Nissan needs to lose the pancake boot, slab sides and kooky face and head hunt a decent designer to give (most of) their cars a lift. This one is like a booted Micra and is a size up on most competitors in the light car segment. That's a positive.
We got hold of the $18,990 Almera ST auto and there wasn't a rush to get hold of the keys. The Almera ST is also available in manual for $16,990. Goodies include Bluetooth phone and a multi function trip computer with the reset button in the middle of the instrument pod. The audio is acceptable and there are some wheel controls for audio and phone.
It runs the same powertrain as high spec' Micra; a twin cam, 1.5-litre, petrol four cylinder with 75kW/139Nm output. The auto is a four-speeder. Go for the manual and you get one extra cog, something the auto desperately needs.
Why? Because it hunts (flicks between gears) between third and fourth incessantly on the highway and particularly on hills unless you push the overdrive off button locking it in third cog. On a short stretch of hilly highway, we left it in D and counted 18 "hunts" from the bottom of the hill to the top -- about eight kilometres further along.
This has the effect of increasing fuel consumption alarmingly which was difficult to ascertain because fuel info' is given in kilometres per litre instead of litres per 100km. Nissan says it uses 6.3-litres/100km average. A possibility we think. Engine performance is OK and once you're up and running on the flat, it's relatively smooth and quiet.
Then you only have to put up with the totally hard interior bereft of any soft surfaces except for the seats and carpet. The dash has a bulging passenger side for some reason and a control panel cluster in the middle which is easy to use. On the plus side is generous kit (to a point), impressive room particularly in the rear seat and headroom areas. The boot is large and there's a full size spare.
You get six airbags and seeing as the Micra scores four stars from ANCAP so Almera should be the same...
It has a fairly standard small car feel to the ride with a degree of sportiness. But the drum rear brakes are out of the ark. It's comfortable and composed through turns but don't bother pushing it as you might with a Ford Fiesta. The suspension is a strut front/torsion beam rear which is simple and effective.
The price is steep for what you get. Performance is adequate, the auto is outdated and the hard unyielding interior is not a pretty place to spend your driving time.
Price: from $18,990 (auto)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 50 per cent (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 10,000km/6 months
Safety rating: not tested
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl, 75kW/139Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto; FWD
Body: 4.4m (L); 2.5m (w); 1.5m (h)
Thirst: 6.7L/100km, 159g/km CO2
Price: from $14,990
Engine: 1.3 litre four-cylinder, 67kW/121Nm; 1.5 litre four cylinder, 80kW/141Nm
Transmission: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic
Honda Jazz VTi-S
Price: from $20,990
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 88kW/145Nm
Transmission: 5-speed auto, front drive
Thirst: 6.7L/100km, CO2 159g/km
Hyundai Accent Premium
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl petrol, 91kW/156Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto, front drive
Thirst: 6.4L/100km, CO2 151g/km