The hot car of the moment is the new Honda City, but in this cycle, the B-segment sedan will be facing a good fight from an unlikely source. Earlier this month, Nissan revealed the 2020 Nissan Almera, which brings with it a new dynamic image and tech that we don’t usually expect from Nissan in our region.

Like the City, the new Almera is powered by a 1.0 litre turbo engine, the downsized and boosted engine to help it comply with Thailand’s Phase 2 eco car regulations, which require cars to have at least 23.3 km/l fuel economy, 100 g/km of CO2 emissions max, and Euro 5 compatibility (Phase 1 eco car: 20 km/l, 120 g/km, Euro 4).

Replacing the previous 1.2L engine (unlike the City, the Almera has always been an eco car in Thailand) with 79 hp/106 Nm is a 1.0 litre three-cylinder DOHC turbo unit with 100 hp and 152 Nm of torque, the latter available from 2,400 to 4,000 rpm (City’s 1.0T does 122 PS/173 Nm).

The HRA0 engine has its compression controlled by a DC motor and features mirror bore coating tech that helps with durability and heat dissipation. It’s mated to an Xtronic CVT gearbox with D-Step Logic mode and power goes to the front wheels.

Given that there’s no such requirement for the rest of ASEAN, and Malaysia, it remains to be seen if we will get this higher tech engine or the tried and tested naturally aspirated 1.5 litre HR four-pot, the 1.6 litre version of which also powers the Versa (same car, different name) in North America.

Speaking of the Versa, this B-segment sedan was first revealed in April in the US. It’s an all-new car, riding on the Common Modular Family (CMF-B) platform shared with the new March and Renault Clio.

The new Almera is significantly more dynamic looking than the car it replaces. Nissan’s signature V-Motion front end is flanked by strong LED signatures, which are repeated at the back. Moving to the sides, the new Almera may wear sharper styling than its bulbous predecessor, but the shape is still of a very spacious compact sedan. The design highlight on the profile is the visual connection between the side daylight opening with the rear screen, bisecting the C pillars in the process.

The sedan is 4,495 mm long and 1,740 mm wide, with a wheelbase of 2,620 mm. For a benchmark, the new 2020 Honda City is 4,553 mm long, 1,748 mm wide and has a 2,589 mm wheelbase. The Almera is then 58 mm shorter overall and 8 mm narrower, but with a 31 mm longer wheelbase. In any case, both are guaranteed to be very spacious inside, continuing the trend.

The interior has seen big change too; there’s a new “Gliding Wing” dashboard lifted from the Kicks crossover. The interior is modern in design and appointments – there’s a slick-looking part-digital meter panel (seven-inch digital tacho and multi-info display, analogue speedo), an eight-inch touchscreen head unit with Apple CarPlay and synthetic leather front-facing dash panel with contrasting colour and stitching, Mazda 2-style.

Nissan has surprisingly included active safety and driver assist tech such as autonomous emergency braking, blind spot assist, RCTA and an around view monitor on its entry level sedan. Safety will then be a USP for the Almera over the City, given that the latter does not come with Honda Sensing even on the highest spec.

In Thailand, the new Almera comes in five trim levels – S, E, EL, V and VL – priced from 499,000 to 639,000 baht (RM68,603 to RM87,851). The equipment spread is relatively generous. The super basic S – which by the way doesn’t come with a radio or even caps for the steel wheels – is equipped with Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and dual airbags.

Two steps up is the 559,000 baht (RM76,842) EL, which introduces alloy wheels, steering buttons, in-glass antenna and keyless entry/push start. More important is Intelligent Forward Collision Warning and Intelligent Emergency Braking (AEB). Next up is the V, which further adds on LED headlamps and DRLs, side mirror turn signals, auto air con, the part-digital meter panel and Intelligent Around View Monitor (360-degree bird’s eye view) with Moving Object Detection.

The range-leading Almera VL you see here tops it up with LED fog lamps and side plus curtain airbags (total six, rest of the range gets just two, which is strange given the relatively generous specs elsewhere), blind spot warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). It’s available in six colours and there are some cosmetic and utility options as usual.

There, an all-new Almera that looks much better, comes with a modern powertrain and even good safety tech – but will we get the full works here? What’s certain is that it’s already been spotted in Malaysia and will be coming in the near future. So, this or the Honda City for you? I’m leaning more on the Nissan for its aesthetics and kit.

GALLERY: 2020 Nissan Almera VL at the Thai Motor Expo


GALLERY: 2020 Nissan Almera official images