Sawadee krub! We are reporting live from Bangkok, where the next-generation Nissan Sylphy has been launched for the Thai market, the second country to introduce the car after China.

Our northern neighbour is also the regional production hub for this model – when exports start at the end of this year, Thai-made Sylphys will be shipped to Asia, Oceania and the Middle East. The new Sylphy was designed as a global car, meaning that it will go on sale in 120 countries, with sales expected to hit 550,000 units annually by 2014. We’re looking at a main pillar for Nissan here.

It is interesting to note that the Sylphy G11 that was launched in Malaysia back in June 2008 was never sold in Thailand, so this new car will replace the Tiida Latio (Latio Sedan) as a proper C-segment contender for Nissan in the Kingdom.

In other words, no more straddling segments – Nissan is back in the mainstream C-segment to take on highly popular incumbents Toyota Corolla Altis and Honda Civic, as well as sharp looking alternatives like the Chevrolet Cruze and new Ford Focus sedan. The Koreans are insignificant in Thailand.

The new Sylphy gets a body that is shorter, but wider than the outgoing car’s. It’s not just a few milimetres – at 4,615 mm, the new car is 50 mm shorter, but its 1,760 mm width is 60 mm wider than the current Sylphy, which is one of the narrower cars in the segment. But since wheelbase remains at 2,700 mm, the Sylphy’s much-praised rear legroom remains a selling point, with added width to match.

It may be shorter now, but the Sylphy is still longer than the Altis and new Civic by some margin, and its wheelbase length is class leading alongside the Hyundai Elantra MD. The Nissan’s boot volume tops the segment at 510 litres.

The Sylphy’s exterior design is more athletic than before, and the new dimensions help the stance. The car world is LED crazy now, so Nissan made a point to highlight the use of those diodes – combine the strips in the headlamps, wing mirrors, tail lamps and third brake light and you’ll get a grand total of 54 LEDs. Not sure if that’s a record, but it’s definitely unique in the segment, and saves one the trouble of having to make a trip to Brothers!

If the Sylphy looks very comfortable from the pics, I can confirm that. The front seats are amazingly supple (soft, but doesn’t sink in) and the rear section is the most “big car-like” in the class. Read headroom could be an issue for tall folks (I fit nicely), but the seat base is high (good) and legroom is ample.

Rear air-con vents are available, and the fold down rear armrest has two layers – one has cupholders, the other is a tray for phones and gear. The glove box is a double-storey design.

The two-tone grey and beige theme accentuates the impression of space and the door armrests have seriously soft pads for your elbows. Speaking of soft, the upper dashboard is moulded from squishy plastic, although the upper door cards aren’t. The latter isn’t a contact point, and we’ll have the elbow pads anyday.

The younger set (and the young at heart) may scoff at the above three paragraphs, but bear in mind that many buy C-segment cars for comfort and little touches of luxury, and the new Sylphy, like the previous one, scores high. In the product presentation, Nissan highlighted the fact that the Sylphy’s space and NVH are a match for the segment above. It’s calling this conscious effort “moving half a step ahead”.

Digging deeper, the new Sylphy hits the Thai market with two engines, an improved HR16DE and a new MRA8DE.

The 1.6 litre engine has been fortified with Twin C-VTC (Twin Continuously-Variable Timing Control, intake and exhaust) and a class first dual injector fuel system (better fuel spray, two nozzles per cylinder). This DOHC 16v unit makes 116 PS and 154 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. It can be had with either a five-speed manual or Nissan’s latest Xtronic CVT. Paired to the latter, the combo is 15% more frugal than before.

The range-topping Sylphy is powered by a new 1.8 litre engine paired to the CVT. This mill features a longer stroke (90.1, from the MR18DE’s 81.1), Twin C-VTC and a “diamond-like” carbon coating for smoother operation and fuel efficiency. It makes 131 PS and 174 Nm of torque from a low 3,600 rpm. Compared to its 126 PS predecessor, the MRA8DE produces max torque 1,200 rpm earlier and is 12% more fuel efficient.

The suspension, tuned for comfort, consists of MacPherson struts up front and a rear torsion beam. Brakes are all discs, but the front units are ventilated. Nissan is not a fan of big wheels, so the Sylphy comes with 195/60 R16 Bridgestone Ecopia rubber to match the comfort theme.

In Thailand the Sylphy range starts from 746,000 baht for a very basic 1.6 MT to 931,000 baht for the range topping 1.8 V Navi CVT. The base S spec model gets things like dual-airbags, Fine Vision Meter with multi-info display, electric adjusting and folding door mirrors and tilt/telescopic steering. Higher up variants add on ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, dual-zone air con, leather, auto headlamps and steering audio/MID buttons.

Top spec cars get niceties like Intelligent key (keyless entry) with trunk opener and push start button, wing mirrors that auto fold when the car is locked, wood trim, reverse camera and a USB audio system with Bluetooth and colour screen. The 1.8L can be topped up with a Navi package. This includes sat nav (of course!) and a larger colour screen – 5.8-inch versus 4.3-inch.

This car will eventually reach Malaysia, but Nissan Motor Thailand officials understandably refused to discuss timing and source (CKD or CBU Thailand) at the press conference.

For now, enjoy our live gallery from Bangkok and the full collection of official studio shots after the jump. Brief driving impressions also included.

Brief driving impressions

Nissan has erected a pavilion at the open space between the Paragon and Siam Center shopping complexes in downtown Bangkok, and I paid a visit to snoop around. There are cars on display and plenty of sales personnel eager to show off their new cash cow. Also served are music performances and appearances by Sylphy ambassadors Chompoo and Pope. Curious male readers can Google the latter :)

Attracted by the test drive booth, I signed up. Nothing much, just driving in the car park of the shopping mall, from the low floor to the top floor, before making my way down again. I suspect that it’s more of a way for Nissan to show off the Sylphy’s plush interior and main features to customers – those who want a more comprehensive test drive can always head to the showroom.

Anyway, here’s what I gathered. The seating position is high and a good upright driving position is easy to find, thanks to the reach and rake adjustable steering and height adjustable seat (pump style). The soft and supple driver’s seat is the best-in-class for comfort – great for long journeys and urban jams, I can imagine, but not hard driving as there’s not much support. Nissan is the Japanese Volvo when it comes to seats.

The white-illuminated Fine Vision Meter is bright and clearly laid out, and there’s nothing much for a first timer to figure out – it’s all straightforward. The engine is very quiet at start up and low revs, and the CVT response is fast and immediate. I suspect that most who take these test drives won’t be able to tell the CVT from a torque converter automatic. For me, Nissan makes the best CVTs, so no surprises there.

The EPS steering, while not rich in feel, is lightweight and easy to use. I would have preferred more self-centering action, though. Unlike Malaysian parking lots, there weren’t any sharp humps so I have no idea about the low-speed ride comfort. I’m guessing that if the new Sylphy is anything like the old one, it will be good. Reversing the car back into the parking spot, I got a chance to use the reverse camera on the top spec 1.8 Navi. A good addition, and it has coloured guidance as well.

So there you go, a brief first impression of the new Sylphy. Nissan has used the same formula as the current car, but added in more flair and features. It should be a great C-segment choice for those who prioritise space, comfort and refinement.