To say Nissan Motor Philippines has been waiting for an all new model for a while now is an understatement, plain and simple. For years, the company, one of only a handful of local automobile assemblers, has had to endure with what they had while many of their competitors -Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Ford, etc.- have surged ahead.
Maybe the Almera, proudly assembled in the Philippines, can do something about that.
We actually got a first glimpse of the Almera during a visit to Thailand a few years back. I won't blow smoke up your... well, you know: the Almera isn't a particularly pretty car. That's not saying it's ugly, but just as far as designs go, Nissan's designers went for quite a conservative look, opting to go for a design that (by my eye) somehow resembles the top selling car in our market: the current Toyota Vios.
One thing the Almera really has going for it is in the size department. This may be a subcompact entry, but Nissan designed the Almera to be larger than its contemporaries, particularly in terms of length. The Almera measures 4425mm long, 1695mm wide and 1505mm tall, and that makes for extra room inside. More on that in a bit.
When I opened the driver door for the first time, I was a bit surprised. For one reason or another, the dashboard reminds me of -uh- MINI; given the rount motif on the vents, steering wheel and other details, especially lever to open the doors. The seats are quite comfortable, the steering is very light and the shifter isn't notchy or clunky. What I do think needs a little work is the panel gap department, as there are some noticeable inconsistencies with how the dashboard was fitted.
This particular variant is actually the base model of the bunch, but for features, Nissan certainly had the bases covered. Power steering (of course), central locks, power windows and mirrors are the norm. It's got decent alloy wheels, a decent audio system with an aux port and a really cool A/C system (a signature Nissan touch). I hear the top of the line version even gets A/C vents in the back, but the guys in the back weren't complaining about this one, even in the noontime sun. I do wish they fitted a better audio system, as most of the class already have USB input and iPod compatibility. Also, the speakers sound a bit tinny.
Where the Almera truly shines, as we said before, is in legroom. Being long for the class gave the Almera rear legroom comparable to most compact cars; in fact, I could argue it has better rear legroom than the Ford Focus. I could comfortably cross my legs there... with plenty of room to spare. Of course, given the width of the car, 5 full sized adults in the back may have legroom, but not much in terms of hip room.
Under the hood is a 1.5 liter, twin cam 16-valve 4-cylinder engine, and is mated with a 5-speed manual transmission. It's not particularly ground breaking; in fact, with just 99 PS and 134 Newton meters of torque, I could conclude that the Almera's 1.5 liter engine has output figures comparable to 1.3 motors.
Driving it around town, there's an unusual feeling of lightness, even in terms of acceleration. Yes, the Almera has only a 1.5 liter that has the power output of a 1.3, but it doesn't feel like that. They've picked good ratios for the transmission's gearing to give the Almera excellent point-and-squirt characteristics in the city. It's actually quite fun.
The suspension is another strong suit of the Almera. The overall conservative nature of the Almera's design and engineering has worked in its favor on our rather bad streets, gliding better than most of the competition. Soft as the suspension may be, the Nissan isn't all too bad in terms of cornering; something I would discover in an emergency maneuver during my time with the Almera... you can read about that later on in my blog.
Overall, the Nissan Almera 1.5 Base Manual is a solid small car. Yes, given the time they took in bringing in the Almera, I think there are still a few areas they could have worked on, but otherwise at PhP 710,000, the Almera quite a decent deal.
Given that there are rumors of more plant shutdowns given the extra cost of assembling cars here, the fact that NMPI chose to build the Almera rather than import is noble, to say the least.