NISSAN ALMERA REVIEW
Vehicle style: Light-segment sedan
Price: $16,990 - $20,990
Engine: 1.5 litre 16-valve petrol four-cylinder
Fuel consumption (listed): 6.3 l/100km
Nissan’s new Almera has been a hit in the USA (where it’s sold as the Versa Sedan), but will you want to buy it?
Here, sedans have traditionally played second-fiddle to hatchbacks in the light car segment. Nissan Australia however is banking on the Almera’s substantial interior space - at a squeezy light hatch price - to add around 3000 additional sales to its annual sales sheet.
It’s got a massive cabin, the Almera is indeed a rolling Tardis, but is, unfortunately, let down in a few other - somewhat critical - areas.
First things first: the Almera absolutely, positively, has one of the longest cabins in its segment.
Nissan says the Almera boasts the greatest legroom in the light car class, and given the yawning 904mm chasm between the first and second row, we’ve no reason to doubt that claim.
Secondly, this is a rather nicely-made interior. Hard plastics dominate, but even the rock-hard dashboard and urethane steering wheel have an appealing texture to them.
The Ti gets a more upmarket interior feel, with better quality materials, automatic climate control, ambient temperature display, rear park-assist, rear seat centre armrest, keyless entry and ignition and engine start button. But, like the ST, it misses cruise control.
Externally, it scores 15-inch alloys, foglights and rear spoiler.
Front seat comfort is good, but there’s no reach-adjustable steering. The seat position is also a tad high, even with the height-adjustable driver’s seat squab at its lowest setting.
The rear seats are nicely shaped and the acres of legroom are very much appreciated. However, it’s all spoiled by a lack of headroom thanks to the sloping roofline.
There’s no height adjustment to the base model Almera ST’s rear headrests either.
The boot - another super-sized aspect of this pint-sized sedan - measures in at a substantial 490 litres.
It’s a huge boot for a light car, although not quite as big as the Honda City’s 506 litre boot space.
Critically though, there’s no provision for a fold-down rear backrest. That’s hard to overlook when the overwhelming majority of the Almera’s competitors have such a feature.
Another feature that’s fast becoming popular on light cars is a USB port for external music players. The Almera doesn’t have one in either the ST or Ti variants.
Also, although each comes with the standard 3.5mm audio jack allowing music to be piped from an iPod or mobile phone, it’s not capable of simultaneously charging these external devices.
Safety equipment levels though are good, with six airbags as standard (front, front side, curtain) and all seats equipped with three-point seat belts.
On The Road
The Almera’s naturally-aspirated 1.5 litre petrol inline four isn’t the most exciting motor around, but even with only 75kW and 139Nm it has enough muscle to move the 1.0-tonne Almera with ease.
Like all small-capacity four-pots, it needs plenty of coaxing during overtaking or merging onto freeways, but as long as the revs are kept high it performs well.
The automatic gearbox is definitely the one to get. It’s only got four gears, but it kicks down quickly and smoothly and works hard to keep the engine on the boil.
It can sometimes hunt between gears when travelling up steep inclines, but, for most of the time, we found the auto did not put a foot wrong when selecting ratios.
The five-speed manual, by contrast, is a horrid thing. The gearshift is notchy and slow, and although it’s got one ratio more than the four-speed auto, it doesn’t seem to benefit all that much from it.
Having more closely-stacked ratios than the automatic is an advantage, but needing to row through the manual’s clunky gate makes driving it a thoroughly unenjoyable experience.
On-road handling is overwhelmingly soft, and although this delivers excellent ride comfort it also compromises grip on less-than-perfect surfaces.
The Almera’s stability control calibration could also use some tightening up. On several occasions we encountered quite pronounced understeer, without any - or very late - intervention by the stability control system.
First Drive Verdict
So, the Almera's on-road dynamics aren’t exactly great and though offering the greatest legroom in its class, the interior packaging falls short for features and versatility.
But, costing just $16,990 in base ST form and $20,990 for the auto-equipped high grade Ti model, it’s certainly reasonably priced in today’s market.
However, in our view, this does not elevate it above the well-sorted but awkward-looking Ford Fiesta sedan. And even the outdated Toyota Yaris YRX sedan boasts more standard features than the Almera Ti for just a modest amount more.
We’ll reserve our final judgement for a full review, but as far as first impressions go the Almera is underwhelming - unless you really need a lot of legroom in a small box.
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