Within the black and white world of chess, game theorists are intrigued by the theory of "First Move Advantage," which says there is an inherent advantage for a White player to win. Compiled statistics suggests that by starting first, White players are between 52 to 59 per cent to win over a Black player.
The similar tactical advantage can be observed in the automotive world of emerging market sedans.
The 1996 Honda City was the first of such 'emerging market sedan' in the ASEAN region. It made good use of its first mover advantage and lack of competition to corner a sizeable chunk of the market, while second comer Toyota Soluna (sold in Thailand and predecessor for the Vios) did even better, by avoiding missteps of the segment's pioneer.
Within the same period, Nissan was in dire financial condition and had to sit on the sidelines while both Honda and Toyota split the spoils of war among themselves. But that was then and Nissan is now back in the game.
Being late comer meant that Nissan is facing an uphill task to break into a segment that has become so synonymous with the Toyota Vios and Honda City.
To convince buyers to switch sides, Nissan would not only have to match its competitors' offerings but also to significantly exceed customer's expectations.
Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) is keen to stress that the Nissan Sunny 130Y was the genesis of affordable motoring for many Malaysians and was Malaysia's bestselling car until 1985, when Proton introduced the RM 18,000 Saga sedan.
The Almera is a spiritual successor to the Sunny 130Y.
The example shown here is a mid-range V grade model, equipped with optional GPS navigation, USB, Bluetooth and iPod compatible audio-visual unit, door visors and wing mirror integrated LED turn signals and alloy pedal inserts.
On the outside, the Almera has clean, conservative lines that will age well. While it isn't offensive, let's be clear than the Almera isn't going to win any beauty contest either.
While critics may scoff at its bulbous but space efficient shape, we don't think it is a problem to the Almera's target buyers. After all, Malaysia's No.1 selling non-national car Toyota Vios is hardly a looker.
This is a segment where pragmatic considerations trumps frivolous fashion.
Much has been said about the Almera's interior space. Legroom in both front and back area is comparable to a larger Nissan Sylphy, and definitely well ahead of its competitors.
In fact in one journey we actually sat behind with our legs stretched out while a colleague did the chauffeur duties, much to the amusement of other motorists.
Soon to be son-in-laws wishing to get into the good books of their future in-laws take note.
Driving the Almera back to back against a Nissan Sylphy, the smaller 1.5-litre sedan delivered surprisingly good levels of ride comfort and cabin insulation, closely matching the Sylphy. Up until the highway speed limit, differences in comfort from the 2-litre Sylphy is hardly noticeable. Only the Almera's less supportive seats betray its B-segment origins.
Compared to its peers, the Almera rides a lot better. Only the more expensive VW Polo Sedan is more composed, even that, the differences only become apparent at speeds above 100 km/h.
The Almera delivers 'sofa-on-wheels' levels of comfort without making its occupants feeling like they're on a boat.
My colleague Daniel Wong sums it up best, that Nissan has done a Toyota better than Toyota themselves.
The only downside to the cabin is that shoulder room is slightly less than some of its peers. But between legroom and shoulder room, the former is far more important and unless you frequently carry three adults in the rear, the lack of shoulder room is not a major concern.
The Almera is aimed at young families, so driving performance is not the focus. Enthusiast drivers may want to look at the Almera Impul edition, equipped with sports suspension, mufflers and performance oriented tires.
In its standard form, the Almera doesn't like to be hustled around sharp corners. Steering feedback is vague but the brakes are progressive and easy to modulate.
It's no drag race candidate but drive it reasonably, the Almera's cabin is a serenely peaceful place to be in after a hard ways work, or in our case, when traffic is jammed and it's pouring heavily outside.
Our test car's engine is still relatively tight, with just over 2,000 km on the odometer. Still, we managed to average a fuel consumption of around 8 litres per 100 km, slightly above Nissan's claim of 6.7 litres per 100 km for a combined urban and highway drive.
Note that our result was achieved mostly from urban traffic driving, marked by some very heavy post-rain traffic and limited highway runs.
Still, there is no perfect car and the Almera is no different. Curiously, the 12V DC power outlet is located towards the rear on the centre console, which makes it rather difficult to hook up mobile device chargers and portable GPS navigation devices.
Our test car came with an optional Tan Chong developed GPS navigation system, which works reasonably fast and unlike some locally fitted in-car integrated GPS units, allows the GPS voice guidance to function independently from the radio (some models require the radio to be turned on for volume).
There's also iPod connectivity but the cable lacks a locking function that's available in all original Apple device cables. This causes the iPhone or iPod to be disconnected when going over speed bumps, minor road imperfections.
When launching the Almera, ETCM opted the tagline "Surprisingly More." We usually ignore taglines. Most of the time, they grossly misrepresent the product.
The "Surprisingly More" Almera doesn't pretend to be some highly desirable sporty sedan. Our heart's soft spot is not for high performance supercars, but cars of all class that are honest to themselves and their buyers.
The Almera's conservative exterior tends to under promise potential buyers but owners will be pleased to find out how it over delivers in surprisingly more ways.
It's hard to find any reason to recommend another competing model over the Almera.
It is priced competitively and ride comfort is comparable to many more expensive models from one class above.
Mechanically, there is nothing fancy about the Almera. Everything's is proven and we are not surprised if it will last long enough for owners to pass it to their children when they get their driving license.
If you are looking comfortable, trouble free car that's decently priced, one that requires just filling of petrol and servicing every 10,000 km (first three service is still at 1,000km, 5,000 and 10,000 km) to keep it going, look no further.
Specifications for Nissan Almera V
Price : RM 76,800 (on the road with insurance, excluding accessories fitted)
Engine : 1.5 litre CVTC
Transmission : 4-speed automatic
Power : 101 hp
Torque : 139 Nm at 4,000 rpm
Fuel consumption : 6.7 litres/100 km (manufacturer's figure)
Safety : ABS with EBD and BA, ISOFIX, dual airbags