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