Driving impressions – Nissan Almera 1.5

Posted on November 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Price: from RM66,980, depending on version
On sale: Now
Tech Highlights: 1498 cc, in-line 4 cyls petrol engine with variable valve timing (CVTC), 102 ps at 6000 rpm/139 Nm at 4000 rpm, 4-speed automatic /5-speed manual transmissions

What is it?
Nissan’s best-selling model with over half a million units sold worldwide since its global debut in China in December 2010. Successor to the Sunny 130Y which was a market leader in Malaysia before the Proton Saga was launched. This is the model that Tan Chong is counting on to challenge the Toyota Vios, presently the best-selling non-national model in Malaysia.

When a car is priced cheaply, there is the assumption that it will be rather bare in terms of features and equipment. In other countries, this is usually the case and consumers accept that when they buy the cheapest version of a model, they won’t get much. However, Malaysians demand more even if the car is cheap and Tan Chong has ensured that the Almera – its cheapest model – has a comprehensive equipment list and notably, ABS (with EBD and Brake Assist) are standard on every version.

The top version, priced at RM79,800, is better-equipped than rivals in the same price range, with features such as true keyless entry and pushbutton starting. Interior space is unusually good for a car this size and rear legroom is a strong point.

To read more about the Almera, click here for our First Looks report.

What’s it like?
For the first driving impressions, Tan Chong organised a 220-km drive to Melaka and part of this drive was intended to enable us to determine its fuel economy. We were urged to drive normally and not try to get fantastic figures so no one switched off their air-conditioners or shut the engine down at every red traffic light. To ensure that we didn’t crawl along either, we had to keep up with a lead car that went at the speed limits so it meant that we drove at around 90 km/h and up to 110 km/h on the highway.

A display between the speedometer and tachometer keeps you informed of the average and real-time consumption so you can see effect of your driving style as well as traffic congestion. It wasn’t difficult to get the claimed average of around 16 kms/litre and the average of the 13 cars on the drive was 18 kms/litre. Our car got up to 21 kms/litre and I must stress that that figure was achieved with very normal driving and also with three different people behind the wheel. Of course, we didn’t encounter any traffic jams and the only time when fuel was wasted unnecessarily was when waiting at traffic lights.

Much has been done to make the Almera run quietly and smoothly and it was actually noticeable that noise levels were fairly low, even at high speeds. When you knock on the ceiling, it feels thin but as we drove through heavy rain, there were no irritating ‘stones falling on the roof’ sounds which you notice in some other low-end models.

The car has a robust feel to it which makes for pleasant and confident driving. Its handling is nimble and response to driver inputs is quick enough, though the feel of the electric power steering could be better.

The new 1.5-litre engine has a modest output but with the light overall weight of the car, it actually provides enough power for everyday driving requirements. Free-revving, it pulls well from lower rpm range and overtaking on the highway is brisk.

Increasingly, people are seeing 5-speed automatic transmissions becoming available and when a new model has only 4 speeds, it is criticised. The thing to remember is that every carmaker has to find a balance between cost, weight, efficiency and benefits to the customer. In the Almera class, price is obviously a sensitive issue so the big question is whether customers will give more priority to technology or price (you can’t have both).

The typical Almera buyer is unlikely to be turned off by the fact that the transmission has only 4 speeds and it works fine for the sort of driving a real buyer will use the car for. I keep stressing ‘real’ because I often have to argue with people who are not really considering a certain model and only look at it from their own perspective as enthusiasts rather than as real buyers who will actually be paying for the car.

The ride felt a bit more firm that I expected but there seemed to also be a slight bit of wallow in certain undulating roads. Nothing objectionable unless you drive it hard though. Evidence of how comfortable it was came from the fact that I actually dozed off when I was in the back, something I don’t do often!

The driving position is good and visibility all round is great. For versions with the Fine Meter package, the instrument panel is bright and highly legible. I was also told that the dashboard surfaces have a special treatment which reduces reflections on the windscreen.

The 2DIN space in the middle of the dashboard of our test unit had a LCD screen of a nice size, large enough to read the map easily and also for displaying the image from the rearview camera. Like the Sylphy’s display screen, there are irritating reflections that sometimes obscure the view though.

The seats also have a good structure for fatigue-free motoring and while the outer ones in the rear have a snug feel, I’m not sure if the occupant in the middle will be as comfortable. The section around the armrest protrudes and may prove to be a uncomfortable after a while for some people.

I mentioned earlier that the equipment level is generous and that’s true but I found storage space for the rear occupants lacking. In the top version which we drove, there were no magazine pockets behind the front seats nor door pockets – which is rather unusual.

The only ‘storage’ space available is actually the two cupholders in the fold-out centre armrest and another two cupholders between the front seats. However, I have been told that if you take the optional leather upholstery, there will be magazine pockets at the back.

Up front, there’s good storage space and even an extra slot above the glovebox for thin items like maps (if people still use them) and portable devices. There’s also a slot near the handbrake lever for a handphone and while are no teh tarik hooks, it was pointed out to me that the Almera does come with 8 cupholders. The cigarette lighter point is located near the brake lever as well, making it accessible to the rear occupants.

Should you buy one?
It’s been a long, long time since Tan Chong offered a model at this price level (even the present generation in the company can’t remember when and what it was) but it may well have been the Sunny which was finally retired in 1996. Times have changed since then and Malaysian consumers have become more demanding so that even low-priced cars must be of a high quality and have a reasonably high equipment level.

Tan Chong obviously realises this and has equipped the Almera appropriately for the times while catering to the demand for cheaper cars. It’s knocking on national car territory (and about time too) and is ideally positioned for those who are moving to the second car in their life.

By Chips Yap


To locate a showroom for a test-drive, visit www.nissan.com.my

Related story: Nissan Almera ready to dominate  |  Click here to read about The Tan Chong Story

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[Chips Yap]
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Comments

  • MC

    If it is the successor to the Sunny, a “bread and butter” model……………why is it so expensive??

    • alex

      so do you think a toyota corolla last time and nowadays corolla altis is very cheap ?

  • yeong

    It is quite funny of you keep mentioning about “real” vs “typical” or what not buyers’ opinion on TC gearbox choices. I myself is in the market looking for viable succesor to my aging Wira, but I would pass this Almera as after a brief test drive, the 4AT is world apart from Sylphy’s XCVT. Since China & Thai both are offering CVT on their Almera, it is very clear & sad that TC is cutting cost by omiting THE MOST wonderful feature here. if TC is so concern about cost, pls dump the manual version & park the CVT to be top model while normal variant still 4AT…at PJ14 nobody is touching the manual test drive unit anyway.

    So am I being classified as real or typical or enthusiasts or what ?? I would think myself as “informed” customer. In this Internet era, majority would be like me.

    • test

      problem with vios…go almera

  • nabil

    u have the ‘like’ section…where is the ‘dislike’ ??

  • shawn

    oh my …. she is so … attractive ……
    ok … friends, if this car …to you … is expensive, then last week when i was looking for a PROTON PREVE …. it is RM 72000 +++ is that cheap to you ?
    the last sunny i bought was at RM 45000 …. in 1992. and now you can only buy a VIVA ELITE.

    • afizan99

      Nasi lemak in 92 I can buy RM 0.50 only. Now the same thing cost me 2.00 in the morning. Please la don’t compare….

      • amat_shah

        Checkout the starting price (converted to RM) in :

        China – RM 40,562.0640

        Thailand – RM 42,697.1259

        US – RM 51,853.4800

        Philippines – RM 52,942.0730

        Australia – RM 54,326.8842

        Indonesia – RM 57,393.4710

        • Chips_MTM

          Have you also looked at the taxes on motor vehicles in those countries? In the case of the USA, for example, the import duty is 2.5%. In Thailand, the Almera is sold only with a 3-cylinder 1.2-litre engine, not the same as the one in the Almera sold in Malaysia. Furthermore, the Thai government qualifies the Almera for eco-car benefits which further lower the purchase price. So how about you lobbying the government to reduce import and excise duty to 2.5% and also give special benefits like Thailand?

  • MumOfBoys

    I can be classified as a soccer mum and have test driven this car with my whole family a few days ago. I found it easy to handle, lots of cabin room and value for money. It seems to be fuel efficient and that is more important to me than whether it is 4AT or 5AT as I’m not going to be driving up a lot of hills around my area.
    As for dumping the manual transmission, there are still a lot of real buyers who live mostly outside the urban area who still prefers them, such as myself

  • sean

    Hi, may I know when compared with Myvi se 1.5 auto, how much more powerful almera (auto) is? Thank you.

    • Chips_MTM

      The Myvi engine has a little bit more power but less torque. My personal preference is for high torque as it make acceleration and overtaking quicker.

  • Ng

    How is the NVH of E Spec? As from what I read, you are testing on VL spec.

    • Chips_MTM

      The NVH should be the same level.

  • Casual reader

    Between 90-110km/h, acheiving 16km/l and 18km/l on average with 13 cars with 21km/l with a 4 speed AT is impressive. Wonder how it would turn out if the transmission is shodded with an CVT. It’s a good thing the trip stopped at Melaka. Any further down south, the FC goes up. The terrain from Melaka to JB climbs for many segments on the NSE.

  • Ken

    Dear moderator,
    Pls advice whether buying Almera E/AT worth my money as I’m really concern about the price range. I am staying in Sabah.

    • Chips_MTM

      Nissan cars have a proven reputation for reliability and low motoring costs so you should not be too concerned about whether you are making the right decision. If it is within your budget, then you would not be making a wrong move to buy an Almera. It’s Nissan’s best-selling model worldwide so it would be sold in countries with good and bad road conditions and that it sells well means it has been designed to also be durable.

  • floyd JD

    Visited TC showroom in KKinabalu this morning and contrary to your writeup the starting price is RM69k ++ (nor RM66k ++). We always get the bad deal in Sabah, paying RM3000 more than those in Peninsula. Is it really that much to ship the cars from Peninsula to E.Malaysia? RM3000 x (say 100 cars per vessel) = RM300,000 what a rip off.

    Maybe that’s the bad thing about the Cabotage Policy

    Test-drove the car (the V variant) but just for a limited distance, SA seem not willing to go any further. Okay lah but body doesnt look solid, door closes ‘prakk’ rather than ‘thump’ sound or maybe the testdrive car was ‘too old’. Tested drove the X Gear and a lot of difference in driving exp but of course it costs more.