The arrival of a national sales company for the Nissan brand in the Philippines is indeed a shot in the arm for a brand and product line that seemed to have been at rest for the last 10 years; a stark disparity compared to Nissan's operations overseas.
With the new Nissan Philippines, Inc., things are about to change. They began it with this: the 2014 Nissan Sylphy.
Could this model be the what they need in the compact car segment?
Ever since the late 1980's, Nissan's entry into the C category (compact family car) has been the Sentra. The arrival of NPI marked the discontinuation of the Sentra name in favor of the Sylphy, though the Sentra badge does still live on abroad. This particular generation is the 7th generation of Nissan's C car and the third car to use the Sylphy name. Make no mistake: foreign examples of the Sentra, the Sylphy and even the Pulsar are the same generation; but just have different names for different markets.
Style-wise, you can tell this is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous Sentra 200. Mind you, the Sentra 200 was a decent driving machine, but it just didn't catch on as it should have when faced with the more popular Toyota Corolla Altis or Honda Civic.
The look of the new Sylphy is indeed striking given that front end, the proportions and the rear. One walk around the 2014 Sylphy is all we really needed to realize that the new model is a well designed machine. Whereas other compact cars are now designed to be as high tech or as althetic and sporty as possible, the Sylphy distinguishes itself by generating an upscale and more expensive look than advertised. Soft but defined curves, purposeful character lines and chrome details blend in to create a design that looks and feels premium. Even the paint finish looks quite premium, though examples that I've seen in black look even better.
The 2014 Sylphy measures in at 4615mm long, 1760mm wide and 1495mm tall, making the Sylphy one of the largest in the category that includes the Corolla Altis, Civic, Mazda3, Elantra, Focus and others. Wheelbase is at 2700mm and the wheels are 17-inchers on this 1.8L Upper variant.
Open the doors and again the car impresses; it actually feels like you've bought a car one category higher in price and size. No sporty bucket seats here; just well contoured and premium leather all around. The materials feel of quality. The buttons feel great to the touch. The wheel is great to hold, though the long center cap/horn button does make for some accidental beeping when turning. Everything feels like they're very well sorted out. Of course, this being a wildly hot summer day, the A/C lives up to Nissan's legendary coolness though I think the 2014 Corolla Altis does have the coolest A/C in the segment; it's like a freezer in there.
This being the top spec 2014 Nissan Sylphy, under that hood is the MRA8DE; a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder motor. The engine produces 131 PS and 174 Newton-meters of torque; not what we would call class-leading figures, but it's smooth and efficient for its size given that the MRA8DE is matched with Nissan's X-Tronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
Driving the 2014 Sylphy 1.8L Upper CVT in town is a comfortable and smooth experience. The CVT is smooth and quiet. The suspension -like the engine- aren't exactly revolutionary in the category (MacPhersons in front and a torsion beam in the back), but they work very well together and have struts and springs that provide ride comfort and absorption that could be the best in the category. The best in class wheelbase also gives plenty of legroom in the back if you wish to have someone else do the driving for you.
There are plenty of trade offs, as expected. Body control is decent and the brakes work very well given the heft of the Sylphy, but the handling and cornering of this should not be expected to match that of the Focus or Mazda3. It's meant for relaxed cruising or comfortable city driving rather than for attacking mountain passes; and that's perfectly fine.
Fuel economy is pretty decent; in the city the Sylphy 1.8L CVT was able to achieve 8.7 km/l in moderate traffic (23 km/h average speed) and 12.2 km/l on the highway (95 km/h average speed). If you were a little more patient on the highway, you can achieve 14.2 km/l (68 km/h average speed).
The best part about the Sylphy is the pricing. The 2014 Sylphy starts at just PhP 816,000 for the 1.6L 5MT and at PhP 915,000 for the 1.6L CVT. This top spec 2014 Sylphy 1.8L Upper CVT (I wish they would do better in terms of variant designations) costs just PhP 998,000; a rare feat considering how other manufacturers and brands have raised the price points of the top spec versions well beyond the PhP 1M mark.
On paper and on looks, it's easy to underrate this car but, personally speaking, I like how Nissan stuck to their comfort zone with the 2014 Sylphy. There are times that we as enthusiasts really enjoy a good handling car that you can really push on the track or on the open road. If you're looking for that kind of car, there are now plenty of choices out there.
However, when every other manufacturer went for a high tech, sporty and engaging drive in their compact offerings, Nissan went for an attractive, comfortable, sedate and smooth everyday compact family car in the 2014 Sylphy. Isn't that what you really needed?
One thing though: I wish they retained the Sentra name... something that I'm sure quite a few of you agree to.