Right. So what do you do when a very decent 1.5L family sedan in your stable starts looking a tad too sedate, especially for the younger generation of buyers, or you’re hell bent on attracting that specific niche of buyers who need a family sedan but don’t want to ‘look’ like they need a family sedan?
Well, if you’re ETCM or Edaran Tan Chong Motor, the official importers, assemblers and distributors of the Nissan brand here in Malaysia, and you have access to tasty bits of performance kit from Nismo (or Impul for that matter), it’s just a matter of time before a ‘special’ version comes along. And that exactly what we had on review recently, the Nissan Almera Nismo Edition.
First-off though, it needs to be said that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the plain-vanilla Nissan Almera 1.5L. It’s a really honest and capable mid-size family sedan that’s fuel-efficient, roomy, comfortable and as hassle-free a car can get. It actually feels a lot bigger than it looks, in fact, it has a lot more interior room than most other cars in the same category, with an absolutely cavernous boot, and it’s decently priced. But…
Of course there was a ‘but’ coming. In terms of external styling though, the Almera, for want of a better word, looks a bit plain. In its basic form, the Almera is more function rather than form, and while some may like that basic, no-frills approach to modern-day auto making, there will always be some who like the car but would prefer it look a little bit sportier, and that where this special edition comes in.
Speaking of the actual kit, it has to be said, this is all original Nismo stuff, top-shelf and it shows in the quality. The full ‘Performance Package’ kit comprises the Aerokit – front bumper spoiler, rear bumper spoiler/diffuser, side skirts, boot lid spoiler – Nismo 16-inch alloy wheels shod with Conti Max Contact MC5 tyres, Nismo sports muffler and Nismo performance suspension system. All this tacks on an addition RM13,000 to the price of the Almera.
However, buyers have the option of just getting the Nismo ‘Aero Package’, which consists of all the aforementioned goodies, except for the sports muffler and sports suspension system. Basically if you want just the look and not the sound or the firmer ride, the Aero Package is the one to go for, and that costs RM5,000 less than the earlier mentioned Performance Package.
Thanks to the Almera’s very decent NVH, it was hard to tell there was a sports muffler fitted in this car, in fact, the only time you really hear the slightly ‘boomy’ exhaust note is on start-up. Speaking of which, apart from the kit, the underpinnings of this car are the same as the regular Almera, which means you still get ‘smart key’ key-less entry, push button start/stop, multi-info screen, reverse camera, etc.
You also get the same 1.5L 4-cyl DOHC engine with variable-valve timing control (VTC) that churns out 102bhp and 139Nm of torque, mated to a 4-speed auto transmission, with ‘hold’ function. While these figures aren’t the most impressive ever told, the Almera nonetheless never feels lethargic. There’s some pep in that ageing 4-cyl lump, especially when the VTC kicks-in closer to the 6,000rpm mark.
Gear shifts are smooth and imperceptible, while the engine is relatively quiet, except when pushed really hard, which you’ll want to do often to hear what a 2k Nismo muffler sounds like. What you’re not going to like is driving over loose gravel or recently-paved asphalt. For some reason, maybe due to lack of sufficient inner wheel-arch lining coupled with sticky Conti Max tyres, a lot of debris gets kicked up into the wheel arches and slammed against what sounds like bare metal. It makes a gawdawful racket.
In addition to that little glitch, I didn’t like the multi-function screen much either, which I found overly cumbersome to use; perhaps with time I’d get used to it. I did however appreciate the reverse camera, and the multitude of beeps and warnings that emanate if you even think of reversing. During the course of my test time with the Nismo Almera, it never put a wheel wrong, be it in everyday traffic, barreling down the highway, or tackling some twisty road, the car was able to cope with whatever was thrown its way.
It also received a lot admiring glances from passers-by and fellow motorists, and I counted four fellow Almera drivers looking at the this car up and down, perhaps silently wishing they’d opted for this version instead. If that’s what ETCM were hoping for, it seems to be working. You basically get a very good family sedan, with the looks of something more menacing than exactly that. It was a wise move on ETCM’s part to offer two types of ‘packages’ for this Nismo kit, because while I liked the firmer ride, there will be many others who’ll just stick to the regular and more comfortable suspension I’m sure. Either way, it’s a good effort and initiative for sure, for isn’t that what life’s all about? Choice.