WITH the popularity of com-pact saloons on the rise in South Africa, Nissan is keen to take advantage of this market trend by reintroducing an “old favourite” to its line-up. The Almera serves as an entry point into the saloon market for Nissan and its customers. The fact that the B-segment is currently the largest and fastest growing in the SA market also makes it a crucial offering in the company’s passenger range, as it will contribute to both its volume and market-share objectives.

The new Almera was first shown at the China International Automobile Exhibition in 2010 and has already sold over 500 000 units in markets that include China, the US and Thailand. It will partially fill the gap left in Nissan’s line-up after the Tiida takes its leave and will very shortly be joined by a new Sentra saloon in the C-segment in order for Nissan to offer a full saloon-range onslaught.

In a local context, the all-new Almera is a spiritual successor to the ever-popular Sentra of the ‘90s and second-generation Almera of the early 2000s. These were stalwarts in the Nissan line-up and were popular choices among private and fleet buyers (and even motorsport enthusiasts). However, the car market has moved on a fair bit since then and, specifically, the market for entry-sized saloons has become far more sophisticated. Consumers are more demanding than ever and expect these vehicles to offer great value for money, an attractive and modern design, and a comfortable and spacious interior. It is upon these key pillars that Nissan developed the all-new Almera.

The local range consists of two transmission options – a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic gearbox – mated to the 1,5-litre petrol engine (that develops 73 kW and 134 N.m of torque) and a single, comprehensive trim option.

The range costs from R165 000 to R175 500, which makes it one of the most affordable four-doors in the market and an attractive prospect given its spacious cabin and standard specification.

Affordability was at the core of the development of the Almera, but this goes beyond an attractive selling price and includes design efficiencies in order to lower fuel consumption and maintenance costs that Nissan refers to as Cost Per Kilometre (CPK). So, while the Almera boasts attractive design lines, including a creased bonnet, wrap-around lamps and high shoulder and body lines, wrapped up in the aesthetics are clever creases and edges to the front bumper, A-pillars, side mirrors and underbody that lend the Almera a class-leading drag coefficient of 0,31.

Further efficiencies were gained in the design and manufacturing processes, where weight-saving was achieved in the new front and rear suspension, brakes, transmissions (smaller and lighter) and body structure, which also aids fuel consumption – claimed to be 6,3 litres/100 km for the manual and 7,2 litres/100 km for the automatic.

The clever design work did not stop at lowering drag and increasing fuel efficiency, however; according to Nissan, the Almera boasts one of the roomiest cabins in its segment. By optimising the size and layout of the engine compartment and fuel tank, and locating the accelerator pedal further forward, the Almera is able to offer good head-, elbow- and legroom all round, including a hefty 636 mm of rear kneeroom along with a generous 490 dm3 of luggage space.

The interior is neat, with high perceived quality thanks to the use of black cloth and dark finishes. The dash is made of a micro grain that lowers light diffusion and reduces window reflection. There are mock-silver finishes to the air vents, centre console, doors and transmission tunnel, and the use of blue and white backlighting on the instrument cluster adds a premium look.

Standard comfort features include electrically operated front and rear windows, electric side mirrors, air-conditioning and an audio system that boasts a CD player, MP3 and aux-in along with steering-mounted controls. In addition to the space afforded to the rear passengers, there are also two air vents (offering a two-speed fan) in this part of the cabin to assist the air-conditioner in cooling the cabin.

Storage space is ample throughout and includes a sizable glovebox in addition to a middle pocket and four cupholders (two upfront and two in the wide rear armrest).

Safety and security features include manual headlamp levelling, dual front airbags, load-limiter-equipped pre-tensioner seatbelts for the front seats, vented discs upfront along with ABS with EBD and brake assist, Isofix anchorage points and an immobiliser with central locking.

Lastly, the Almera comes with a three-year/90 000 km warranty and three-year/90 000 km service plan.

Nissan Almera 1,5 Acenta

Price: R165 000
Engine:  1 498 cm3, 4-cyl, petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 73 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 134 N.m at 4 000 r/min
Fuel consumption: 6,3 L/100 km
CO2: 149 g/km

Nissan Almera 1,5 Acenta AT

Price: R175 500
Engine: 1 498 cm3, 4-cyl, petrol
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Power: 73 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 134 N.m at 4 000 r/min
Fuel consumption: 7,2 L/100 km
CO2: 171 g/km