I always have higher expectations of mid-grade or mid-range models.
While others see these as watered-down examples of the top-of-the-line (TOTL) variant, I see mid models generally as the best value of the entire range. These variants have more features and appointments to feel significantly better than the base models, but not enough of the equipment or fluff that I typically see as unnecessary. And with good reason; while TOTL variants sell well for the first year a new generation is introduced, the mid models are the ones that do the heavy lifting for sales for the rest of its showroom lifespan.
So immediately, I'm looking at the Almera VE with a very critical mindset. My expectations are high of this all-new model because the Almera VL had set the bar high. Will it deliver what I think it can, or will it just feel watered down?
In the looks department, I already liked how the VL was. The clean-sheet design of the Almera is something I can really get behind, especially with the new face, the new side profile, and the neat taillights. Compared to the predecessor, this Almera looks properly modern and is far detached from the Nissan design language from the early 2010s.
Despite this being a mid-grade model though, I do prefer the look of this one. Maybe it's the color or the lack of the N Sport doodads (silver side mirrors, silver skirts, etc.), but I just prefer the look of this one. If it had the N Sport package in this color, it would look really good too. The only real difference is the removal of the foglights and the smaller wheels. The wheels aren't exactly a big deal; a trip to our friends at Rota and we can easily swap out those wheels for something nicer like the Boost.
When I got inside the Almera VE, I was honestly expecting to feel a downgrade. I had just come from driving the VL variant, and it is a nice car for the money; but as is the case with the lower variants, a lot of things are deleted to make the price more attractive to customers. With the Almera VE, the only obvious “downgrade” is the lack of leather upholstery for the seats and the steering wheel; other than that, it looks pretty much the same in here, right down to the white leather insert on the dashboard. The interior still looks good, and the fabric color combination inside is nice.
Perhaps the big thing here is that the Almera VE doesn't feel barebones versus the TOTL VL variant. The infotainment system has all the same functions like Apple CarPlay (no Android Auto for all), Bluetooth, and 6 speakers. The 360-degree camera system is still present, and also has the ability to detect moving objects that come on screen. The instrument cluster is still the same: the combination of an analog speedometer and the 7” digital display.
It does lose some of the niceties that are present in the VL, but it's hard to notice. This gets dual airbags instead of 6, while blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert have been deleted, but all the other advanced safety features are here, including the autonomous emergency braking. The only major change is that the rear seats are fixed and do not fold down like in the VL.
If you're familiar with or own a previous generation Almera, then let me tell you now that this is a totally different vehicle. The Almera that was sold by Nissan for most of the last decade didn't really strike me as a vehicle made for younger folk; instead, it was for mature audiences given the leanings towards comfort and rear-seat legroom. This one is different; the legroom doesn't seem to be the same, but the rear seat is still comfortable. The big change though is the removal of the rear A/C vents; before, that was one of the unique selling propositions of the Almera. Instead, they focused on their new USP, and that's under the engine bay.
Powering all variants of the Almera is a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine; no other direct competitor offers a turbo engine. The one in the Almera makes 100 PS and 152 Nm of torque. The figures are respectable for such a tiny engine, especially one well suited for our kind of everyday driving.
Traffic is actually where the Almera shines. This is a really enjoyable everyday commuter. The torque is available down low, meaning you don't have to put too much pressure on the throttle to get it going. It's actually a good combination with the CVT, as it does give you a smooth drive overall. The engine does have the vibrations inherent in an “unbalanced” 3-cylinder, but Nissan did a good job in ensuring as little of it is transferred to the unibody though there is still a hint of it at idle. This is also one of the cases where the idle start/stop system is a perfect fit. If the engine isn't running while you're at a stoplight, then it isn't vibrating. Hopefully, it isn't too warm outside because if the engine is stopped, the A/C compressor is stopped too.
The seats on this Almera are nice; it's still the Zero-G style seat that they have in the Navara (albeit narrower), meaning it's comfortable on long drives or when you're in traffic for hours. But what you will really enjoy is the fuel economy: in the city, I was getting 9.2 km/l (10 km/h average) and 23.2 km/l on the highway (87 km/h average). Mind you, we still have to account for the speedometer error I found in the VL, but actually, the one here isn't so big. The reason is that while the wheel size is smaller at 15”, the outside tire diameter 195/65 is larger than the 205/55/16 on the VL.
There are a few things that I think Nissan should have included in this model. The leather isn't a big deal, but this would have been so much better if it had cruise control. Actually, even the VL doesn't have cruise control, which is strange considering its price. But that's really about it.
I think Nissan has something really solid with the Almera. The car is light on its feet, it's efficient, quiet, comfortable, and has most of the features you would want or need. The question is whether I would pick this over the VL N-Sport I drove before.
Considering that the Almera VE is 100k less than the VL N-Sport without losing too many features, I think that's a no-brainer.