Sunday, May 11, 2014
First Drive: 2014 Nissan Sylphy and Nissan Altima
Nissan is back in the Philippines and back big time. This seems to be the unequivocal message as the revitalized Nissan Philippines brought its two newest offerings, the Sylphy and Altima to the Clark International Speedway for the company’s first major event: the Nissan Spin.
“Today commemorates a very historic event for us at Nissan Philippines, Inc. as it marks the first of many exciting events and activities of the company. We are pleased to spend this event with our media friends and grateful for their support since our launch last March,” said Mr. Kenji Naito, Nissan Philippines President and Managing Director.
And with that, it’s time to see what these new breed of Nissans are capable of.
Donning on the balaclava and helmet, the first order of business for the day is the Sylphy. Nissan’s global compact car fighter designed to take on the likes of the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Corolla Altis, the Sylphy takes on a completely different approach to that of its competitors. Instead of going all angry and edgy, it goes luxurious. It looks much more approachable with its flowing lines and abundance of chrome. Upfront, the Sylphy has arrow-shaped headlights (a global Nissan design trait) with six LED accent lights. This is echoed at the back with horseshoe-shaped combination lamps with LED lighting. The Sylphy is available in five different colors, all of which are pretty conservative, echoing Nissan’s design ethos with this car.
With Asia (particularly China and ASEAN) influencing global automotive trends, Nissan engineers worked hard to make the Sylphy the roomiest in the compact segment; they proudly say it can even match executive sedans in terms of size. With a wheelbase stretching to 2,700-mm, the Sylphy does seem to have the basics measured out. Going deeper into the technical details reveals even more exciting things. First, Nissan adopted theater-style seating making the front occupants sit 4-mm lower than the rear occupants creating more knee room at the back. In addition, the shoulder room has been increased by 30-mm and the door depth increased by 17-mm. By simply sitting in the Sylphy’s driver’s seat, the wealth of space is apparent—no banged knees or anything of the sort in here. Though there wasn’t enough time to try out the backseats, they look equally inviting. Plus, it comes with rear aircon vents—a welcome treat for occupants in the mid-summer Manila heat.
Skipping the entry-level 1.6 M/T (P 812,000) and heading straight for the mid-level 1.6 CVT (P 915,000), it’s time to hit the track. The Sylphy’s power figures aren’t exactly legendary (116 horsepower, 154 Nm of torque), but by mating it to the Xtronic CVT, it made all the difference. There’s adequate response from a standstill, enough to rocket the compact Nissan to the end of the Start-Finish straight at speeds in excess of 120 km/h. There’s a degree of coarseness from the engine, especially at the higher part of the rev range, but there’s undeniable pull from the motor. The 1.8 CVT (P 998,000) with its 131 horsepower and 174 Nm fairs a lot better and feels smoother.
With the Sylphy’s design and surprisingly quiet interior, tackling the bends in full attack mode seems like a recipe for disaster. However, it obliged with grace with responsive steering and suspension. There’s some degree of body roll present, but not as to make it feel sloppy. As you raise your confidence level in the Sylphy’s handling, it becomes noticeable that this car reaches its handling limits quite early as evidenced by the copious tire screeching. Thankfully, it’s very easy to correct by simply reducing steering angle or by lightly tapping the brakes. Overall, the Sylphy feels comfortable and stable at any speed.
After doing several rounds in the Sylphy, it’s time to try out the big boy himself: the Nissan Altima. Based on a passing glance, it looks like the Sylphy on steroids. Like its compact sedan brother, the Altima takes a different approach to its design. It doesn’t go for any of the edgy and angular look and instead focuses on being much more fluidic and organic. Upfront, it also has arrow-shaped headlights but this time fitted with projector lamps. Sandwiched between the lights is the crisp, angular grille that features the Nissan badge dead-center. At the side, it has a high waistline, long sloping rear roofline, and a deep-stamped trunk that creates a much more flowing silhouette. Like the Sylphy, the Altima is offered in just a limited palette of four colors, but this includes a slightly different hue from the norm: Storm Blue.
Nissan’s design brief for the Altima is very simple: make it two steps above the competition and a step ahead in terms of generation. With the merging of the Teana and Altima into one global vehicle, it’s clear that it must become the new benchmark in both dynamics and luxury. In order to achieve the class-leading dynamics, Nissan benchmarked its competitors including European ones and is quite certain it will exceed expectations in its class. This has been achieved by using a new multi-link rear suspension design with an added connector bushing for improved high-speed stability and reduced understeer. The Altima also uses Active Trace Control or ATC which is Nissan-speak for Electronic Stability Control. As for the luxury aspect, the Altima experience begins with the seats which are borne out of Zero Gravity research. The Altima’s seats create a neutral posture that reduces fatigue by offering continuous support to the spine resulting in a more relaxed driving posture. After that, comes a full three-dimensional display on the instrument cluster, leather seats, and let’s not forget the 9-speaker Bose sound system.
Again, since this is a track exercise there was no time to fiddle around with the radio. Strapping into the seat of the Altima 3.5, it’s time to hit the track. A disclaimer: Nissan also had an Altima 2.5 for testing, but because of one overzealous participant, it ended up beached in the sand trap and had to be sidelined for the rest of the day. Going back to the Altima 3.5, the most noticeable thing with this P 2,030,000 car is how serenely quiet it is. Compared to the hustle and bustle of everything happening around the circuit, the cabin is hushed. It’s so isolated that more than once, the windows had to be cracked open just to listen to the marshal’s instructions! The 270 horsepower, 340 Nm output of the V6 engine makes it one of the more powerful executive sedans available and mating this to an Xtronic CVT makes the results even more wonderful. There’s absolutely no delay as the tachometer spins up immediately to the 6,400-rpm redline. The Altima is blistering quick with the needle passing almost 160 km/h before the braking point heading into turn one.
Like the Sylphy, the Altima looks like a soft-riding land yacht and to some degree it is; but it also feels connected and agile through the corners. There’s some noticeable body roll mainly because the Altima’s engineered as a luxury sedan, but there’s also surprisingly high levels of grip available. Tire screeching is rarely heard with the Altima and when it is, it’s mostly due to driver error. The visibility is absolutely excellent for a large car too enabling it to take tighter lines. Couple this with the Altima’s responsive steering results in a very enjoyable time carving up the corners at the Clark International Speedway.
Although the time spent with the Nissan Sylphy and Altima were fleeting and limited, it shows a great deal when it comes to Nissan’s revitalized product line-up. They say that track driving tends to emphasize a product’s weaknesses ten-fold compared to driving it on the open road. If that were the case, then there’s a glimmer of brilliance in both the Sylphy and the Altima. If they both performed so well on the track, how better will they perform on the streets of EDSA. Everyone is hoping for more seat time behind the Sylphy and Altima but as it stands, it’s a clear sign that Nissan Philippines’s on the right track.