change-up, a higher ratio for a snappier take-off or kept in hold for total manual control.

The net result is a large four-door sedan with a performance that will leave many so-called sports coupes in the dust.

With torque peaking well up the rpm range, the car's engine has the feel of being able to draw on endless reserves of power.

The other notable feature of the Cefiro is its rather aeronautical sounding Supersonic Suspension System or Duet-SS.

Rather than sending the car crashing through the sound barrier, the system works to adjust the car's front strut and rear multi-link configured suspension to match the underlying road surface.

Measuring the clearance between the car and road with ultrasonic waves, the system also regulates the degree of assistance to the power steering.

The resulting regulation of ride is subtle, varying the feel between slightly sporty and very slightly sporty.

Aside from the inclusion of door-to-door leather, the other major change made to the '93 Cefiro is the fitting of a power-adjusted driver's seat.

The seat can be moved 10.8 centimetres forward and 12 cm backward from the normal position, while the leading and trailing edges of the cushion can be independently raised or lowered three cm.

There is, however, no pre-set memory and the front passenger seat remains manually adjusted, as is the tilt of the steering column.

OVERHEAD, the '93 Cefiro features a powered two-action tilt/slide sunroof, with a protecting tinted shade against excessively strong sunlight.

Instrumentation and controls are as standard for a Japanese saloon. A United States-style parking brake is used - foot activated and hand released.

One feature worth mentioning, given Hongkong's prolific number of road tunnels, is a light system which will automatically switch on the car's projector lights with a drop in natural light.

On the active and passive safety front, the Cefiro is fitted with anti-lock brakes, side impact beams in the doors, a high mounted stop lamp, rear wiper and height adjustable front seat belts.

The rear seats are configured with two three-point safety belts and a twin-point centre seat belt.

The net price of the Cefiro is an attractive $238,000, remembering this car packs a six-cylinder 2.0 litre engine.

However, there is a lengthy list of extras, including leather upholstery, air-conditioning, ABS and rust proofing for which you need to add a hefty $38,220.