Nissan Almera KL-Malacca Drive: Strong on fuel economy

By Lee Pang Seng
THE Nissan Almera has finally arrived and Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) has left no stones unturned in priming up the car to fulfil most customer expectations. Even the Tuned by Impul version was made available, which includes a tuned suspension system in addition to the body kit, depending on the price one is willing to pay.

With a tag starting from RM66,800 on the road with insurance, ETCM is confident it has a car that is affordable to many without compromising on such desired values as a roomy interior, attractive looks, reliable engineering, and a fuel frugal engine. The Almera is seen as the ‘bridge’ between the Proton Preve and the Toyota Vios, and therein lies its main appeal.

The initial response soared beyond expectations as many potential customers were eager to see firsthand what the Almera had to offer before they commit. Based on the ‘overwhelming’ orders, it appeared that the Almera had indeed hit home base and is set to be the top-selling Nissan model here shortly.

The media had their first brief acquaintance with the Almera at the Rawang factory a month before its public launch, and a longer one was organised in a recent drive between KL and Malacca. One feature of the car that remained consistent was in its interior space, especially for rear passengers.

With a 2600mm wheelbase, 50mm longer than its rivals in the Vios and Honda City, the rear passengers have good legroom to lounge in even with tall people in front. The short rear seat bench may not have good thigh support, but it is a slight discomfort for the space to stretch one’s legs.

The rear seatrests are not foldable though as the voluminous boot is seen as more than adequate to accommodate a family’s luggage for a long weekend jaunt in the peninsula. As such, the additional body rigidity provided by the fixed seat structure is preferred.

Adding to the passenger convenience are eight cupholders: two on either ends of the central console, one on each of the front door pockets, and two on the foldable centre armrest for rear passengers. Some see these cupholders as convenient ‘containers’ for keys, handphones, toll cards, and other minor paraphernalia.

The glovebox is quite small although there is a hollow above it that serves as a sort of storage bin, probably to compensate for the lack of space in the former. It’s a bit of an odd design and the plastic material used for the dashboard does border on being cheap looking. The hollow ‘thunk’ of the door when closing is another downer.

The cars that were arranged for us were the top VL models with additional Impul body kits. This model comes with Push button ignition and is priced at RM79,800: a small price to pay for the ‘luxury’?

The 1.5-litre engine is on par against rivals with double overhead camshafts, 16 valves, variable valve timing (Nissan’s ContinuouslyVariable-Valve Timing Control), and Drive by Wire technology. In output, it’s not as strong as its rivals at 75kW (102bhp) at 6000rpm and 139nm at 4000rpm. Transmission options are five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.

The Vios’s unit delivers 80kW (109bhp) at 6000rpm and 141Nm at 4200rpm. Transmission is also five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. The Honda City’s VTEC engine is the strongest at 88kW (118bhp) at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4800rpm. It comes only with a five-speed automatic.

In power to weight ratio, the Almera’s kerb weight ranges from 1020kg to 1045kg, while that for the Vios is from 1020kg to 1050kg, with the City being the heaviest at 1140kg.

On the road, the Almera has good initial pace and during the first leg of the KL-Malacca drive, the objective was to determine the mileage we could achieve with ‘normal’ driving. That meant no hard acceleration, good anticipation and smooth driving.

We covered the 100km-plus distance with slightly more than 5.5 litres of petrol (based on a refuelling stop from a full-tank start), and our mileage was 18km/l. This was impressive as it involved three different drivers taking over at designated change points of the covered distance, and fairly heavy traffic flow on mostly secondary roads.

Its efficient body aerodynamics saw little air turbulence intruding into the passenger compartment and we could carry a conversation without raising our voice at legal speeds on the highway. During the few instances that we tried to gauge its top speed, increased air turbulence was noted around the door mirrors and flanks.

We heard more of the road roar, depending on where we were sitting. As a rear passenger, we heard road roar transmitted up from the rear wheels on either side, while upfront, it was a mild constant drone. Nevertheless, for its class, the Almera would qualify as a quiet car to drive and be a passenger in.

For overtaking on secondary roads, it’s best to give the car plenty of room. We had a few close calls early on in the second leg and decided to play it safe. The Almera’s mid-range and build-up of power were not quite punchy enough to give you the extra push at the higher end that we enjoyed with its rivals.

As for the full-bore run with three on board and down an incline on the highway, it took longer as expected for the Almera to reach 165km/h in third gear with the engine speed at above 6500rpm, a little short of the 7000rpm redline. Fourth gear was best for legal-speed highway cruising with the four-speed automatic Almera.

Its dynamics through the winding stretches was up to mark: body lean was nicely checked and steering response was initially neutral, progressing to mild understeer as the corner tightened up. Ride was also likeable: the slightly hard jolts over deep ruts were easily overlooked for a generally pliant and comfortable ride over most road surfaces.

The Almera has its share of standard equipment to pander to most target customers but its fuel frugal ways might even give the hybrids a run for the money. For sure, it brought us back to the days of the Datsun 120Y and 130Y when they were the top mileage supremoes. As the modern-day version, the Almera should find many customers looking for good mileage cars without paying the earth for them.

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