Nissan Almera Road Test
Group Test: Hyundai Accent Sedan 1,6 Fluid vs. Nissan Almera 1,5 Acenta vs. Toyota Corolla Quest 1,6 Plus
FORD’s done it. So have Volkswagen, Renault, Opel and a whole host of Chinese carmakers. The success of the Figo, Polo Vivo, erstwhile Clio Va-va-voom and Corsa Lite (and the current bevy of Isuzu KB-based bakkies) has shown that re-engineering an outgoing model to a lower cost point in order for it to slot in below its ostensibly more sophisticated replacement makes sense in South Africa.
Usually, at the end of their planned lifecycles, these vehicles are still relatively competitive and are often replaced simply because the market has dictated that the most current consumer goods are the most desirable.
At the start of the year, Toyota exchanged the 10th-generation Corolla, a vehicle we greatly admired since first assessing it in November 2007, for the 11th series. We tested this vehicle in March (specifically, the 1,6 Prestige) and, although we were generally impressed with its levels of space and comfort, CAR’s testers were less enamoured with its premium-price positioning. Compared with the Kia Cerato and Hyundai Elantra with which it was compared, the Corolla 1,6 failed to fully win over the CAR team (even as the range managed to secure the award for Best Compact Sedan in this year’s Top 12 Best Buys - click here to read more).
New Corolla therefore left a sizeable gap in the Toyota sedan range. With the most expensive Etios four-door costing R141 600 and the cheapest Corolla, the 1,3 Esteem, kicking off at R214 900, there was room for a budget sedan to target price-sensitive private buyers and fleets alike.
Enter the Corolla Quest, a rejigged version of the 10th-generation Corolla that will be offered with one engine – the familiar 90 kW/154 N.m 1,6-litre naturally aspirated petrol shared with the Corolla – in two trim lines and with the option of a six-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission (only on the basic model). The entry-level version costs R174 900, the Plus tested here R197 900 and the auto version R1 000 more than the latter.
Toyota claims to have been able to offer these surprisingly low prices (this is a C-segment-size vehicle, remember) because of four factors: the amortisation of the investment that was made in the 10th-generation version; economies of scale, i.e. the more you build, the lower the cost; commonality of parts between the Quest and Corolla (they share front seats, for example); and cost-cutting. The latter includes a switch to matte-black trim elements instead of grey, the relocation of the side indicator lamps from the mirrors to the fenders, cheaper rooflining and carpeting, fixing the rear bench instead of allowing it to fold, simplifying the instrumentation, and ditching map-reading lamps and the soft-touch surfaces on the doors.
Still the same Corolla
Despite the aforementioned changes, anyone familiar with the 10th-generation series will find much to like about the Quest. Yes, the cabin does feel a tad more “budget” in its finish. The rooflining and design of the instrument panel scream cost-cutting, but these are redressed with the excellent front seats – just about the most comfortable ones in this segment – and the slush-moulded upper facia.
In fact, the Corolla Quest interior feels in a different league quality-wise when compared with that of the Indian-built Nissan Almera, the first of its competitors in this test. Even considering the price gap between the Almera Acenta and the Quest Plus (R27 300), the former’s cockpit feels unremittingly cheap. Our test vehicle featured a skew panel covering the passenger airbag and plastic on the instrument cowl that was peeling along the edges, while the seats were designed with no orthopaedic function in mind; they’re flat and over-firm.
At least the Nissan has a reasonable level of standard kit for the low price. Items such as a comprehensive audio system (it lacks a USB port, however), multifunction steering wheel, a very effective air-conditio-ning system with adjustable ventilation outlets for rear passengers and 15-inch wheels are standard.
Showing design flair sorely missing from those of the other two, the cabin of the Hyundai Accent features high-quality materials throughout, while the silver and piano-black trim reflects this Fluid model’s highest price in this test.
The layout of the Accent’s major controls is excellent, a number of testers like the very legible bright-blue backlighting and it’s the only vehicle here to feature Bluetooth connectivity as standard.
At the front, only the Korean’s seats and their lack of side bolstering came in for criticism, while some testers bemoaned the lack of reach adjustment on the steering column (a feature only the Quest boasts). Like the Almera and unlike the Quest, it has controls for the audio system on the (plastic-trimmed, like the others’) steering wheel.
Considering all three vehicles will most likely see use as rental cars, fleet fodder and family hold-alls, it’s germane that each features a large, evenly shaped boot and comfortable, spacious rear seats.
In terms of rear-passenger comfort, the Almera by dint of its long wheelbase and thin front seatbacks, is immediately back into contention for test honours. It’s comfortably in the lead in terms of legroom and just falls short of the Accent’s abundance of headroom. Sadly, the rear bench does not fold to enlarge the already substantial 384 dm3 of boot space.
The Hyundai has the most rear headroom (although access is tight through the sloping door line), while its boot is both the most cavernous and is the only one here that can be made even bigger.
Although the Corolla isn’t the largest in any of the measurable plains, its seat is very comfortable, while the flat floor allows a third adult to be seated on the bench. In truth, the Quest is the only true five-seater here, as the other two are quite a bit narrower. It is, however, unfortunate that Toyota saw fit to fix the bench’s backrest because, with the lowest boot volume here, the Quest would have greatly benefited from a configurable rear seat.
Their loading heights are all roughly the same, and the boot apertures and shapes are uniform; therefore, they’re ideally geared to carry large, heavy suitcases and the like. None has exterior boot releases.
Under the bonnet
As per most variable-valve-timed engines, the Corolla Quest’s 1,6-litre engine is free-revving but does need to be wound up to provide its best performance. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like Toyota has removed noise-deadening from the powertrain cavity, as the engine remains relatively refined all the way to its redline at 6 200 r/min.
Repeated sprint efforts brought the average 0-to-100 km/h time down to an excellent 10,30 seconds – the best here and almost a second quicker than the time posted by the Corolla 1,6 Prestige (rather surprising considering the Quest is only 8 kg lighter).
The changes of the short-throw six-speed ‘box are truly superb, while the clutch is typically light but a cinch to operate.
Nipping at the heels of the Quest is the Accent. It was a mere 0,10 seconds slower to the three-figure mark and got there with less noise than the Almera, which brought up the rear with 11,88 seconds after the tester struggled through the recalcitrant gearbox. Neither vehicle is as refined as the Toyota at any speed, but they nevertheless are sufficiently adept at keeping noise at bay.
With a suspension setup biased towards comfort round town and at cruising speeds, the Quest struggles a little to settle in corners when pushing on, and never really feels comfortable being thrown around twisty bends. But this is its only dynamic failing. In other respects, it has it rivals licked. The electrically assisted steering setup has no speed sensitivity, which is only a good thing. It maintains a light, direct feel at all speeds. Secondly, the ride quality is excellent. It absorbs scars with aplomb, no doubt aided by the plump tyres.
The Accent similarly has a composed, level ride, except in extreme cornering where the rear shows a slightly disconcerting tendency to go light.
In our first road test of the Accent, we called the steering action “appalling”. At speed, it felt as though the vehicle was somehow fighting steering action, which created a feeling of waywardness similar to a small vehicle’s behaviour in strong crosswinds. We’ve subsequently had an Accent hatchback on our test fleet and its system was significantly better … as was this sedan’s, which leads us to believe that Hyundai has refined the setup. It’s still a touch vague and has a too-strong desire to self-centre, but is a million miles removed from the original.
True to its budget-car roots, the Almera struggles when traversing broken tarmac, where the front suspension becomes troubled all too easily. Yet, outside of an urban area, the ride settles down. However, the steering, electric like the other two, is vague.
As previously mentioned, the Almera has an acceptable level of standard features considering its bargain-basement price.
On the safety front, it has two front airbags as well as ABS with EBD (as do the Quest and Accent) and brake assist (also shared with the Toyota; only the Hyundai lacks this feature). Unlike the other two, it has drums at the rear, which is an acceptable cost compromise considering the light kerb mass of 1 060 kg. Ultimately, the Almera averaged 3,23 seconds in our 10-stop emergency test, netting it an average rating.
Adding to the Almera’s spec, the Quest has a USB port and matches its 15-inch alloy wheels, but loses out on rear electric windows. It averaged 3,28 seconds to come to a standstill from 100 km/h, which is fair but lags behind times posted by other vehicles in its class. Our road-test engineer, Peter Palm, commented that the brakes smoked after completion of the test and that there was very little ABS intervention.
Taking first prize for features is the Accent. Above the items it shares with the others (and Bluetooth), this vehicle possesses foglamps, heated mirrors and rear-sited park-distance control.
Conversely, it put in a poor showing in the emergency-braking test (and it wouldn’t be the first Hyundai to perform weakly here). An average stopping time of 3,38 seconds barely scores it an “average” rating. In terms of service plans and warranties, the Accent leads the way. A service plan of five years/90 000 km is impressive, while the warranty adds a further 10 000 km.
The Almera has the second-best plan and warranty, while the Toyota’s is the shortest. The latter, though, benefits from the widest dealer network.
Like the Figo and Vivo, the Corolla Quest has proven in a strenuous CAR test that a re-engineered product can be an excellent vehicle in its own right.
In fact, considering its keen pricing, many CAR staffers question why buyers would stump up an extra R28 000 in order to buy the cheapest new Corolla 1,6, the Esteem, when the Quest offers everything buyers could want.
However, we would advise potential customers to also look at the entry-level model. At R174 900, it sacrifices body colour trim, the 15-inch alloys and the Plus model’s audio system. Throw in an aftermarket version of the latter and you’ll still undercut R180 000, which is superb value for money.
Placing second in this test is the Accent. We remain big fans of Hyundai’s small sedan. It performs admirably, rides well, is big inside yet compact externally, and has an unbeatable warranty package. However, price is a major factor in this segment and the Fluid model is a touch too expensive next to the Quest.
Bringing up the rear, but by no means disgraced, is the Almera. It has too many rough edges to fully compete with the other two vehicles, but it provides truly spacious family motoring at the price of a small hatchback, and for that reason alone it gets our recommendation.
Road Test Scores:
Hyundai Accent Sedan 1,6 Fluid: 76/100
Nissan Almera 1,5 Acenta: 70/100
Toyota Corolla Quest 1,6 Plus: 78/100
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