It’s hard to get excited about the Nissan Almera. When it first made its way to the Philippine market three years ago, it already looked dated right before it rolled off the assembly line. And given the Filipino car buyer’s penchant for something sleek and sporty, it failed to gain traction despite boasting a blizzard-inducing air conditioning system. Fast forward to 2016 and Nissan has refreshed the Almera with a re-tweaked design and more features. Can it gain lost ground now?
Sad to say, but the answer is still a big, “no”. Though Nissan has done the right thing and introduced more variants of the Almera, including a fleet-special 1.2, even in its top-of-the-line 1.5 VL trim, it fails to sway the typically sophisticated car buyer. The sub-compact segment, where it competes, is highly competitive and everyone has put their own twist to stand out. Some tout sportiness, others technology and safety, others design. The Almera has none of those. But what it has in spades is spaciousness.
This fact isn’t so obvious when you look at the Almera (both in spec sheets and in person), but stepping in reveals the unmistakable: it can rival most compact sedans in terms of cavernousness. Front or back, there are zero complaints. The dashboard is pushed back and curved slightly up, resulting in great leg room for the front occupants, while those at the back will revel in the available knee room despite the noticeable center tunnel bump. It’s the same story with the luggage compartment. There’s no split-folding rear seat mechanism of any type, but it’s not missed here. The Almera’s generous trunk is good enough for trips to and from the airport.
Unfortunately, it also feels as if Nissan engineers have worked overtime to give the Almera a spacious interior that they designed everything else at the eleventh hour. The ergonomics, for instance, is severely dated. The driving position is never comfortable with the seats mounted too high and the pedals too close in relation to the steering wheel. The major controls—instrument cluster, audio system, and climate control to name a few are alright, but the positioning of other key items like the power window switches remain awkward. Once or twice, you’ll mistakenly bring down the rear passenger window when you actually intended to bring down the driver’s window. The same can be said with the shifter where the spacing between the gear notches is too small making you engage ‘2’ when you wanted ‘D’ countless times.
Adding to the Almera’s ergonomic woes is its lack of cubby holes. For a car so spacious for human occupants, it can’t even comfortably fit a smartphone. Yes, an iPhone can fit into the cup holders, but where would millennials put their non-fat lattes? The glove box isn’t much help either. It’s so small that after putting in the owner’s manual and registration papers, a travel umbrella won’t even fit. And on the subject of fit and finish, it’s pretty much expected for its price—hard, well-wearing plastics—though the leather steering wheel and thrones do their part to impart a slightly more expensive look and feel.
The rounded contours and absence of edges in the interior echoes the Almera’s sheet metal: all curvy and rotund. If done right, it could have been the Juke of the sub-compact class (or at least be cute like the foreign-market March); instead, the exterior serves largely to cover the chassis and interior. It was dated and forgettable when it first launched, and now, it’s even more so. The lines could be easily mistaken for the first-generation Altima, a car launched in 1992. And like that lukewarmly received sedan, people also commenting that they couldn’t tell which end is front. The standard spoiler does cut a better figure, but the design as a whole, is one big faux pas. Where are the Juke designers when you need them? Of course, credit is due to the styling tweaks introduced this year which ties the design better to the likes of the Sylphy—the arrow-shaped headlights, coke bottle grille, and the like.
As a driving machine, the Almera falls largely in the “Point A to Point B commuter car” category: get in, drive off, park it, walk away—there’s nothing that raises the pulse here. Despite the weak on paper 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 99 horsepower, 134 Nm of torque HR15DE does manage to feel peppy when trudging along in traffic. The four-speed automatic shifts responsively enough, though the gearing means the entire package loses steam at higher speed. The trade-off for this peppy performance is fuel efficiency which isn’t as high for its class: 7.93 km/L at an average speed of 11 km/h.
The same can be said with how the rest of the drivetrain package is configured. The Almera’s softly sprung suspension trades taut and precise handling for increased comfort. Even when riding on prescribed 39 PSI front, 44 PSI rear tire inflation, it feels plush, absorbing everything Manila throws at it. This commonly accepted standard for ride quality does result in a boat-like sensation at higher speed and some passengers may experience some discomfort as a result. What’s more, the steering feels disconnected and combine that with low mechanical grip means road ribs are enough to cause it to sway side-to-side. This isn’t exactly the most stable car out there. On the flipside, the light steering and large greenhouse makes it extremely maneuverable; though the overly sensitive back-up sensors take some getting used to.
While the old Almera had a simplified line-up, the new one comes in many flavors. The P 880,000 1.5 VL represents the range-topper and it comes reasonably loaded. Apart from the standard leather steering wheel and seats, it has automatic climate control, push button start-stop, power folding mirrors, and a full-fledged entertainment system with four speakers and steering wheel controls (no Bluetooth though). The pièce de résistance though is the rear blower with vents. This robs the driver of a decent armrest and armrest storage, but having the rear blower makes for a great conversation starter.
But after all’s said and done, the 2016 Nissan Almera still doesn’t have what it takes to leapfrog the competition. Designers have certainly done some nip and tuck in attempt to modernize the dated package they had to work with, but in the end, there’s no escaping reality that the foundations of this car are just too weak. Having a cold air conditioning and spacious interior are good traits on their own, but they aren’t sexy enough for would-be buyers to go flock Nissan showrooms; unless he’s in the market for an Uber fleet car and in that case, he’ll likely balk at the fuel efficiency. Compared to the increasingly capable and strong line-up of Nissan, the Juke and NP300 Navara to name a few, the Almera sticks out like a sore thumb. It shows that Nissan cannot win every war and in this case, perhaps it’s best to just raise the white flag.
2016 Nissan Almera 1.5 VL
|Ownership||2016 Nissan Almera 1.5 VL|
|Year Introduced||2013 (Refreshed: 2015)|
|Vehicle Classification||Sub-compact Sedan|
|Body Type||4-door sedan|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||99 @ 6,000|
|Nm @ rpm||134 @ 4,000|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 91~|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,077|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Struts|
|Rear Suspension||Torsion Beam Axle|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Tires||Maxxis MA-202 185/65 R 15 H (f & r)|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||No|
|Parking Sensors||Yes, Rear|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||No|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold|
|Climate Control||Yes, w/ Rear Blower|
|No. of Speakers||4|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|