Since there’s only a half-handful of you who’ll read till the end, there’s something you need to know first. This is not a preview test drive, but a preview of a preview. Think of this a sampler, like the sliver of fried chicken ball promoters push at you as you walk through an aisle of a supermarket.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that the Nissan Almera was tested on Nissan’s test track at its assembly plant in Serendah. It’s a 1.5 km track that features various road conditions – long stretches, a skid pad and speed bumps to simulate roads you drive on every day. Since it is short though, there were plenty things about the car I couldn’t catch, which makes this preview not quite complete.

A point to note here is that all Almeras – all Nissan vehicles built in this plant, in fact – are tested on this track before delivery to customers. The test drivers will try to pick up a few things like unusual noises, suspension and power issues, to name a few, things which will mar the experience of owning a Nissan car.

Before I start telling you about how the car feels, let me brief you on what I gathered from the product presentation. Firstly, the Almera is built on a new ‘V’ platform, which stands for – and I’m not making this up – versatile. Secondly, Nissan says that this car easily passes the ECE R94 and ECE R95 regulations. In case you don’t know, the R94 and R95 are front and side collision test regulations.

Third, the Almera will be powered by the HR15DE engine, a 1,498 cc, four-cylinder DOHC with CVTC unit that produces 102 PS at 6,000 rpm and 139 Nm at 4,000 rpm for numbers. The two choices of transmission available are, depending on trim, a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. What!

Nissan says the four A/T is new. When compared with the old four-speed slushbox, the new one is 11% more compact (43 mm shorter), 15% lighter (by 10 kg), has 32% lower friction and 12% less parts. The gearbox and engine transmission are said to give a fuel economy of 14.9 km/l in a combined cycle (or roughly about 6.7 l/100km).

At the moment, the Almera will come in three trims – E, V and VL. Here’s what I know about the three grades, which I am told is not complete. Between now and launch day, things might be taken away or added. But if you want to walk into a Nissan dealership tomorrow (order books open on September 6), read on.

Buyers of the E grade will get to choose between the manual and automatic gearbox. Features include a standard key fob with panic alarm, 15-inch steel rims with wheel covers, standard combi-meter with trip computer and a single airbag. Yes, a single airbag.

According to Nissan, the reason why this grade has only one airbag is due the chassis’ rigidity, which is enough to withstand front and side collision. The E is also meant to be the lowest grade, hence the omission of the front passenger airbag also means saving a few more Ringgit.

Frankly, this has got us scratching our heads, as even Perodua has decided to equip all of its cars with dual airbags. Even the latest Toyota Vios update has made dual airbags standard across all models, including the most affordable J model.

Airbags have little to do with how rigid a chassis is – their purpose is to cushion occupants during a crash as well as provide protection to occupants, so that said bodies don’t hit interior objects such as the steering wheel or a window. As a comparison, the Almera just introduced in Australia – which has the same engine tune and transmission options – features VSC and six airbags across the range, to comply with Australian safety regulations.

The V grade (automatic only) will come with dual airbags, 15-inch alloy wheels, self-illuminated combi-trip meter with trip computer, additional interior luxury trim (silver/chrome decoration) and fog lamps. As for the VL, it also comes in four-speed automatic form only, and adds on intelligent key with trunk release and panic alarm, push-start button, auto aircon with LCD display and illuminated steering audio controls.

Safety-wise, all grades come standard with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist and 3×3 ISOFIX child seat mounts.

I started the Almera test in the back seat. Off the mark, I noticed that it has plenty of legroom. Nissan says that this car’s legroom measures 636 mm, which is best-in-class. I can tell you that the space is more than the usual B-segment fare, but you’ll really need to sit in and feel it for yourself.

The Almera could do better with more shoulder room though. A third seat belt in the rear bench suggests that the Almera can sit three at the back. As is, put two adults inside and there’s only enough space for a very skinny or a very small person in the middle. But in any case this is how it is for all cars in the B segment, so if your requirements call for more width, get a C segment car – which in Nissan’s case is the Sylphy.

The ride was comfortable, the suspension absorbing whatever the test track threw at it. I went through a few rough bits – pebbled road, roads with large stones and uneven surfaces, just to name some. Through every road condition, the Almera made the grade with flying colours. What’s more, the cabin was devoid of any rattling or juddering noises that would suggest poor build quality.

Then, it was my turn at the wheel, and the first thing I noticed was the smoothness of the four-speed automatic. Changes between gears were unnoticeable and it felt as if I was driving a CVT-equipped vehicle instead. Since there was not enough tarmac to get the car past 110 km/h, I could not tell if the four-speeder has what it takes for long range cruises.

Acceleration was respectable as well. The car was loaded with four fully-grown adults and the Almera had enough fire in its belly to shove off from zero without trouble. At this point, I was impressed by this narrow-but-long car.

There was not a lot of feedback from the steering, but this isn’t an enthusiast’s car, so steering comfort should be paramount. In spite of the lack of feel, the Almera tracks well with the road. The steering doesn’t need a lot of input to get it to turn, and going around the skidpad doing figure-8s, the car’s steering was accurate and immediate.

The test was far too short and ended far too quickly. In total, I had done only 1.5 km in five minutes, and there was only so much I could squeeze out from such a limited time.

See, I told you this is a preview of a preview. But there is a media drive as well as an official launch that will happen later. We’ll get the lowdown on what the Almera is all about when that time arrives.

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