The dark horse sub-compact
It was barely the break of day and the toll lanes were already packed, from darkness on the South Luzon Expressway all the way into the glaring, bright daylight of North Luzon Expressway, on the way to the Monasterio de Tarlac. Besides getting to the tourist spot/pilgrimage site for the first time, driving the newly-upgraded Nissan Almera sedan on the highway was something to look forward to. For obvious reasons, driving it in bumper-to-bumper Skyway traffic every morning into the Makati central business district did not exactly present the ideal conditions for the model to show its best performance.
Since the test car arrived on a Monday afternoon, it hardly drove anywhere close to its maximum speed, or power or torque. If it went anywhere close to 100 kilometers per hour on the Skyway, it was all over in three minutes, that’s all the daily commute would allow, before getting into exit traffic all over again.
I did get to have a really good look at it inside and out, though. The new Nissan Almera carries an updated look from the previous version. Classic lines with a redesigned front bumper with very current boomerang-inspired headlamps, a bigger and bolder front grille, and front chrome accents all conspire to communicate a rather mature, no-nonsense car. A remodeled rear bumper is complemented by black diffuser cladding and chrome trunk garnish. The large lip spoiler and newly-designed 12-spoke alloy wheels are the token reference to sporty design. Inside the cabin, Nissan has equipped the model with a new center cluster layout with a piano black finish. This particular one had new multi-information display, three-spoke steering wheel, and high-quality leather seats. The Almera’s huge interior space helps to make it one of the most comfortable vehicles in its class.
The drive to Tarlac was uneventful. That is a good thing. The Almera is nice and stable, easy to drive, even for female newbie drivers. Driving up the hills on a steep-ish curvy incline, I did need to push harder, but all in all, the Nissan Almera was a good all-around drive. According to the spec sheet, an anti-lock braking system, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist and dual front airbags come standard, providing added passive and active safety. I liken these features to insurance. These are things you want to have and are willing to pay for, and hope never to have to use. For women like me who always forget to lock up, you’ll love the automatic door locks that activate at 20 kph.
While we got the top model of the range, all models have features that contribute to a comfortable driving and riding experience. We didn’t lack for cup and bottle holders at the center console and door sidings, iPod connectivity, push-button start and remote keyless system. I didn’t quite understand the need for a rear cabin comfort fan: the air conditioning system kept us cool even as the sun beat through the windscreen.
I’m conditioned to believe that Pampanga is the hottest place to drive, and as we headed down to San Fernando’s Everybody’s Cafe, we didn’t feel the heat at all. After a hearty lunch of morcon served with its drippings, pindang damulag (carabao beef tapa), we settled back in for the trip home. Unlike the trip up, it was stop-and-go for most of the ride home, costing us a bit more fuel, but not in a very shocking painful way.
There isn’t anything in this car that would take it off my list if I were scouting around for a subcompact car. In fact, if you’re not putting a priority on looks and premium touches like leather interiors, and considering the total ownership experience (including costs) this may well be the car for ladies who want a reliable, practical ride. According to Nissan, the Almera features upgraded, high-quality parts and technology, which lengthens the intervals between periodic maintenance service (PMS). In addition, the cost of spare parts for the new Nissan Almera are also lower than before, keeping maintenance costs down at 30 percent lower than other cars.
I would also have loved to try the 1.2-liter manual transmission model. I expect it would be extremely miserly with the fuel, but then it would also be a struggle to drive a manual transmission car everyday, with the kind of traffic I deal with in my daily commute. To each his own, I guess.
Space, space, space
It felt like a big car inside, but moved like a small one, perfect for tight city streets. The quiet cabin isolated acceleration and road noise most of the time, but I probably would have preferred some more dampening.
We didn’t test top speeds, nor braking distance or 0 to 100 kph, but anyone with a non-professional driver’s license, no facilities and training, shouldn’t be doing so anyway. Driving a Nissan for a brief spell for the first time in a long time was a happy homecoming by itself, and the Nissan Almera was not a disappointment. It runs well, stops well, rides well,and generally acts the way you want your car to behave. It’s probably the kind of safe, reliable vehicle you would want to put your loved ones in.
For someone looking to purchase a subcompact today, the Nissan Almera is one of many strong choices. Combining decent fuel efficiency with good drive and ride characteristics, as well as generous cabin and trunk space, the Nissan Almera could well be the dark horse that wins your proverbial subcompact race.