Its name may sound cheery, but the last Sunny to launch in Singapore was actually a fuddy-duddy and widely considered to be even more conservative than the Toyota Corolla Altis.
However, as a bread-and-butter saloon (with no hint of kaya), the Sunny was attractively priced and did its job so well, it even became the island’s best-selling car back in 2001.
The Sunny’s eventual departure last year created a marketplace gap between the entry-level March supermini and the Latio models – until the Almera arrived here two months ago.
This Thai-made newcomer looks decidedly more modern than its dull predecessor. Its front is bolder, thanks to a larger grille and sweeping headlamps, and the subtly indented roof is of particular interest.
According to Nissan, that recess is more than just a design element – it actually helps improve aerodynamics (the Almera has a claimed drag coefficient of 0.31) and reduce noise intrusion.
The cabin is easily the Almera’s best attribute. Despite its compact exterior, it packs a 2590mm wheelbase (40mm longer than its primary rival, the Toyota Vios), which gives it a surprisingly commodious interior.
Occupants in the rear will be pleased with the generous legroom, which easily accommodates passengers who are 1.8m tall. There is less room for their knick-knacks, though, as there are no rear door bins, but the storage pockets behind the front seats are deep, and the sizeable 490-litre boot should be more than enough for a week’s worth of groceries.
Equally spacious is the cockpit, which also provides a high sitting position – even with the seat height dropped to the lowest setting – to accord the driver great all-round visibility.
The instrument dials, which have neat white backlighting, are sharp and reminiscent of the ones in the Teana. But the bar-type fuel and engine temperature gauges, along with the gearshift indicator, should have been larger since their orange colour is easily washed out in sunlight.
Given our tropical climate, buyers will be glad to know that the car’s air-conditioning (which features digitised climate control) is positively Arctic. Setting the system to 23 degrees is enough to create a wintry atmosphere within the vehicle, so the lack of rear air vents is hardly detrimental.
Other convenient features included in the Premium variant we tested are satellite audio switches on the steering wheel and the locally installed hi-fi system, which comes with a touch-screen interface. Incidentally, the mid-level Comfort variant has factory-fitted audio as standard, but it oddly doesn’t come with the Premium’s steering wheel controls.
Shared across the Almera range is the same frugal 1.5-litre powerplant that does duty in the Latio. Significantly detuned (by 10bhp and 14Nm, to be exact), the motor goes about its business in an unsurprisingly sedate manner.
Low-end pickup is rather placid, but it improves as momentum is gained. Stomping on the throttle to get moving is not a good idea, since doing so only yields a workmanlike engine note past 3000rpm.
There is some whine from the 4-speed automatic, but we suspect this will disappear once the car has been properly run-in. At any rate, the more pressing issue here is one of modernity – this pedestrian gearbox would have been fine in a low-spec model, but given Nissan’s expertise in silky CVTs (continuously variable transmissions), we did expect the Almera Premium to be equipped with one.
Despite missing an efficient CVT, however, the vehicle’s 14.5km per litre consumption figure manages to be slightly better (by 0.2km per litre) than the already parsimonious Vios.
So, even though the Almera offers a less dynamic drive than the popular Toyota, it is nevertheless roomy and practical, giving it the raw ingredients to be a bread-and-butter runabout with a dollop of kaya.
Nissan Almera 1.5 (A)
ENGINE 1498cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 99bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 134Nm at 4000rpm
0-100KM/H 13.3 seconds
TOP SPEED 175km/h
PRICE INCL. COE $100,300
Check out the Nissan Note, the most affordable model in Nissan’s local lineup