It?s been a long and challenging past few years for Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) while their principal. Nissan Motor, was busy regaining its strength and position in larger markets. After the formation of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the focus was on markets which could generate large revenue streams quickly and these were the USA and Japan, followed by Europe. The rest of the world (or ?General Overseas Markets?, in Nissan-speak) had to wait and distributors like ETCM have been putting in efforts to hold market share in spite of not getting fresh new models.

This year, the challenging period comes to an end as a number of brand new models will be launched in Malaysia. We?ve already seen the Teana flagship last month and also the new Urvan and towards the end of next month comes the new Latio which is intended to do battle in a broad segment stretching from the Honda City/Toyota Vios up to the Toyota Corolla Altis (but not the Honda Civic, though).

Available in two bodystyles ? sedan and hatchback ? the Latio (pronounced ?la-she-o? and not ?la-tee-o?) uses the Nissan B platform which is also shared with some Renault models like the new Clio. It will be offered with a choice of two engine sizes ? 1.6 litres and 1.8 litres ? and both 4-cylinder engines were developed jointly with Renault. Besides having DOHC 16-valve cylinder heads, the all-aluminium engines have Nissan?s Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control (CVTC) and Drive-By-Wire throttle control for quicker response.

The performance claims for the engines are as follow:
HR16DE 1598 cc: 109 ps at 6000 rpm, 153 Nm at 4400 rpm, 13.9 kms/litre consumption
MR18DE 1798 cc: 126 ps at 5200 rpm, 174 Nm at 4800 rpm, 13.0 kms/litre consumption
An interesting difference in the dimensions of the two engines is that the smaller engine is undersquare (longer stroke) while the larger one is overquare (shorter stroke).

The Latio Sedan will be available with both the engines in four versions: Latio 1.6ST Manual; Latio 1.6 ST Auto; Latio 1.6ST-L Auto; and Latio 1.8Ti Auto. The Latio Hatchback will be known as the Latio Sport and have only the 1.6-litre engine and automatic transmission. Besides a half dozen colour choices, the Latio Sport will also have one exclusive colour ? Harvest Yellow.

The suspension layout comprises independent MacPherson struts in front and a simple H-shaped torsion beam axle with stabilizer at the rear. A notable feature in the front suspension is the provision of internal rebound springs and also the use of ripple control telescopic dampers which are said to enhance ride and handling.

Front suspension

Rear suspension

With the Latio, Nissan is pushing the standards for the 1.6-litre segment higher and introducing quality levels which should be class-leading (and certainly a big leap from the Sentra which incidentally, will remain in production for the foreseeable future).

Interior roominess is also a strong point and Nissan-supplied data indicates that the Latio Sedan?s interior length is 2035 mm long whereas a certain 1.6-litre ?Competitor T? has a length of 1925 mm (the identity of ?Competitor T? was not provided?). The cabin width is also 10 mm more for the Latio with more generous gaps between the occupants? heads and the ceiling.

?The interior length is the best in its class and the materials used as well as high-quality finishing give the Latios a quality level not commonly found in cars of this segment,? said T. Nose, Vice-President of Product Planning of Nissan Asia-Pacific, at the press preview tonight.

The somewhat blunt rear end of the sedan contains a huge volume of luggage space ? 467 litres ? which is said to be greater than Competitor T and even a Competitor H which has a 1.8-litre engine. The floor is set lower down, allowing for more volume. Also noticed on the car was an electro-magnetic latch for the bootlid ? just press it gently and the bootlid pops open.

The Latio Sport is equally spacious within and is appointed with a sportier ambience using dark materials. The rear seats can slide forward by 240 mm to increase boot volume. Both the sedan and hatchback have rear centre armrests which incorporate cupholders.

Full specs for the Latio are not available just yet but from the display cars, it was evident that the interior trim for the most expensive versions will include wood finish and bi-xenon headlights will be fitted on some versions. The Latio will also be the first model in its class (assembled locally) to have true keyless entry and starting using the Nissan Intelligent Key System. ETCM?s NISMO division is also looking at the possibility of a NISMO Latio later on.

Bootlid has electro-magnetic latch – just press the switch and it opens

Engine can be started without inserting a key, just twist the tab at the ignition key position

The prices for the Latio will only be announced next month but a ETCM source hinted that the range would be between RM80,000 and RM110,000. The company expects to sell between 500 and 600 units a month, all of which will come from its new RM230 million state-of-the-art assembly plant in Serendah, outside Rawang, Selangor.

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