2012 NISSAN ALMERA REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Light sedan
Price: $20,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.7 l/100km | tested: 8.0 l/100km
Nissan is aiming to be number one importer here in 2013; its new Almera sedan - sized and priced to grab young buyers and families looking for an economical ‘second car’ - is part of that push.
Nissan’s ambitions might prove to be a tall order, but with a promising new Pulsar and Altima also on the way for the small and mid-size categories, a sedan companion to the Micra hatch makes perfect sense.
When the Micra launched in Australia in 2010, we were impressed with its handling and super-low entry price.
Will the Almera do as well? As a new nameplate it has to battle awareness issues, not to mention some very competent competition.
Quality: With a dash lifted straight out of the Micra, there are hard surfaces most places you look, but there is nothing wrong with the fit and finish inside the Almera.
Panel gaps are uniform, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t stand up to the punishment of a young family.
Comfort: The big drawcard for the Almera is a wheelbase that is 155mm longer than the Micra. This translates directly into rear seat space, which is immense.
Even the lankiest of passengers can stretch out, but they’ll need to sit low as the sloping roof-line robs headroom.
Up-front accommodation is in line with class competitors. There isn’t much shape to the seats generally: the front seats would benefit from some cushion tilt and the wheel could do with reach adjustment (it’s only tilt adjustable).
Equipment: All models come with air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, multi-function trip computer, steering wheel audio controls, cloth trim, chrome exterior door handles, Bluetooth phone connectivity, four-speaker AM/FM radio CD player with MP3 aux-in and 15-inch wheels.
The up-spec Ti tested here gains alloy wheels, climate control, proximity key with push-button start, adjustable rear headrests, reverse park-sensors, fold-down rear armrest, rear spoiler, front foglamps, variable intermittent windscreen wipers, outside temperature display and is only available as an automatic.
Storage: To go with that lanky rear seat, there’s also a cavernous boot, with 490 litres of space on tap. Not quite the biggest boot in its class, but very close.
However, the lack of a folding rear seat robs the Almera of versatility and is a baffling exclusion.
Inside, finding a home for cans and bottles is no sweat thanks to an abundance of beverage receptacles. As for lidded storage, there’s not a lot. The glovebox is a decent size, but everything else is open to prying eyes.
Again, we have to ask: Why such a big, bulging dashboard with no provision for an upper glovebox? Looks like another missed opportunity by Nissan designers.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: If you’re looking for a pocket-rocket, you won’t find it with the Almera. While the car itself is reasonably light-weight, the engine only musters 75kW at 6000rpm and 139Nm at 4000rpm.
Tied to the Ti’s standard four-speed auto it means that to extract the best from the Almera, you have to push it hard. Below 3000rpm it’ll get along okay, but with very little enthusiasm.
You’ve got to give it a concerted prod for the engine to come on song. With a few on board, you need to plan any overtaking manoeuvres.
While missing a gear ratio or two, the four-speed automatic is well suited for driving around town. It’s smooth and kicks-down eagerly too, helping to keep up a lively momentum if rushing with the traffic.
Refinement: If you’re happy to keep things sedate, the Almera is a model of refinement. Ask for more though and the engine note becomes harsh and thrashy.
On-road tyre and wind noise are noticeably lower than in the Micra however, the benefit of an isolated boot.
Suspension: The Four-wheel coil spring suspension employs a MacPherson strut front set-up and a torsion beam rear axle. There’s a fair bit of space between the tyres and the wheel wells too meaning excellent bump absorption and suspension travel.
Even on TMR’s cobblestone test lane and a few rutted back roads, we simply couldn’t get the Almera to bottom out. Handling isn’t so strong as a result though with plenty of body-roll and lots of pushy understeer.
Braking: The Almera’s brake hardware comprises ventilated front discs and rear drums. Unladen there’s no problems with brake performance but with with a load of passengers stopping distances start to stretch out.
ANCAP rating: Not rated
Safety features: Safety features include front seatbelts with pretensioners and load limiters, lap-sash belts in all seating positions (plus adjustable head restraints in the rear of the Ti), dual front, side and curtain airbags, Vehicle Dynamic Control (ESP) and ABS brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000 kilometres.
Service costs: Under myNissan’s capped price servicing program service intervals are set at six months or 10,000km.
Standard services are $233 with more expensive services occurring at 40,000km ($299), 80,000km ($365), 100,000km ($455) and 120,000km ($364).
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Honda City VTi ($20,490) - There is a higher spec City VTi-L available, but the features and price of the base model line up well against the Almera.
Inside is where you'll find the biggest differences; the City interior is light-years ahead of the Nissan for fit, feel and finish.
City also boasts a more powerful engine (88kW) and a slightly larger boot, although no match for the Almera for rear seat space. (see City reviews)
Toyota Yaris YRS ($19,970) - Toyota's Yaris is getting long in the tooth, a new model hatch has arrived, but for the time being the previous-gen sedan continues. That isn't such a huge problem though as the Yaris is very comparable to the Almera.
Both use four-speed automatic transmissions, and both are light and easy behind the wheel. There's also a shared ‘buzziness’ at higher revs and a lack of motivation down low. (see Yaris reviews)
Holden Barina CDX ($20,990) - Even in base model trim the Barina sedan out-guns the up spec Almera. Add 17-inch alloys, leather steering wheel, heated seats and Holden's new MyLink infotainment and the Barina CDX stands out as impressive value.
On the road it's no more rewarding, but does score a six-speed auto. Interior trimmings aren't quite as polished either. (see Barina reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We quite like Nissan's Micra, but the longer Almera just doesn't tick all the same boxes. It's got some tough competitors, and although the price of entry is low, there are better value solutions out there.
Perplexing is the lack of a folding rear seat; this really limits the vehicle's flexibility and functionality.
That just leaves legroom. And there's acres of it. So, as a second car for families with lanky teens, or those who may need to ferry around older relatives, the Almera has a definite edge.
If space, then, is high on your list, and a nice ‘ride’, have a look at the Almera. But you’ve got a lot of choice in this part of the light car market.