Nissan plans to build a fifth model at its Sunderland plant in the UK. Unveiled at the Paris motor show, the new car goes on sale in early 2006.

Nissan executive vice president Patrick Pelata said an as yet unnamed car, “based” on the apparently production-ready Tone ‘concept’, would be produced on Wearside from January 2006.

He said: “The Tone represents our thinking in the area of the mini MPV market. The niche market where Tone would compete is forecast to grow by a factor of four from 2002 to 2007.

“I am happy to announce that we will introduce a car based on this design at the beginning of 2006. In addition, I am pleased to announce that it will be built at our plant in Sunderland, Europe’s most productive car factory.”

Around 1,000 employees will work on the new compact five-door hatchback, including up to 200 new posts – although this figure could change depending on market conditions closer to 2006.

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The market will also dictate the new model’s production volume, but Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd expects to build around 100,000 units a year alongside the Micra, Almera, Primera and Micra C+C – due for production launch next September.

£125 million has been spent on the project, with £24 million going towards preparation at the plant, and its suppliers, for the start of production.

NMUK managing director Colin Dodge said: “I’m delighted that we’ll be producing the new car here in Sunderland. We’ve been working very hard to increase our overall competitiveness for some time now, and it’s very satisfying to see our efforts being rewarded.”

A Nissan UK spokeswoman told just-auto the new car shares the joint Nissan-Renault small car platform that underpins Nissan’s Micra/March and the Renault Clio and Modus, among other models. But she noted the so-called Tone concept is a bigger car than the Modus (despite many obvious Renault styling touches, especially around the nose) and said it would not be fair to describe the new car as simply Nissan’s version of the Modus.

In a motor show press statement, Nissan described the Tone as a roomy five seater aimed at parents who need a practical car in which to carry the family but who are not prepared to trade space for driving pleasure. “Tone has been designed to combine the two, providing clever use of interior space with a fun to drive attitude,” the company asserted.

Fetaures will include the ‘intelligent key’ Nissan introduced to its European buyers with the Micra – still claimed to be the only car in its (supermini) class to have it. Intelligent key enables the doors to be locked or unlocked without using a key; using proximity sensors, it allows the doors to be unlocked at the touch of a button while the car can be started without having to put a key in an ignition lock.

Nissan said the Tone takes styling influences from the Micra and mixes them with design cues from its other concept and show cars. “The result is as individual as the Micra yet Tone is demonstrably a member of the family,” it claimed. But any industry observer will surely see many similarities with the latest Renault models, in particular the Modus and Megane.

“The arched roof line, at its highest point above the B-pillar, has become a feature of Nissan cars since the Fusion concept car became the Primera,” Nissan noted. “The pronounced waistline is fashionably high while the front and rear bumpers are fully integrated into the design.”

Although they are hardly unique in their location these days, the Tone has highly distinctive boomerang LED rear lights (this may be the first car in the class to use the new technology) framing the tailgate and roof.

At just over four metres in length, but built on a generous 2,600mm wheelbase of 2600mm – just 25mm shorter than the much larger X-trail small SUV – the Tone’s overall dimensions cross segment boundaries.

Overall height was kept to 1542mm to ensure the proportions help to keep the centre of gravity low, without compromising the car’s practicality. A low centre of gravity is key to the Tone’s ‘fun to drive’ philosophy, Nissan said.

The somewhat ironically named project chief designer, one Taiji Toyota, said: “Tone is: “…tall, but not so tall. We wanted a roomy interior and the benefits of a high driving position but we did not want to make the car look top heavy. With the long wheelbase and body we feel we have achieved a shape that will appeal on both a practical and emotional level.”

In a segment where many models apparently have more appeal to women buyers, Nissan gave the Tone display car a deliberately ‘masculine’ feel with extensive use of brushed aluminium for interior fittings and a dark grey exterior body colour. Inside, a hint of purple shows through the perforated ‘metallic’ black and silver leather upholstery while light grey headlining contrasts with the predominantly black trim.

Sports seats are fitted and twin glass strips run the length of the roof – another feature seen on many recent Nissan show and production cars – and allow natural light into the cabin.

Inside, two deep set dials sit behind the sports three spoke steering wheel and the dash centre is dominated by a brushed aluminium display panel housing satellite navigation and climate controls.

Practical details for a European family include a glove box slot to dispense tissues and a deep centre console storage bin.

Extra storage space is under the boot floor, which lifts to reveal a deep well, with a storage capacity of 90 litres, where valuables can be stowed out of sight.

Toyota, whose previous designs include the X-trail, Murano and the Chappo concept which led directly to the innovative Cube, added: “Tone is a dynamic, sophisticated car with strong emotional appeal that also answers a parent’s practical needs.”

Nissan did not reveal mechanical details but the new car is likely to offer a full mix of Nissan-designed 1.2- and 1.4-litre petrol and 1.5-litre Renault-designed diesels combined with five- or six-speed manual transmissions and CVT automatics. The engines will most likely be shared with the Micra, redesigned Clio and Modus model lines. Just-auto would not rule out larger-engined ‘sports’ versions with both petrol and diesel engines, either.

Graeme Roberts