In the last couple of years, the Japanese automakers in the Philippines have been gradually introducing their official tuning entities in the country. Of course Mitsubishi has been offering Ralliart equipment for a while now, but Honda has only just begun bringing in a full suite of Modulo and Mugen accessories while the ink on Toyota's newly signed distributorship agreement with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) has only just set, though they have been offering TRD Sportivo which is basically their equivalent of Modulo.
There has, however, been one hold out: Nissan.
Nissan's models (then under UMC and NMPI) in the country did not offer anything exceptional in terms of performance or even visual excitement. They didn't even fully sell models such as the Nissan 350Z and it's successor, the 370Z, or even the all-conquering Nissan GT-R. All you can count on with Nissan at the time was that their models had good airconditioning.
The corporate entity that handled Nissan's passenger cars, Nissan Motor Philippines, Inc. (NMPI), introduced the Almera (known as the Nissan Latio in other markets) in 2012 with a big event at the Makati Shangri-La. Expectations of the Almera were high given that it would be Nissan's first model to directly compete in the subcompact sedan category versus the Vios, the City and the Accent. Sadly the Almera's sales didn't exactly catch on, just selling an estimated a hundred or so examples a month; not the numbers needed of an mass market automobile, especially one that is assembled here.
Perhaps the new Nissan Philippines can change that, and they're starting with this: the 2014 Nissan Almera with the official Nismo kit. This should be interesting.
Nismo is actually an acronym for Nissan Motorsport, and they function as the official racing and tuning arm of Nissan. This Almera, however, receives the (almost) full Nismo aesthetic treatment.
The Nissan Almera isn't what we would categorize as a stylish car. The design itself is quite conservative; in fact during its launch we thought it resembled the 2nd generation Toyota Vios, and that was launched 6 years prior. The original Nismo kit, however, did wonders to modify the design.
Nissan Philippines took a 2014 Almera 1.5L Base automatic in Arctic White and installed a Nismo front kit that neatly covers a good portion of the bumper. The front kit alters the lower radiator intake, the side intakes and adds a lower front splitter finished in Nismo's signature colors: gray and red.
This 2014 Almera also has a pair of Nismo side skirts (also with red and gray trim) to give the car a more aggressive look. Towards the back, the kit is completed with a rear trunk spoiler lower rear skirt with a faux diffuser likewise with signature Nismo red and gray. Both the front and rear skirts get Nismo badging. The Almera now rolls on a set of original 8-spoke Nismo wheels with Bridgestone Potenza Adrenalin RE002 tires; the latter will greatly alter the driving characteristics of the car.
As a whole, the Nismo kit just works wonders. It may just be a kit, but by my eye, the complete set greatly enhances the visual appeal that the Almera didn't have much of. If I was to modify anything else to make it more “authentic”, I would have swapped out the exterior grab handles and the front grille for something else; or just paint them black.
The cabin of this 2014 Almera Nismo, however, has been unchanged. It's a little disappointing to see that the interior hasn't been altered in any way, as this 1.5L Base AT's cabin is a bit basic and lacks detail, particularly after being finished in that monotonous beige. The cabin really is no surprise given that the 1.5L Mid (the top spec variant) is also rather basic as well. Like the Jazz Mugen we reviewed earlier, the Almera could really use a Nismo touch inside with perhaps an original Nismo steering wheel; much like what our Malaysian neighbors get in the Nissan Almera Nismo Performance Package.
For features, the Almera 1.5L Base comes with a 2-DIN audio unit with auxiliary input, power steering, power windows and power mirrors. This being the entry level automatic variant, it doesn't come with the steering wheel audio controls and the rear airconditioning vents. What the Almera lacks in features, however, it makes up for in legroom. By our reckoning, the Almera's rear legroom is the best in the class given that it also has the longest wheelbase in the class; you can comfortably cross your legs in the back.
Firing up the car, it's clear that the engine hasn't been altered in any way. The 1.5-liter twin cam, 16-valve Inline-4 still retains the same 99 PS output and 134 Newton-meters of torque, and is matched with a 4-speed automatic.
In the city, the Almera Nismo is quite comfortable; clearly the suspension remains unchanged. The long wheelbase (for a subcompact) and the suspension settings provide a very pliant ride that is very uncommon of small cars. It's also smooth on the expressway, but the performance tires emit significantly more noise but not overly so. What is noticeable is that the RE002 tires do pick up quite a bit of pebbles and dirt; you can hear them showering the wheel wells if you pass anywhere near a construction site. Also the fuel economy has dropped a bit; if the previous Almera 1.5L with the 4-speed auto returned 9.4 km/l in the city, this one registered 8.1 km/l in moderate to heavy traffic.
There is no real sporting DNA in the way the Almera's suspension and drive is set up, but the Almera does have a progressive feel in the way the suspension behaves. It's easy to control if you want to push it on an empty mountain road, though by our estimation, it's best to leave that kind of driving to cars that were designed to do that.
We actually asked our friends at Nissan Philippines, Inc. for a price tag for the Almera's kit, but they couldn't give us one. The reason is that they don't actually offer it here as this Almera 1.5L Base AT Nismo is their prototype.
Our Malaysian neighbors, however, (a market that has good sales of the Almera) have reported that the Almera Nismo Aero Kit (which includes the full five piece aero kit, wheels and tires) costs RM 8,000 (about PhP 108,000). They even have a full Nismo Performance Package for the Almera (includes the aero kit, wheels, Continental tires, Nismo sport exhaust and sport suspension) for a total cost of RM 13,000 (about PhP 175,000). By our reckoning this 2014 Nissan Almera 1.5L Base 4AT (PhP 760,000) with the Nismo kit (before shipping and import duties, though) could cost PhP 868,000.
Just building one Almera with the Nismo Aero Kit is a step in a new direction for Nissan Philippines. By any definition, this 2014 Nissan Almera Nismo "Prototype" is merely a baby step, but we think it's one that's headed in a new, more exciting path... one that could begin to open more doors to more aggressive and more exciting models from Nissan Philippines.
If Nissan Philippines can bring in the Almera's Nismo packages at those prices or close to them, would you get one?
NOTE: Being a variant not officially offered by Nissan Philippines, Inc., we cannot rate the car in terms of Value For Money.