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Car reviews - Nissan - Almera - range

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious back seat, light yet reactive steering, revvy performance, easy controls, responsive auto, economy, expected reliability
Room for improvement
Rear headroom, no folding rear seat, no cruise-control available, cabin presentation, skittish in wet, styling, hefty price premium over hatch

27 Aug 2012

NISSAN is at it again with the new Almera – basically a sedan version of the existing Micra – which shares the same engine, drivetrain and equipment levels, yet costs at least $1500 more than the likeable little hatch.

The newcomer boasts segment-leading rear-seat legroom and the second-biggest boot in its class thanks to a sizeable 155mm wheelbase stretch, but Nissan is charging a hefty premium for those extra millimetres.

This sounds vaguely familiar because Nissan did something similar in early 2006 when it replaced the long-serving Pulsar with the Tiida.

Like the Almera, the Tiida was based on the bones of a light car, yet the company priced it among the small-car fraternity and gambled on its (surprise, surprise) rear legroom and large boot to lure buyers. That strategy bombed spectacularly.

At least Nissan isn’t pretending Almera belongs in the small car category, but even as a light car it is compromised in some areas.

Chief among these is packaging. Anybody over 170cm tall in the back will scrape the headlining, while the cushion is low, and that’s a recipe for a numb bum.

And while the Almera has an “outstanding” 490-litre boot volume, it can’t be extended, since the rear backrest is fixed. We haven’t seen that in a new Japanese sedan since the 1970s! No form of cabin-through access in a modern light car is frankly unbelievable.

Anybody who has spent time in the current Micra – and we have really put the K13 through the ringer since its October 2010 launch – will instantly feel familiar inside the Almera.

So why does it cost $1500 more when most comparable light sedans are about the same price as their hatch counterparts?

We drove both variants, starting with the ST manual, which is spacious up front with an airy interior, easy controls, a sweet engine and smooth gearbox that makes zipping around town a breeze. These are light-car fundamentals the Almera gets right.

Surprisingly, the four-speed auto in the Ti also bonds well with the peaky 1.5-litre engine, responding with spirit and zeal on a par with the slick five-speed manual.

With a fairly pliant ride, tight turning circle and super-light steering, the Almera was clearly born for the city.

Much of the cabin dashboard architecture is also pure Micra, though we prefer the Almera’s classier white instruments and less cartoonish square (rather than circular) air vents.

Equipment levels are reasonable, the occupants are surrounded by airbags, and there’s plenty of active safety gear going on underneath, too.

If you’re short, rear-seat accommodation is pretty good, though bereft of anything approaching inviting. It’s a world of moulded – if well-constructed – plastic back there.

The Ti’s slightly more salubriously trimmed cabin fails to lift the Almera flagship above the depressingly cheerless cheapness of the base car.

Additionally, around winding wet mountain roads, the sprightly little Nissan seemed at tad too tippy-toed through the turns, feeling nervous and not well-planted. It was much better on dryer roads, but we have real misgivings about how skittish this thing felt on wet roads.

Finally, there’s the styling. Aficionados of Datsun’s 1970s catalogue may find much to admire here. Others may feel less charitable, especially about the rear end.

Looks are subjective, but to me the Almera is an underwhelming mishmash of ideas that don’t seem to fully gel.

Sure there’s heaps of rear legroom, but the inexplicably tapered roofline eats headroom, so what’s the point? The boot is huge, but there’s no cabin access, so where’s the versatility?

Our advice is to go with Micra or save up for the coming Pulsar if you must have a sedan since that’s not far away now, or just look elsewhere.

Like the unloved Tiida, the aesthetically challenging Almera falls between stools. There are better alternatives out there.

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