The Nissan Almera is officially categorised as a ‘light sedan’, but you quickly appreciate there’s nothing pint-sized about the latest Micra-based addition to Nissan Australia’s resurgent passenger car line-up when you see it in the flesh.
The Nissan Almera makes good use of its segment-straddling dimensions, too, boasting more rear-seat legroom than any other city car as well as a massive 490-litre boot, which, remarkably, is just three milk bottles short of the boot of the current Commodore.
Unfortunately, the Almera misses out on the 60:40 split folding rear seat of its above competitors, instead forcing owners to make do with a fixed backrest, which limits your ability to transport longer items.
It’s a sign of cost cutting, and one of list of things you have to accept with the budget-conscious Almera, which is attractively priced from $16,990 before on-road costs.
Cruise control is not available, neither is a USB input to connect you phone or Bluetooth audio streaming to play you tunes wirelessly (although an auxiliary jack and Bluetooth phone connectivity are standard across the range). The steering wheel also adjusts only for rake, not reach.
There are some other little niggles, like the trip computer, which displays your fuel consumption in kilometres per litre rather than Australia’s standard litres per 100km unit, and some larger ones, like the overall quality and feel of the cabin, which falls short of the standard set by the Accent and the Rio.
Soft-touch plastics are nowhere to be found, with the Almera’s cabin instead presenting an abundance of harder-wearing, scratchy surfaces and basic materials across the seats and headliner – not unusual for this segment, but an ever-present reminder of its entry-level status.
The cabin layout is basic but user-friendly, and looks classier in the high-grade Ti trim level, which trades the base model ST’s manual air conditioner dials and switches for automatic climate control, and scores chrome door handles, a rear-seat centre armrest, a smart proximity key and an engine start button.
Other benefits of the $20,990 Almera Ti, which is $2000 more than the mechanically identical Almera ST auto, include 15-inch alloy wheels (a full-size steel spare is standard across the range), front foglights, rear park assist and rear spoiler, intermittent windscreen wiper function, ambient temperature display, a height-adjustable driver’s seat and adjustable rear headrests.
You sit on the driver’s seat rather than in it, although despite a lack of support it remains adequately comfortable over longer trips. The relatively high seating position and small pillars at the front and rear mean visibility is one of the Almera’s strong points.
Acres of rear legroom make the Nissan Almera feel more like a medium car from the second row, although taller adults will still be pushed for headroom and the middle seat remains only one for children or short trips.
Despite the feeling of spaciousness, stowage spots like the glove box and door bins are quite tight, and you also need to be conscious of the gooseneck hinges in the boot, which can impede your use of the space.
Under the bonnet sits a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 75kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 139Nm of torque (at 4000rpm). The Almera ST comes with the option of a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic, while the Almera Ti is an auto-only prospect.
The manual uses 6.3L/100km of standard unleaded on the combined cycle, while the auto is slightly thirstier at 6.7L/100km. After an extended drive in the Almera Ti across a variety of roads, the trip computer was showing 13.1km/L… which a quick calculation revealed to be bang on the official claim.
One of the most satisfying characteristics of the Almera’s powertrain is how quiet it is. The sound of the engine is almost imperceptible at idle, and remains hushed around city streets and even when you stretch its legs on the highway.
That sense of refinement goes out the window as the revs climb, however, with the engine developing a bit of a whistle and a thrashy sound as it’s forced to work hard up hills and when you sink the boot in to speed up and overtake. This is easier to contain with the manual, which has an extra gear ratio for added flexibility, but leads to mild bursts of aural discomfort in the auto, which is often forced to kick back one or two gears to maintain momentum and is screaming out for an extra ratio or two.
The engine itself is capable but little better, taking its time to accelerate up to speed and offering the driver minimal satisfaction in the process. The jiggle in the manual’s shift lever feels more akin to a second-hand car than a brand new one, and while the clutch has a light feel, there’s an obvious grab point that makes driving it smoothly fairly instinctive.
The Almera feels solid on the road for a car of its stature. It glides over smooth surfaces and is effective at ironing out coarser roads that can create vibrations and road noise in some of its competitors. Potholes and surface joins send more of a jolt through the cabin, but the suspension does a reasonable job overall of maintaining a refined and planted feel.
The steering is a touch light at suburban speed, although there’s more weight to the wheel at higher speeds, creating a more confidence-inspiring feel.
While feedback is almost non-existent across the full speed range, there’s an encouraging precision and directness about the way the Almera reacts to your steering inputs too, as well as a reasonable consistency.
Decent on-road dynamics are backed up by a strong standard safety package, which includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control. While it’s yet to be rated by ANCAP, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the US named the Almera one of its Top Safety Picks for 2012 following a series of crash tests.
Like all new Nissan passenger vehicles, the Almera is backed by a three-year/100,000km warranty, three years of 24-hour roadside assistance, and a six-year/120,000km capped-price servicing program.
The Nissan Almera offers impressive spaciousness and comfort for its entry-level pricing, although its lack of some key features and only adequate powertrain mean it trails the class leaders in Australia’s light sedan segment.