The Long-Awaited Reincarnation of The Sunny: Nissan is finally back with Almera

Published on November 21st, 2012

As the “Architect” of the Matrix said, “it has happened many times before and it will happen again.” Each time fuel prices hike up dramatically (or household incomes go down), consumers will demand for cheap-and-thrifty vehicles. In the mid-80s when Malaysia suffered a crippling recession, one unsuspecting car became the unlikeliest hero of that era; the evergreen Nissan Sunny.

Yes, most old enough to remember that era will fondly giggle at the sight of the infamous “AWAS: ABSORBER BUMPER” sign. Those who owned it thought their Sunny’s back was invincible. Others thought twice before coming close to one!

What really made the Sunny (or 130Y as its model number) a true legend of its time is its attractive price, super-reliability and most of all its incredible fuel economy. With a selling price of approx. RM18,500 and an average fuel consumption of 6 sen/km (back then fuel cost RM0.80/l), it was a no-brainer for the hardcore budget-minded car buyers.

To achieve all these plus-points, some things had to give; interior quality was shod with cheap plastic, the light weight made it float on highways, styling was pretty old and comfort was so-so. Nissan came out with a Sunny Extra to address some of these issues later on and it became an instant hit!

When the Nissan Sunny Extra 130Y (never again did a Nissan have a name that long, or did it?) was finally replaced with the Sentra back in 1988, many hearts were broken and confused. For one, the same model across the Causeway was still badged as the Sunny; so why call it Sentra here? Worst still, it had a 1.5l engine that was not as thrifty as its predecessor’s spunky 1.3l power plant.

As the economy the world over picked up, so did the appetite for style and power. Over the years to come, the Sentra grew bigger and even more powerful. Fuel-efficiency remained better than its main competitors’, but it was not its core attribute.

For a long period, the Sunny 130Y made its comeback in the early 90s due to demand. People were willing to forego looks and popular new technologies (i.e. fuel-injection & 16-valve) for something practical and reliable.

Sentra after Sentra, Nissan seem to have wandered off into mediocrity, choosing curvy aerodynamic cues and larger displacements to appeal to its aging fan base, challenging the likes of the Corolla and Civics. Let’s face it; they were the big 3 C-segment sedans of the 80s and well into the 90s. Now, the latter two have firmly established itself as the must-have among new yuppies. Where does the Sentra fit in? Now, Nissan’s got both the Latio and Sylphy in the mix, even Nissan fans are reasonably confused.

We are glad to say, Nissan finally got it right this time. Going back to the basic formula that made Sunny such a huge success, the Almera is what the Sentra should have been a decade ago; affordable, thrifty and practical. On a plus side, it has got some “cool” factor to it too, given its price tag starting from RM66,800.

The Almera is built on an all-new global “V” (versatile) platform which utilizes a lightweight yet rigid body. Powered by Nissan’s latest 1.5-liter HR15DE four-cylinder engine featuring Continuously Variable-valve Timing Control (CVTC) which offers impressive fuel efficiency of 14.9km/l for automatic transmission and 15.9km/l for manual transmission (combined cycle based on Nissan testing) as well as strong drive. It also boasts the best-in-class legroom and boot space.

During our Eco-Challenge run from KL to Seremban, our test car clocked and remarkable 18.68km/l or 5.35l/100km in mixed driving conditions. That’s almost hybrid consumption territory!

That being said, power is not a priority in the Almera. It is terribly evident when you try to pass a car on the highway. Its pick up, simply put, is sluggish and boring. But hey, if it is power you’re looking for, there are many other options out there, and the Almera is unpretentious when it does best what it was designed to do; be large (can’t understand why Nissan classes it as B-segment when it’s that huge!), modern and above all, super fuel-efficient.

Almera scores pretty well on the interior build quality and ergonomics. Lots of pretty gadgets to keep you happy, including an LCD screen on the dash that handles CDs, DVDs, USB, SD-Card, GPS, rear-camera, radio and more. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is extremely low, almost on par with D-segment cars. Most striking of all is its long legroom at the rear, just slightly over 0.6m! Honestly, most of us would rather sit at the back than in front; the ride was silky smooth at best.

But the rear seats oddly enough do not split like in other popular models. Nissan contends that it does not need to, given its huge boot space (We will have to let consumers decide this one for themselves). The front seats are rather comfortable, but you will notice how thin the backing is when someone behind decides to stick their knees out at your back! Anyways, at 0.6m distance, that should not be a regular occurrence.

Handling wise, there is not much to shout about. Brakes felt pretty crisp, perhaps a little too much. The steering is very light to the point of it feeling like you are working on a console-game. It all felt good on the highway, but its more-than-usual understeer is painfully obvious when you muscle it through the curves on old trunk roads.

Nissan does not say much about its choice of transmission for the auto; an obsolete 4-speed torque converter. Their argument is that it is a tried-and-tested and reliable solution, cheaper to maintain, and that its tall gear settings make up for its shortcomings with big fuel savings in the long run. It makes sense, but it clearly spells “no power” with the transmission’s rather undecided gear selection and sluggish sprints.

In short, the Almera’s driving experience is very comfortable and predictable, but it is a far mile from being entertaining.

Nissan Almera’s attractive price points, its economical fuel consumption, 10,000km service intervals and affordable, easily attainable spare parts will make the Almera’s total ownership cost a hit among car buyers.

Almera delivers a full complement of safety features such as front airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, as well as ISOFIX Child Seat System. The Nissan Almera comes in 5 exciting colors; Bronze Gold, Sapphire Black, Twilight Grey, Tungsten Silver and Brilliant White.

The Nissan Almera is differentiated by the standard specification E, well equipped V & full specification VL. For more personalisation, customers can opt for the exclusive Almera Optional Accessories.

Grade Variant Price (RM)
E 1.5 M/T 66,800.00
1.5 A/T 69,800.00
V 1.5 A/T 76,800.00
VL 1.5 A/T 79,800.00

words & pix: Vinod Nair

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