Say hello to the new Nissan Sylphy, which is now open for booking ahead of an official launch later this month. Those who follow Nissan Malaysia’s Facebook page might not be surprised, and if you’re a paultan.org reader, you should be pretty familiar with the B17 Sylphy.
The Sylphy story started in Malaysia back in June 2008, when the G11 was launched into a class occupied by the Toyota Corolla Altis and Honda Civic. Nissan’s take on the C-segment was a unique one, and the Sylphy became known for its outstanding comfort and refinement. Not the most flashy car in town, but the Sylphy stood out as a silky smooth, soothing family car.
The G11, known as the Bluebird Sylphy in its home market, wasn’t designed as a global car and had a JDM quirky feel about it. But this car is made for the world. The B17 is called Pulsar in Australia, Sentra in America/Middle East and Sylphy in Japan (Bluebird tag dropped), China and ASEAN. Malaysian Sylphys are imported CBU from Thailand, which also ships the car Down Under.
The new Sylphy looks so different from its predecessor that we wouldn’t have guessed the lineage. But will it carry over the unique qualities of the G11, or are we looking at a different animal altogether? This exclusive pre-launch test drive report will answer that question, as well as provide you a fresh perspective from a Sylphy virgin, plus an idea of where the new entrant stands in a class full of talent.
Next to the old car, the new Nissan Sylphy appears big, much larger than the raw figures suggest. At 4,615 mm, the new car is actually 50 mm shorter than before, but crucially, it’s 60 mm wider than the outgoing Sylphy, one of the narrower cars in the segment. The difference is palpable, as you’ll read about later.
Wheelbase remains at a class-best 2,700 mm, which translates to very generous rear legroom. The latest Toyota Corolla Altis, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Cerato also have the same measurement, but the Nissan’s cabin is better packaged and is the class champ in space. There’s also a segment-leading 510-litre boot (with a full-sized spare wheel), to boot.
Under the sloping bonnet is a new MRA8DE 1.8 litre engine with 131 PS and 174 Nm of torque, the latter achieved at a low 3,600 rpm for better drivability. Not to be confused with the older MR18DE design, the new mill features a longer stroke (90.1 vs 81.1), Twin C-VTC and a ‘diamond-like’ carbon coating for smoother operation and fuel efficiency.
If you’re wondering, the MR20DE 2.0 litre engine in the old Sylphy made 133 PS and 191 Nm at 4,400 rpm. We know for a fact that the MRA8DE is 12% more fuel efficient than the MR18DE, so it’s safe to say that the new car’s 1.8 will be at least 12% more economical than the G11’s 2.0. The 16v DOHC engine is paired to Nissan’s Xtronic CVT gearbox, which has been updated since its last tour of duty in the G11.
The suspension, tuned for comfort, consists of MacPherson struts up front and a rear torsion beam. Brakes are all discs, with the front units ventilated. Two trim levels will be available in Malaysia – the high VL spec comes with 17-inch wheels (with 205/50 Conti Premium Contact 2 tyres), an inch bigger than the rims on the standard E spec car (195/60 Bridgestone Ecopia EP150).
Safety is a stand out aspect in the new Sylphy. Malaysia-bound cars are essentially Australian-spec Nissan Pulsars with a Sylphy badge, so we get six airbags and Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) in addition to the usual ABS, EBD and Brake Assist – all standard across the board, even for the entry model. To be sold in Australia, the Nissan has to go through ANCAP crash testing, and five stars is the outcome. Top tether points for child seat anchorage are available, however there are no ISOFIX points for the Malaysian spec car.
It’s crystal clear from the Sylphy’s positioning, styling and priorities that it’s not a sedan for everyone. The design may be a lot more modern and a touch more dynamic than before, but there are no sporting pretensions here, as it should be. If you’re expecting driving fun above all, please look elsewhere if you haven’t already done so; for the majority of family car buyers, you might want to hang on for a bit.
Everyone, even enthusiasts, needs a family car. Whether it’s for the kids or the daily grind, a comfortable and dependable sedan is a valuable ally. For me, none played the role better than the previous Nissan Sylphy.
Where others accelerate, it simply glides away, and that drivetrain is so hushed that you instinctively try to find other sounds, only to find very little wind/road noise. Early cars came with an airy, light-coloured cabin, and that sofa of a rear bench encapsulates the cozy Japanese house on wheels the Sylphy was. It was nothing to look at, but the G11 had endearing qualities.
It’s no longer so quirky, the Sylphy, but much of the good was carried over. The new drivetrain is very smooth and quiet on the move, and insulation from the outside world is better than ever. I’m a heavy user of the NKVE, and the Sylphy (most of my time was in the E spec) is fairly muted on the harsh concrete surface, more quiet than some D-segment cars even.
The comfort agenda is reinforced by the solid ride quality, which absorbs bumps very well, but isn’t too mushy on a cruise. I’ve not tried the new Altis yet, but this is the most comfortable and relaxing C-segment sedan in the market as far as yours truly is concerned.
Something has to give and the Sylphy must be terrible to drive, right? Not really. You’ll learn in time that the Sylphy is smooth if your approach is smooth. Ease your right foot into the throttle (as opposed to standing on it, which elicits lots of noise) and the Nissan gets up to highway speeds fairly quickly. Unspectacular bald figures aside, there’s adequate grunt and drivability is good. The level of mechanical grip is surprisingly decent as well.
The steering is of the light and easy variety, which is apt, but it’s rather low geared. We noticed that the helm of the E spec car had slightly more weight and feel compared to the VL’s, which could be down to the wheels as both cars are mechanically identical.
Another observation is the initial surge on acceleration, compared to the more linear approach of the old CVT. Revs also drop faster now when you back off. This could be Nissan trying to engineer in an impression of responsiveness – it’s subjective, but I prefer the gradual climb of old. Still smooth, though.
There’s no doubt that the new interior is a more pleasant place to be in. The dashboard, while not cutting edge in design, is inoffensive and ergonomic, with a conventional layout. It’s somewhat refreshing to see a local Nissan with not one, but two rows of steering buttons (audio and cruise control, both specs), plus a tower of centre stack lights at night.
A suitable driving position is easy to find, thanks to reach adjustable steering and a pump-style seat height adjuster. The high seating position, soft yet supportive chairs, good forward visibility and small details such as padded surfaces on the door rest (for your elbow) and centre armrest, all combine to make the Sylphy a comfortable place to be in, whether in a jam or on a long distance journey.
The comfy interior works hand in glove with this car’s main draw – comfort and refinement – values that in the Nissan Sylphy’s case, are both enduring and endearing.
Against old odds – Anthony Lim bridges the Sylphy’s past and present
Nissan vehicles and I haven’t crossed paths much in the past decade – there have been the outgoing Teana and the second-gen X-Trail from our shootouts some time ago, but nothing else before, in between or since.
Which definitely makes me a Nissan freshie, and the likes of the Sylphy a virtually unknown entity. I was present at the launch of the outgoing G11’s original launch, but all I can remember about the car is its microfibre-ish seat fabric material.
With that kind of fresh perspective in mind, the rest of the team thought it’d be perfect for me to offer a view of how the outgoing model and the new third-gen B17 shapes up in relation to each other, because we had the old car (a facelifted version) in alongside the new for the review period.
It’d have been nice to start things off in the G11 and progress to the new one, but in the end the test session flow worked out like this – new high-spec, old car and then new low-spec.
Visually, the B17’s exterior design isn’t terribly exciting, but compared to the old one, the lines are definitely tauter in their definition. The front is still a bit soft looking, yes, and the grille sort of disrupts the front-end flow, but there’s nothing to offend and it’s a sight better than the G11’s rounded approach, which I’ve never liked.
A lot of it has to do with the rear of the new Sylphy, which has far better resolved line integration. That back has heft and good visual presence, especially from dead-on centre. To say it’s much neater than that on the old one would be understating it.
If the exterior represents a distinct progression over the old, then the interior is a definite advancement. I like the simplicity of the new car’s cabin and the dashboard layout. Where the G11’s is thoroughly old-school JDM in its outlook, the new one is very contemporary. Clean works, and it works well.
Material for trim is an improvement on the new car compared to the G11. Still, there’s a bit of mishmash in the choice of plastic finishes in the new car; on the whole surfaces feel decent to sight and touch (dashboard, lower surface of the door cards), but some areas could be better served with better grained finishing.
The area in between cupholders and handbrake lever, for example, is rather rough looking and doesn’t match up to that of the other main surfaces in the car. It’s a contact area you’ll be working with a lot if you own the car, so it’s noticeable. Also, the armrest looks a bit of an afterthought in terms of usability.
Moving on, stalk/switchgear operation on the new Sylphy is positive – the feel is still a bit lightweight, but the ergonomics are sound and it doesn’t feel cheap, which is the more pertinent point. Points too for instrumentation legibility – the binnacles of old are gone, and the new layout is much easier on the eye.
Front seat comfort and adjustability levels in the new car are likewise good, and perception of space a standout for a C-segment offering. The old G11’s rear seats feel a bit plusher than that in the new car, however, and are more cossetting, so it evens out things.
In terms of performance, there’s a set of different perspectives offered by both old and new – the new 1.8 litre MRA8DE is peppy and has a more immediate take-up response from standstill, and so will appeal to a large majority of buyers who will think it the more ‘powerful’ car in a side-by-side, but there’s an appeal to the old 2.0’s more progressive delivery.
Both respond well to gentle climbs up the rev range, not so with aggressive shoves of the pedal, where there’s more noise than movement. As for drivetrain, clean and efficient describes the CVT, and that on the new car feels a bit more sophisticated. Surprisingly though, I ended up liking the old car’s linearity that bit more by the end of the test cycle.
The old Sylphy had clocked in a fair amount of mileage as a fleet car, and so it showed in terms of ride and NVH levels. From a comparison basis, there was no question as to the winner of the two, but that takes nothing away from the new Sylphy – its quietness across the entire speed range is downright impressive, and more importantly, it rides well despite being a bit firm. Handles well enough too.
Both high- and low-spec examples of the new cars are effectively Australian-spec Pulsars, which is what our Malaysian Sylphys will be, so I wonder if that has anything to do with the ride levels on call – Oz suspension tunes do tend to be firmer on the whole.
Some thoughts about the low-spec E variant – you’d think that the high-spec VL would be the natural pick of the duo, but I’d take the E over the high-spec, based on what was being presented by the test mules.
Yes, the keyless entry, push-start ignition, auto air-conditioning, power-adjustable side mirrors and colour display (with reverse camera) on the higher specification VL are nice items to have, but the lower-spec version actually felt more organic (and comfortable) of the two, with a nicer steering (both feel and response). The only variable that may account for all this is the E’s smaller wheel and larger tyre combination, because everything else is the same.
In summing up, the new Sylphy is a notable evolution of the old one. It takes the strengths of the old car (cabin space and a comfy ride) and improves on things that matter – there’s more polish in the presentation and new tech, but strong NVH levels, good ride and a spacious interior are undoubtedly its salient points, and there’s no arguing with these as being paramount in a family sedan.
I like the B17 Sylphy’s honesty, because it doesn’t try to be any more than what it is. It’s not the sexiest form, sure, but it’s eminently practical, and that’s what’s going to make it winsome for many.
Renewed rivalry – Hafriz Shah rates the new Sylphy against the competition
Nowhere has rivalry been more intense than in the C-segment car market. Yes, the smaller B- and larger D-segments may be more prominent now, but it’s in the mid-sized sedan class where the buyers are savvier towards each contender’s strength and weaknesses. It’s where the old and boring gets left behind, and the new and exciting absolutely shines.
Let’s go back a few years to understand what I’m getting at. At the turn of the Millennium, the original Toyota Corolla Altis was the clear market leader, with nothing else ever getting close. It was the best car then, and so it sold. In droves. Later in the decade, the FD Honda Civic came into the picture and took over the class lead, leaving the Altis and its disappointing successor for dead.
That was also the time that Nissan Malaysia took a bold move to introduce the left-field Sylphy. Essentially a Japanese Domestic Model, it was full of JDM eccentricities. It looked like no other and crucially, drove and rode like nothing else too. And so it successfully carved its own little niche within the market. Well, actually it wasn’t little at all, as it went on to be the best-selling 2.0 litre C-segment sedan for many years running.
In recent years, while the underwhelming ninth-generation Civic failed to impress, modern, sexier Korean offerings have come to town. Honda’s class domination waned as buyers accepted the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and, to a lesser extent, the newer Cerato like never before. While it would have been accurate to call it the Civic-class a few years ago, you and I know that’s not the case anymore.
See my point? Unlike in the B- and D-segment markets, C-segment consumers are less swayed by unproven, subjective deciding aspects such as brand image, whether positive or negative. It’s the car’s actual pros and cons that matter most. More than others, the fight is a fair one here, with no one getting an unfair advantage over others.
With a level playing field, can the all-new Nissan Sylphy prove to be more equal than the competition? Having driven it thoroughly before the local launch, I believe that it has every right to be, and that it possesses some genuinely unique features. A wow factor, even.
It’s no secret that the last Sylphy set no new standard for handling, for its virtues lie elsewhere. For this new one, Nissan has made a valiant effort to ensure it would have no dynamic impediments. And along with improving its driving flair, Nissan also imbued it with a new sense of aesthetics along with build quality that is as good as it gets.
All of which is important because the competition is formidable. You can forget about the woefully outdated Honda Civic, but both the resurgent Toyota Corolla Altis 1.8 and fresh Kia Cerato 2.0 have meticulously moved the game forward.
It’s the face and general appearance that’s critical for any automotive product. Many don’t give a fig about how a car goes, but if it’s modern and well proportioned, it’s all good. The Sylphy’s full makeover is a great one, and it’s now both classically handsome and unique. It treads the middle ground between the Altis’ (perhaps overly) aggressive stance and Cerato’s complex set of curves.
On the move, the Nissan’s Twin C-VTC engine has a well-oiled, free-revving note that’s a contrast to the more muffled hush from the Toyota and the Kia’s rather old-school mechanical boom. It’s the same story with power delivery too, with the Xtronic CVT keeping things calm and collected, and with more immediacy than the Altis’ equally smooth but comparatively lethargic CVT transmission.
The Cerato’s smooth-shifting six-speed automatic gearbox is completely outclassed in comparison, both in terms of response and feel. With its 2.0 litre engine advantage it will edge forward in a drag race, for sure, but its superiority here is limited to outright speed alone. Though ultimately slower, the CVT pair feels more effortless gaining speed, with the Nissan being the more refined operator and the Toyota the quicker of the two.
When the going gets tough, the Sylphy obviously doesn’t have the Ford Focus’ outstanding handling balance or brisk turn-in, but next to its more conventional rivals, it certainly flows better through corners. Where there’s next to no on-centre chatter at the Cerato wheel, there’s more a sense of calm decorum at the Nissan’s, which liven nicely off-centre.
The electric power steering works best in the Nissan, loading up accordingly when it should, where the Kia’s overly light steering stays numb throughout. The Altis is somewhat similar in character to the former, but with its larger helm and slower gearing, it feels more large-car-like than dynamic.
Surprisingly, the Sylphy has the best handling/ride balance of the trio. Just. The Toyota corners with the flattest stance, yet as familiarity increases, the Nissan’s confidence-inspiring grip cajoles you into carrying more corner speed. It’s no Focus still, but it’s now a respectable handler. Not especially enjoyable, yet thoroughly dependable.
It flows so well too that the standard electronic stability control is almost never called into action, while the Kia’s would intervene earlier and is slower to relent. The Toyota, meanwhile, has no electronic safety aids, as that is reserved for the top-spec 2.0 litre model, for which the full suite of seven airbags are a cost option. Both the Nissan and Kia boast six airbags as standard, no matter what variant you pick.
Predominantly, however, all three have comfort-biased suspension. It’s the most obvious in the wallowy Cerato, whose passengers are those most in need of grab handles when the roads tighten up. Despite that, both the Sylphy and Altis offer better, more sophisticated rides, with the Toyota edging just ahead in terms of absolute comfort. The refinement and interior space crowns definitely belong to the Nissan, however.
Boot space is a clear win to the Sylphy – its 510 litre cargo area is the best in the class (matching the Volkswagen Jetta), easily beating the Corolla’s 470 litres and the Cerato’s meagre 421 litres. The catch? The Nissan’s rear seats don’t fold down at all, offering a small hatch for long loads instead.
In this informal comparison, the Nissan Sylphy matches the Toyota Corolla Altis and beats out the Kia Cerato for dynamism, edging both for ease of driving. Its ride comfort is a bonus, but perhaps its greatest coup is interior space and refinement. In short, it’s the whole package.
The Nissan Sylphy is priced at RM111,900 for the 1.8 E and RM121,900 for the 1.8 VL, OTR without insurance. Read our launch report.
Nissan Sylphy 1.8 VL
Nissan Sylphy 1.8 E