This review details my experience of the 2002 Nissan Almera 1.5S 5 door. I hired this car for two days back in the summer of the 2002, and covered some 500 miles in it. Back in early 1996, a friend's father bought one of the first Nissan Almeras in this country (it was so new, we're talking a chassis number in double figures). I was interested to know what the fuss was all about, so managed to wangle a spin. What a good car to drive! Light years ahead of the Sunny it replaced. Now don't get me wrong, the Sunny did (and still does for many people) provide reliable, honest transportation, but was never the last word in driving sophistication. However, starting with the Primera in 1990, Nissan decided to keep all it's original attributes that endeared it to the car-buying public - reliability, equipment, ease of ownership - and somehow added driving fun into the equation. Fast forward to the latest Almera. Now, this is not a popular car - I don't know anyone who has bought one - but it's a darling of the rental fleets. One of the key criticisms of mid-90's Nissans (and ones before that, to be honest) was dull styling. The original Almera was pretty bland, so the new one was designed in what I would describe Nissan's "lost" phase (before the latest Primera and Micra, which are quite stylish cars). They got criticised with the original Almera and the second-generation Primera (which looked just like the first one - no bad thing in my opinion), so brought out a facelifted Primera and new Almera which looked, well, a bit odd. I mean this latest Almera is rather weird and wavy. The rear end kicks up and throws the proportions way, way off. The front looks odd. It looks strange from the sides. Shame on you Nissan - I hope the new one looks better. Having said that, for a base model it looks less penny-pinched than the base Astra, for example. Inside, and it's new twin company
Renault's influence is clear to see - the dashboard closely resembles that of the original Laguna. Hopefully the Almera's will stay together better - certainly this one didn't rattle at all. They've also lifted the excellent steering column-mounted radio controls - very sensible. While European manufacturers have finally caught up in the equipment stakes these days, it still has all the things you need, like remote central locking, lots of airbags and air conditioning. The driving experience is typical Japanese, really - the 1.5-litre motor doesn't get going until about 4000rpm, but is smooth and unobtrusive, all controls are light and easy, and it handles well, although the power steering is quite light (although nowhere near as bad as the old Bluebird, which could veer across three lanes of motorway if you sneezed). Space is decent, although not up to the new breed (i.e. Focus, Civic). The seat trim was a bit, well, Hyundai (if you know what I mean) but you still had the fabled Nissan impression that this car would last. Economy was in the 40s. Would I buy one? Certainly not a new one, and probably not until they sort out the styling. However, I know that 10 years down the line this car will make an excellent banger, just like the Bluebird, Sunny and original Primera do. And finally, yes, I did use the curry hook for it's intended use - nice one Nissan (and apologies to the rental company who got their car back smelling of chicken balti)!