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Malaysia may have only recently welcomed the arrival of the blind spot monitoring-equipped Nissan Teana, but our 2013 model still belongs to the J32 family, which has existed in world markets from 2009 and end-2010 at home. The local D segment hasn’t stood still since – with offerings from Japan, Korea and the Continent relentlessly springing up all over the place, Nissan will not, and cannot, rest on its Laurels for long.

As is often the case, the crystal ball to gaze into is to be found overseas. But sometimes it’s a blink-and-miss case, as it was with us and this car. When Nissan launched the 2013 Altima last summer in the US, we thought little of it until Dongfeng-Nissan unveiled a very similar-looking vehicle in China that bore the Teana badge, suggesting a conformity to the more cost-effective ‘global car’ trend.

But they’ve actually been related underneath all the while. The original J31 Teana sat on the same FF-L platform as the L31 Altima, and when the L32 Altima switched to the D platform, so did the J32 Teana. But because they looked so different from each other, few knew of their kinship. With the new L33 generation, although they retain their respective maiden names, Asia and America finally wear the same dress.

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Unsurprisingly, Columbia has more to fill up her dress with. In addition to a 2.5 litre QR25DE four-cylinder engine, the American Altima is also offered with a 3.5 litre VQ35DE V6. The Chinese Teana gets the same four-pot, plus the 2.0 litre MR20DE unit from the second-gen Sylphy.

So to date, we know of three engines available in two major car-buying nations, and the J32 Teana’s smooth 2.5 litre VQ25DE V6 isn’t one of them, suggesting that, where this engine displacement is concerned, the V6 has been replaced by the QR-series four-cylinder.

If this is indeed true, is it good or bad news for the Teana? I try to find the answers to this and more in a short drive at Nissan’s quadrennial 360 event, held this year in sunny Orange County, California. I only had one day there and time was tight, but I managed to try out the new China-built, China-spec Teana 2.5 on a makeshift course at the disused El Toro Marine Corps airbase (after all, the car wasn’t US road-legal).

Our current Teana is, in my eyes, not a bad-looking machine. Although fresher and more extroverted alternatives exist, the J32’s gentle lines convey quiet elegance in a minimalist and dignified manner. Large swept-back headlamps that hug the bonnet’s shut lines are part of a conservatively-styled face, while an uninterrupted shoulder line runs almost parallel to the ground, creating a slimming and lengthening effect.

Clearly borrowing styling cues from the third-gen Sylphy, the new car appears to be gunning for a younger crowd, with a new front end that’s composed of smaller xenon projector headlamps with an inward kink, a sharply V-shaped chrome grille and a more aggressive-looking apron with a trapezoidal slatted intake. New fog lamp housings too, and the chrome strips that emanated from the fog lamps on the previous car are gone, although they continue to run along the side of the body.

The shoulder line, body crease and chrome strip now slope upwards towards the back of the car, creating a somewhat more athletic, poised-to-pounce look. The rear quarter window is smaller, and the LED tail lamps mirror the inward kink of the headlamps. It’s a curvier and more muscular affair, on the whole.

Round the back, twin tailpipes (hidden on the previous car) peek out from a more sculpted apron and the chrome strips don’t wrap around the rear bumper like they used to. The chrome slab above the number plate seems to have grown in size, and also takes on a V shape. The Xtronic CVT badge now incorporates a Pure Drive emblem, lest we forget the Teana is now cleaner and greener than before.

What exactly does Pure Drive entail? Besides the inclusion of start-stop and Eco mode, the CVT for 2.0 to 3.5 litre-engined vehicles now has 40% less friction thanks to the adoption of a more compact oil pump, and a wider ratio coverage of 7.0 due to a stronger belt and a thinner pulley axle.

The Adaptive Shift Control system returns, offering more than 1,000 possible gearchange patterns to suit your driving style. The result of all this, Nissan says, is 10% better mileage than earlier Xtronic models and nearly 8% better than current conventional six-speed autos.

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Moreover, the new car (this variant at least) weighs just shy of 1,470 kg – almost 130 kg less than the current car. Contributing to that is more efficient usage of high-tensile steel and aluminium, and of course, two fewer cylinders in a more compact configuration. So the Teana 2.5 can now claim a combined fuel consumption of around 7.3 litres per 100 km, when the previous V6 car quoted 9.5.

So spill the beans, you say, how much power and torque has it lost? Believe it or not, the four-cylinder actually develops 182 hp at 6,000 rpm and 234 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. That’s 2 hp and 6 Nm more than the V6, with a 400-rpm earlier torque peak! This is the revised version of the engine, packing a higher 9.6 compression ratio, a modified cam profile, reinforced conrods and a raised rev limit, amongst others.

At 4,868 mm long, 1,830 mm wide and 1,490 mm tall, the L33 is slightly larger all around than the J32, although it sits on the same 2,775 mm wheelbase. Front and rear tracks are now the same width at 1,585 mm; the J32’s numbers were 1,560 mm up front and 1,565 mm out back. Boot volume has jumped 10 litres to 516 litres.

Step inside and you’ll be greeted by an all-new cabin – there are a lot of changes, albeit not radical ones. They include a steering wheel (now three-spoke) with revised buttons and shift paddles (2.5 only), a higher centre console, bigger front door pockets (finally useable!) and a neater, twin-dial instrument panel incorporating a screen that displays lane departure and blind spot visual alerts.

A new centre stack holds smaller air vents, a seven-inch CarWings touch-screen system with navigation and Around View Monitor, plus a more conventionally laid out climate control interface. The set of switches under the dashboard (boot release, VDC off etc) on the driver’s side are also more neatly arranged in two rows. A boost for ergonomics, overall – everything just seemed to come more readily to hand. No real complaints as far as space is concerned, too.

The interior of the car I drove had shiny carbon-like trim on the centre console, gear lever and door handle surround, which I can’t say I’m fond of. I personally think the beige leather and wood alternative looks more expensive, as well as expansive. The less old-fashioned amongst you however, may beg to differ. More storage spaces wouldn’t hurt, too.

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Finally, the drive. The hallmark smoothness and comfort is retained on the whole, but venture beyond half-throttle and you don’t feel so much as hear the difference a four-pot makes. Unsurprisingly, the rising engine note was slightly harsher – I borrowed a current Teana 2.5 V6 over the weekend to refresh my memory – but I cannot say for certain if it was louder. The CVT certainly prolonged the tone, although the intrusion was by no means excessive.

But as is the case in cars fitted with gearboxes of this type, the ‘loud pedal’ is exactly that: it’s a volume knob. Ease off into a cruise and the four-cylinder settles into a relatively hushed rhythm. Unfortunately, the only straight on the course wasn’t quite long enough for me to sustain a steady 110 km/h and pin-point the corresponding engine speed (revs fluctuate easily with a CVT), but it should be around 2,000 rpm – the same as its V6-engined predecessor.

It’s clearly lighter on its feet than before, picking up the pace that bit more eagerly. The ‘rubber-band’ trait associated with CVTs is considerably less evident this time; engine speed matches vehicle speed rather closely throughout, which does take driveability up a notch or two. And remember, you’ve now got just as much power and torque, while burning less fuel. Is a marginally less decorous engine note a worthy trade-off? With prices rising at the pumps, I do think so.

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Tangoing through the twisties showed up good body control from the front MacPhersons and rear multi-links, both of which are kept in check by stabiliser bars. The electrohydraulic steering is adequately weighted, reasonably quick and provides just enough feel. As they don’t turn with the steering wheel, the shift paddles are made tall, but I found them a tad far from reach. They have quite a long click travel too, which can make them clumsy to operate through bends – but that’s trivial. It’s really quite deft and nimble for its size.

The variant driven was the second-from-top 2.5 XL Navi Tech variant, which rolls on 16-inch alloys wrapped in 215/60 series rubber and doesn’t have an air-ventilated memory driver’s seat. That’s reserved for the bells-and-whistles 2.5 XL Upper Navi Tech, which gets 215/55 R17s, a nine-speaker Bose audio system and a tyre pressure monitoring system all to itself.

The other five variants currently on sale in China are the 2.0 XE, 2.0 XL, 2.0 XL Navi, 2.5 XL and 2.5 XL Navi. Standard across the range are follow-me-home lighting, speed-sensing wipers, a sunroof, six airbags, Active Trace Control (brakes inside wheels during hard cornering) and all the usual safety acronyms, along with many others.

Shortly after the Teana’s launch in China in February, we got up close to its less-generously-chromed Altima twin at the Seoul motor show, before a reader spotted one on the move closer to home – heavily covered up, but not hiding the aforementioned 215/55 R17 aluminium alloys. The Malaysian launch of the Nissan Teana is expected to happen sometime next year – how will our version fare against the Toyota Camry and recently-launched Honda Accord?

 

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