ON THE RIGHT TRACK

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Nissan Altima lives up to its billing as a “GT-R with four doors“—the car delights at being thrown around on the track.

Nissan Altima lives up to its billing as a “GT-R with four doors“—the car delights at being thrown around on the track.

NOT that buyers really cared—most were simply unaware—but, locally, Nissans used to be peddled by two companies, something that probably contributed to Nissan’s slide. Under a new setup though, in which Nissan Phils. Inc. (NPI) takes over everything, the brand of such legends as the Z and GT-R appears more focused than ever to regain its rightful spot in the domestic market.

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Which is to say definitely not the spot where it had to settle for a 2-percent slice, as Nissan did at the start of the year.

And so following the new company’s announcement and unveil of additional models, NPI recently held an event to hype its reboot. Just what sort? Well, as a marque that gave the planet various Zs and GT-Rs it is not surprising that it was a track gig over at the Clark International Speedway, where the new Nissan Altima and Sylphy were the stars.

Key cars
As the two models that herald the arrival of more Nissans in the Philippines, the Altima and Sylphy, launched locally in March, play key roles in revitalizing the Nissan brand. They are NPI’s bets in segments that may not be high-volume at present—midsize and compact—but which remain important. As one Nissan official put it, one can never tell where consumer preference may swing next.

The Altima is Nissan’s midsize executive sedan and is presently NPI’s flagship car. Built at Nissan’s facilities in the US, it arrives in the Philippines in two variants—the 2.5L SV and the 3.5L SL.

The Altima 2.5L SV is powered by Nissan’s QR25DE four-cylinder engine that’s made from aluminum and which displaces, as its nomenclature suggests, 2.5 liters. With variable valve timing and the corporate Electronic Concentrated Control System (ECCS), this mill makes 178hp at 6,000rpm and 243Nm of torque at 4,000rpm.

The top-spec Altima 3.5L SL packs the larger VQ35DE engine under its hood. Also made from aluminum, the 3.5-liter V6 is governed over by ECCS and variable valve timing, too. It churns out 267hp at 6,400rpm and 340Nm at 4,400rpm.

Both engines attach to the brand’s Xtronic CVT “gearbox,” with the higher-spec Altima adding in paddle shifters.

Unique to the new Altima is its Vehicle Dynamic Control with Active Understeer Control. The thing is Nissan’s electronic driving aid that minimizes a car’s tendency to plow straight on in corners should a driver be overly ambitious as to which speed can be carried through these. Both Altima variants are suspended by independent struts with coil springs in front and multi-link setups in the rear. They also roll on identical 17-inch wheels wrapped with fairly sporty 215/55 tires.

The 3.5L SL adds leather seats, premium interior finishes, automatic dual-zone climate control and Bose audio to the Altima’s list of posh kit.

NPI sells the Altima 2.5L SV for P1.650 million and the 3.5L SL for P2.030 million.

Meanwhile, gone is the Sentra and in comes the Sylphy (for certain markets, at least). It is one of Nissan’s global core models and is sold locally with two engine and transmission choices. The top-spec variant comes with a 1.8-liter engine that’s matched with the Xtronic CVT. Two variants share a 1.6-liter engine, with one bolting to the CVT while the other to a five-speed manual gearbox. The 1.8-liter four-pot pushes 130hp at 6,000rpm and 174Nm at 3,600rpm; the 1.6-liter 115hp at 6,000rpm and 154Nm at 4,000rpm. Both engines have dual injector systems, which should help in boosting fuel economy.

The top variant wears 17-inch alloys with 205/50 tires while the two others go with 16-inch wheels with 195/60 rubbers. MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar suspend the Sylphy’s front end while its rear sits on torsion beams, also with a stabilizer.

Depending on the variant, the car’s kit includes Xenon headlights with LED accents, automatic dual-zone climate control with vents in the rear, leather seats, touch-screen audio and smart key with push-button start, among others. The Sylphy 1.6L MT sells for P812,000; the 1.6L CVT for P915,000; and the 1.8L CVT for P998,000.

Track action
Fittingly for Nissan, the track exercise that was devised to show the Altima’s and Sylphy’s driving traits involved the full length of the Clark speedway—this was no sissy “track event” where participants had to settle for dodging cones on some parts of the track only, or drive on Clark’s short course with a nanny car in front. True, there were cones present, but these were only to mark the racing line, or to demo a left-right-left transition at high speeds. It was obvious NPI would not have any of that begrudging effort shown to invited drivers.

And so with the full track at one’s disposal, the first thing put to the test in the Altima/Sylphy gig were the cars’ acceleration from a dead stop. In all the cars with CVT, this was peculiar as the transmission stayed on a particular “gear” long after it may have reached max speed, seemingly refusing to shift up. A lift of the throttle could sometimes coax it to upshift, but other times it still would not. One thing is certain, though, the Altima 3.5L SL could make short work of Clark’s kilometer-long main straight.

Actually, the top Altima could stitch Clark’s corners quite hastily. Power is no issue with this car, with torque arriving linearly. The 2.5L SV isn’t quite as brawny, of course, but it still is no slouch, especially when it reaches higher revs. In the Sylphys’ case, power is expectedly down a notch or two also but weight comes into play as the cars are lighter. This means that both can still deliver entertainment on all of Clark’s sections, save for the main straight.

If there was anything that limited the Altimas’ and Sylphys’ track romp, it was the grip available from their comfort-biased road tires. And so it was up to their handling bits to do their stuff. The Sylphys, especially, relied on their eager chassis and, more important, relatively light weight to get their way across the speedway. Proof of this is that it was the 1.6-liter pair that were better balanced, their slightly lighter engines providing a more neutral stance for the cars during spirited cornering. Out on real-world streets though, the extra oomph of the 1.8-liter mill may have the advantage in traffic-jostling.

In the Altimas the computerized traction controls ensured—most of the time—that the cars stayed on the blacktop. Their active understeer system helps the cars turn corners at a fast clip, but being smooth is not what the Altimas want—they only plowed straight on im such treatment. The key is to be vigorous in turning the wheel, and then the cars’ rear end would step out and you could power your way out. The Altima, as Nissan points out, is a GT-R with four doors.

Things like these, you only learn on speedway romps, making NPI’s Altima and Sylphy gig quite relevant in terms of demonstrating the cars’ competence.

Guess you could say then that, with programs like this, Nissan is on the right track.

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