As cars continue to grow in dimensions, it is perhaps safe to say that the C-Segment cars of the 90's are the B-Segment sedans of today. That also means that the modern small sedan has big shoes to fill as these cars have to offer big car features in a smaller, more affordable package — a tall order.
Nissan was rather late to the B-Segment party when they introduced the Almera in the Philippines three years ago. Among its USPs were loads of rear legroom and a big trunk. Since then, it has been one of the bread and butter models for the brand. Nissan has since updated the Almera to combat the wave of new or redesigned competitors.
The most noticeable changes made to the exterior are large headlights, new wheels and — for the higher spec models — a trunk lip spoiler. The redesign drew mixed reactions in the office, but personally, I'm okay with it. If anything, it makes it stand out from its contemporaries with its blobby headlights — a nice break from the usual slim wraparound units.
From the side, the bubble shape of the roof promises a lot of room while the large window brings in a lot of light in the cabin. In an effort to give the sides more flair, it has a defined shoulder line that connects the headlights to the tail lights. Speaking of tail lights, it gets a similar treatment as the headlights being large and upright. Also, the bumper is new for this redesign. I could do without the trunk lip spoiler though.
Inside, the long exterior delivers on the promise on space with a lot of rear legroom and loads of headroom. The occupants in front also get a lot of space for their legs. Our managing editor (also the tallest member of our team) noted the he had enough room to stretch his legs at the front. Of course, this segment has its size limitations. The body is rather narrow and fitting three heavy set adults at the back may be a pinch. Still, the Almera offers stretch out room for four effortlessly, considering the size class. Adding to the feeling of space is the interior trim color which Nissan interestingly calls “Greige”, a combination of gray and beige.
As for design, it's all about circles from the side aircon vents to the center console. It gets a new head unit for 2016, as well as a new steering wheel. I do prefer the old steering wheel with its more rounded design. It was more cohesive than the “V-Motion” inspired wheel you see here with its circular theme. It also lacks a touchscreen, a common feature in these top of the line B-Segment cars. Apart from that, the buttons and dials are laid out in a straightforward manner and exactly where one would expect them.
Pop the hood and you're greeted by a 1.5 liter, four-cylinder engine which is then paired with a four-speed automatic. Power ratings are a rather modest 99 PS and 134 Nm of torque. With figures like that, they sound more akin to a 1.3 or 1.4 liter engine. For those who are curious, there's also a 1.2 liter, three-cylinder engine in the base model producing 79 PS and 108 Nm of torque. Of course, these are just numbers on a spec sheet. Maybe those 99 horses might make themselves more felt on the road.
Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was the rather hard seats. It felt like I was perched up high and they did not feel supple. Those with sensitive backs won't take a particular liking to these seats and long drives may leave them feeling a little numb in their lower backs. The ride was relatively smooth for a B-Segment sedan but the seats almost negate the soft, if rather floaty, damping. Behind the wheel, the steering is devoid of feel and doesn't return much feedback. The lack of feel also translated into vague straight-line tracking, occasionally requiring you to make corrections on a straight piece of road. A factor that may have contributed to the vague handling are the tires. With 185/65R15 tires, it's rather narrow with high sidewalls. As for power, the 99 PS moving the car along can be best described as adequate. However, faced with an uphill road with the air-con on full blast, the engine is a little more vocal than its rivals.
Out on the highway, vibration is noticeable on the floorpan and a fair bit of wind noise enters the cabin. The damping is also floaty at highway speeds but the engine is relatively hushed when cruising. Despite the 4-speed automatic, the gearing is spaced well enough to allow the engine to run comfortably at lower RPMs. However, it does take a while to kickdown when overtaking.
Matters improve when you're seated at the back as the rear cushions are much softer. As mentioned, legroom is generous for its size, even with legs at the 'de quattro' (figure four) position. It is perhaps safe to say that the Almera is a car with rear passengers in mind. Complemented by Nissan's cold air-conditioning system, the Almera is a comfortable car if you're a passenger.
As for fuel economy, the Almera delivers decent efficiency. Around the city and in town , the car managed 9.8 kilometers per liter in moderate to heavy traffic. Highway driving, meanwhile, nets 15.38 kilometers per liter with a fair bit of overtaking. These are good figures but the 41 liter tank compromises range. After about 330 kilometers of city driving, the fuel level had hit below 1/4th.
This top-of-the-line Almera VL is priced at Php 880,000, on par with the other top-spec cars in its segment. It does come with an intelligent key, push to start button, automatic climate control, six airbags and the aforementioned rear fan to keep the passengers cool. I do wish it also came with stability control as some of its rivals offer it at a lower price.
To sum up, the Almera is a car that brings you from point A to B with no fuss. It doesn't do anything groundbreaking in particular but it does have decent equipment levels. Add in generous amounts of space and light controls and the Almera makes for a decent first car. It won't stir the soul but it won't give you headaches either.