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Well, this is quite something. It’s a brand new Japanese D-segment sedan that has the looks and presence of something beyond its stature. Bigger, classier, the lot. The Toyota Camry seems boring, the Honda Accord understated and the Mazda 6 inelegant in comparison. The crowd-favourite 6 is gorgeous, but perhaps rather crass for an executive D-segment sedan.

We’re talking about the 2014 Nissan Teana L33, of course. When you’re driving this type of car, let alone a brand new one that looks as bold as this, you don’t expect people to love you like a brother. Outroars of “[expletive] Camry!” would be rather familiar for most of us drivers here on Malaysian roads.

But this new Nissan is getting the intrigued looks, the nods and even the odd smiles from passers by and motorists. Just by looking at it, they sense that the new Teana defines a new breed of Nissan vehicles. Whether or not it’s actually any good is a different matter altogether, though.

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The sporty yet elegant style – more toned-down Infiniti than stretched Almera – and well-toned complex surfaces tell the story of a new spirit, change of course from the old car’s blunderbuss approach. This car represents a revolution for its maker and its plans for premium-feel large car leadership.

After all, the old Teana launched itself into a hail of brickbats. It sat tall and upright at a time when looking bulky had suddenly become unfashionable, so its visual appeal wasn’t quite competitive enough. So the new one is made to be 35 mm longer (4,885 mm) and wider (1,830 mm), but only 5 mm taller (1,485 mm) than before.

It manages to have a much sleeker silhouette and sportier stance, while the sharp edged, neatly detailed shape slips through the air and into your hearts. The heavily structured design and familiar ‘kamishimo’ trapezoidal grille gives the new Teana an instantly recognisable appearance. It’s far more expressive than that of the Camry and Accord.

If its appearance is a clear step ahead, what’s underneath is a leap, thanks to a massive rethink on all fronts. Interior comfort (quality, seats and NVH) and safety equipment (six airbags, stability control as standard) all break new frontiers for a Nissan. Most importantly though, improvements have also been roped in, Nissan claims, to put a smile on both the rear passenger and driver’s faces.

Others usually stick to one extreme or the other. The Mazda 6 is brilliant to drive, but has a hard-edged ride to show for it. The Accord, meanwhile, sides on comfort, but is a dull steer. Then there’s the current XV50 Camry, which tried to be the jack-of-all-trades, but ended up as a master of none. Cue the range-topping Teana 2.5XV, to put Nissan’s claim to test.

Sure enough, the newfound dynamism of the latest L33 Teana over its slab-sided J32 predecessor is most obvious. The new D-segmenter feels surprisingly lively, almost shirt-sleeved under the urge of the slick 2.5 litre engine.

Out goes the old VQ25DE V6 engine, but the new QR25DE four-cylinder motor is as sweet and brawny as you’d wish, perfectly matching the car’s dynamic persona. With 173 PS at 6,000 rpm and 234 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm (loss of 9 PS, but 6 Nm more, the latter peaking 400 rpm earlier too), you won’t be left wanting for more performance either.

Some may miss the appeal of a V6 motor, but no doubt all will welcome the massive gain in fuel efficiency – about 21% less than before at 13.3 kilometres per litre (versus just 10.5).

Those technically inclined would be glad to know that the inclusion of Twin-CVTC technology adds variable valve timing on both exhaust and intake camshafts, while Nissan’s Power Valve intake system opens the valves at a higher rpm to help keep the torque curve flat and minimising any torque dips (something that would hugely benefit Proton’s CamPro motors).

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Also welcome is the equally improved Xtronic CVT gearbox, which has 70% new components and 40% less friction than earlier applications. The transmission now adds a Ds mode that simulates gear change steps at higher speeds (similar to Proton’s SAT mode, but much better executed) – useful through corners or in preparation for overtaking manoeuvres.

Left on its own, it’s super smooth at all speeds. The CVT benefits from having a wider coverage range than before, which improves acceleration at the lower end, and maximises fuel economy at the other. Nissan says that the effective gear ratios now equal that of a tradition seven-speed automatic transmission.

Gaining momentum is one test, redirecting it is another, though. And here the car excels. Turn in is commendably brisk and body roll is well suppressed. Set the car up properly and the Nissan dives for the apex with uncanny agility and fluency for such a large vehicle.

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Pushed hard, this car is more fun than most, if not all of Nissan’s previous models. It is amazingly swift even when the roads get tight, and it handles with more poise and precision than bigger, even more overtly sporting Infinitis (yes, that really isn’t saying much at all, but you get the connection).

The chassis features a combination of MacPherson struts up front and a redesigned multi-link arrangement at the rear that’s wonderfully set up, giving the new Teana a deep handling competency and unbridled comfort. It’s a real step forward for the class, this, and it’s certainly closer to the Mazda 6 than the Camry in the driving department.

These major gains can be connected to the rear suspension design, which is largely different to that of its rivals and indeed, its own predecessor. The departure from the J32 Teana’s single wishbone-based multi-link setup (which the Accord shares) allows for more flexibility over the effective stiffness and movement controls.

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In comparison, the Camry’s vertical (instead of diagonal) damper arrangement and simpler rear strut arms offer a significantly narrower ideal window of operation, which is reflected by the large Toyota’s relatively limited range of body control. Sophistication plays in the Teana’s favour here. By quite a margin at that.

Bespoke to the Teana is a clever movable connecting bush that is built into the rear suspension assembly, which allows for minute on-the-fly toe-in adjustments (turning the outside rear wheel to the steering direction). Both body control and steering response improve considerably with this addition.

Working completely behind the scene is Nissan’s Active Understeer Control (AUC). The driving aid works in tandem with the standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) to brake the inside front wheels during cornering, negating the car’s natural tendency to understeer through sharp corners.

Whether it works or not, well, it’s hard to tell, as it’s supposed to be almost undetectable when it operates, and the system itself is designed primarily for everyday operation rather than emergency evasive manoeuvres. From behind the wheel, you just feel that the Teana resists understeer remarkably well for a large front-wheel drive, but not unnaturally so.

Speaking of the wheel, the new Teana employs an electro-hydraulic power steering system. It’s essentially a traditional hydraulic power steering unit with an electric-driven pump, theoretically offering the best of both worlds – hydraulic power assistance for precise steering feel, without having a hydraulic pump feeding off the engine.

In reality, though it is one of the better setups in recent years, it’s not without its drawbacks. It’s certainly quick and very relaxed around the straightahead, but the weight is too inconsistent and its feel isn’t all it could be (considering it’s hydraulic), especially on lock.

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Despite the (artificial) weighing up of the steering load, there isn’t enough self-centring. In combination with the soft-ish spring and damper setup, it doesn’t quite muster the same fluid lateral movements as a Mazda 6, for instance. It can feel rather detached during sudden changes of direction, and the steering hardens briefly in the process. It’s no big deal, but it shows that there is still room for fine-tuning.

Stretching its legs on a clear highway, there’s decent pull above 110 km/h for a car this size, while rolling refinement and ride fail to disappoint. Up to 160 km/h, the new L33 slips through the air near-silently, and it’s sealed against tyre noise just as effectively. Directional stability is impressive too, no doubt aided by the car’s trick suspension.

Moving inside, there’s a vastly different driving position to the previous Teana. You sit slightly lower, less upright and generally more comfortably, mostly due to the fact that the steering column now has both tilt and telescopic adjustments, the last of which was jarringly missing in the old car.

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The supremely comfortable seats, comically dubbed ‘Zero-Gravity Seats’, help too. Nissan says it used findings by NASA to design these thrones that come closest to a “neutral posture” – a relaxed position that the human body takes in a weightless environment. Err, yeah, whatever. All we know is, they’re quite nice to sit on.

The high-mounted dashboard scores top marks on perceived quality with the use of soft-touch materials and classy-looking silver and piano black panel inserts. The steering wheel, meanwhile, is full of buttons and the four-inch high-res colour screen integrated within the instrument cluster – though it shows no more than a basic set of trip computer information – is certainly visually impressive.

Added to that is this top-of-the-range 2.5XV model’s nine-speaker (four door speakers, one centre tweeter, two front tweeters and two subwoofers in the rear parcel shelf) Bose Premium Audio System. Look beyond the fancy aesthetics, however, and you’ll find that it lacks a navigation system, a touchscreen interface and automatic wipers, all of which are widely seen as modern essentials.

Also missing from the roster are the comfort access (auto slide back for easy ingress and egress) and memory functions for the front seats, which is made even more grating since they were offered in the old model. On the other hand, there’s now a sunroof thrown in for the range-topping variant.

Beyond equipment, the new Teana also features improved rear cabin space. While the 2,775 mm-long wheelbase has been kept unchanged, Nissan has managed to free up some extra knee- and leg-room by redesigning the front seat back design and interior B-pillar and door covers. The boot has grown to 516 litres too, up 10 litres from before.

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Everything considered, this car is undeniably the new yardstick at the upper echelon of the Japanese D-segment car league. It manages to be both sporty and genuinely comfortable at the same time, with minimal trade off in either aspect.

It’s easy to see why Nissan is projecting confidence. The new Teana is, if nothing else, highly contemporary. The new model is far prettier that before, safer, and more lavishly furnished. On first impressions, it seems exactly what new car buyers now seek – a visually imposing, relatively well-equipped and high quality car with plenty of standard safety features.

Add to that highly competitive pricing (estimated to be between RM142k to RM173k), the new Teana looks like a very convincing option. Together with the recent Sylphy, Nissan has shed its long-standing stigma of mundane and predictability by adding impressive dynamic virtues, while retaining most of the brand splendour it’s known for.

So watch out, Honda Accord, the 2014 Nissan Teana is gunning for the class lead.

 

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