Curbside Classic: 1994 Nissan Avenir (W10) Si Limited – Presently Passé

It’s going to be a ‘90s week for the JDM contingent, folks. There were a lot of candidates to sift through, given that 30-ish-year-old domestic metal is naturally pretty prevalent, especially in places other than the tree-lined open-air car museum I frequent on Sundays. So I wanted to kick things off with something bland, because ‘90s, but potentially novel to some of you. Have I succeeded? We shall see what the Avenir holds.

It is not always easy to find one’s bearings through the dense fauna of models, nameplates and subspecies that populated Nissan’s domestic range in the ‘90s. The same could be said of Toyota, to be fair – it’s a goose and gander situation. I’m hearing “But it’s just a gen 1 Primera” from some corners, and there’s no denying that some markets, especially in Europe, got these under this appellation.

That would have been too obvious for Japanese customers, Nissan must have thought, so they called it something else here. Want to add some complexity to your lineup? Just isolate a body variant and tag it with a confusing French word (which means “future”) that nobody will be able to pronounce (there is no “V” and no “R” sound in Japanese), and presto! You’ve created the illusion of diversity. To give this its full effect, don’t forget to split the range between the more blue-collar van-type “Cargo” and the passenger-oriented “Wagon.”

Naturally, you should also add a heady mix of trim levels, pack options, engine choices (1.8 and 2-litre petrol; 2-litre Diesel) and an AWD variant to your wagon range, so that it can become as bewildering as possible. We’re talking 25 possible combinations at least – and not counting the 1.6 litre “van,” which had a far simpler three-trim-level lineup.

Oh and let’s not forget facelifts – there were two of them, as this model had quite a long production run. The original design appeared in May 1990 with a simple, slatted plastic grille. This was followed in January 1993 by the somewhat fussy, but not altogether horrible, face we see here.

Then, in the summer of 1995, the Avenir wagon got a far more extensive restyle, both front and back, to emulate the Subaru Legacy that was making a killing at the time. Nissan went as far as changing the D-pillar and hatch, as well as applying as much plastic cladding as was humanly possible to beef up the car’s appearance. They also gave it a new sub-denomination, calling these fancier models “Salut” – again with the unpronounceable French words. The Cargo version kept the old body, of course.

Our feature car is a “Si Limited” with manual transmission, which seems to indicate it has the 123hp 1.8 litre SR engine. Within the range, this was three of four rungs above Plain Jane. Which, in a range containing two dozen rungs, is not a lot. I guess this relative low-trim nature might have helped this particular car survive pretty much unscathed, as many of the higher-trim 2-litre cars were modded and boi-raced to an early demise.

What was the plan with the Avenir, then? Its original brief was to replace both the Skyline and the Bluebird van/wagon. So it was, but then the Skyline moved up a bit, causing the creation of the Stagea as the true “Skyline wagon” in all but name in the mid-‘90s. That didn’t mean the Avenir was now surplus to requirements: Nissan went ahead and created a second generation in 1998, though the van version was yet again spun off into its own nameplate, becoming known as the Expert.

That was Nissan in the ‘90s: when in doubt, go forth and multiply (the amount of nameplates and sub-models). No wonder the Renault people who started minding the store in 1999 spent the first five of so years killing off model names, be they recent or old, left and right. Godspeed Gloria/Cedric, sayonara Silvia, ciao Cefiro, au revoir R’nessa, so long Leopard, later Laurel, buh-bye Bluebird and so on… They also bid adieu to the Avenir, by the way: the second generation turned out to be the last, being allowed to pass away in 2005.

Some of y’all across the Pacific might also wonder why Nissan didn’t ship over a few of these over your way as the Infiniti G20 Wagon. I’m guessing that Nissan never bothered because North American station wagon sales were in free-fall in the early ‘90s. Blame SUVs.

For all the confusing marketing, positioning and branding that it underwent, the Avenir still sold fairly well: about 193k units in eight years was not a bad score, for a larger JDM wagon. The very capable underpinnings were widely recognized as its number one strength. One might add the styling, which is unremarkable, but not altogether unpleasant.

It wasn’t as popular as the Toyota Caldina or the Subaru Legacy, though. The muddled image was doubtless the main problem with it. These are now rather rare, unlike the aforementioned Toyota and Subaru, and finding an unmolested example in a dour-looking corner of north Tokyo makes it look like it’s a car still going through purgatory, certainly for the foreseeable Avenir…


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COAL Capsule #1: 1991 Infiniti G20–The Infinitely Big First Lesson, by B3Quattro

COAL Capsule #14: 1996 Infiniti G20 5-Speed–The Circle Is Completed, by B3Quattro

COAL: 1997 Nissan Primera GT /Infiniti G20 – A Dark Horse Family Car, by B234R