Members of the media were given the opportunity to test Nissan's new B-segment contender, the Almera over a two-day round trip drive event from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca via Port Dickson.
Priced from RM66,800.00 for the base, E grade model with manual transmission, the Almera enters the small sedan category most vastly represented by the Toyota Vios and the Honda City. Nissan's latest offering undercuts the base Vios by more than RM6,000 and the base City by a five-figure margin. Like the other two Japanese models in this segment, the Almera is powered by a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.
The Almera comes in four variants; the base model is available with both five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmission, while the automatic is the sole choice for the higher-specification V- and VL-grade models.
The front passenger compartment employs a bulbous dashboard design as well as plenty of circular design elements - round shapes feature from the side air-cond vents and air-cond control cluster, to the gearknob and steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system.
The steering column adjusts for rake only, but the range of adjustment is adequate for getting comfortable with. The front seats adjust manually for height, recline and distance. The lower part of the dashboard is sufficiently sculpted to allow room for the the driver's left knee, and there is more than enough width within the cabin. The driver can perch his or her right elbow on the door panel with adequate reach to the steering wheel; similar support for the left elbow is conspicuous by its absence.
Upon entering the rear passenger compartment, it is the capaciousness of accommodation that impresses first. Occupants of 5'10"-plus stature can sit in tandem easily, with legroom giving a sense of acreage that is uncommon in this segment. All but the thirstiest of occupants won't be in want of more drinks storage; there are eight cupholders throughout the cabin.
All three rear passengers have three-point seatbelts, at the expense of split-folding rear seats. Nissan says this is to ensure sufficient bodyshell rigidity for the installation of three-point seatbelts for all three rear passengers. It is possible to engineer a combination of the two, however that would incur additional development costs that will invariably be passed on to the end buyer.
The test route stretched 365 kilometres, covering a mix of highways, trunk roads and town streets. Urban areas are the Almera's preferred environment; light steering and supple suspension make light work of negotiating junctions and broken road surfaces.
While it steers accurately enough, the Almera's helm delivers no feedback from the road surface, thus lacking the confidence-inspiring tactility often desired by drivers exploring a car's roadholding abilities, although it has to be qualified that rain along parts of the test route also limited overall speeds.
However, the Almera is not designed to be driven on its door handles, and neither does Nissan expect such exuberance from its target market. The better-specified variants of the Almera take aim at the heartland of the Vios and City marketplace, while the base model aims to woo buyers away from the national makes.
For many, offerings in this segment will be used as daily transport and hence, considerations such as interior accommodation and running costs are paramount; members of the media had no difficulty matching the claimed 14.9km/litre consumption rate on the combined cycle during a segment of the test drive, with some cars even exceeding 20km/litre on normal driving. It will be interesting to observe public reception for Nissan's latest volume production passenger car for the Malaysian market.
Read also our review on the mid-range Almera V here.