The Nissan Almera has never been a must-have vehicle for fleets trawling through the C sector, having been let down by unadventurous interior and exterior styling.
In fact, the outgoing Almera, when sitting alongside the likes of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 307, looks distinctly messy, and it has not escaped Nissan's attention. As a result the Almera has had a mild working over to bring it in line with the more unconventional design language that is starting to seep through the rest of the Nissan range.
But there's only so much you can do around the current vehicle's architecture, so the bumpers have been smoothed and sculpted and the light structures made to look more sophisticated and less 'spangly'.
Has it worked? Well, it would be churlish to suggest that the Almera has been turned into the proverbial swan, but side by side with the old model the new version looks a lot less fussy, with no front bumper strips, clear headlight lenses and some Primera-like rear lights.
What has changed more dramatically is the interior, and more specifically the dashboard, which has been redesigned from SE versions up with a middle console replete with screen to include a version of the N-Form concept that works in such a fantastically simple fashion in the Primera.
It is even more simple on the Almera, although mainly because there are fewer features. I am not a fan of the orange readouts that have a simplistic look to them, and nor is the screen housed in an elegant way, but it all works clearly and logically.
You could not accuse people at Nissan UK of blind optimism with the Almera. Knowing its emotional shortcomings, they instead have targeted the rational side of the car driver's brain – the small portion somewhere above the left ear where 'fleety' considerations like value for money and reliability exist – by dropping the price across the range and cranking up its standard specification.
And for resale and residual value purposes after three years, life has been made simpler, with the range being culled from nine to three models.
There are now S, SE and SVE models and that is it. As Nissan puts it: 'More letters means more standard equipment. Simple'.
The 1.5-litre 97bhp S three-door costs £9,995 on-the-road – a reduction of £355 over the old model. And the SE gains rear parking sensors and electronic climate control plus all the other fresher Almera ingredients.
There will be a total of six S-grade Almeras available: three, four and five-door versions with the 1.5-litre unit and the same body-style options teamed with the 1.8-litre and automatic transmission.
The S gets air conditioning, remote central locking, front electric windows, CD player and twin airbags, which is good going for a sub-£10,000 car.
The SE pack adds £655 to the price, the most affordable version being the 1.5 SE three-door at £10,650, although the 1.8-litre manual and the 2.2-litre diesel are available. The SE also gets the N-FORM console with extras this time including rear parking sensors and electronic air conditioning.
The SVE luxuriates in side airbags, active front headrests, ABS with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, rear electric windows, electronic climate control, steering wheel mounted CD/radio controls, four-spoke leather rimmed steering wheel and electric sunroof. A 1.8 SVE five-door will be priced at £12,750.
The extra spec has helped residuals slightly. Whereas the previous Almera retained about 28% of its list price after three- years/60,000-miles according to CAP, the new version has jumped to 30%-32%, competing with the Focus but still four or five points down on the segment-leading Golf.
As for emissions and fuel economy, the Almera's uprated 97bhp 1.5-litre unit has been cleaned up by nearly 20g/km, to 158g/km putting it in the 15% benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax banding, while still returning a combined 42.8mpg. The 180g/km, 37.7mpg 1.8-litre is rated in the 18% BIK band and does 37.7mpg, while the 157g/km 2.2-litre diesel delivers 47.9mpg.
The C segment in its traditional sense is shrinking, as 'niche' models such as mini- MPVs based on C segment cars bite a large hole into the market. In 2002 780,000 C cars were sold. Nissan expects that this year that number could drop to as low as 707,000.
Consequently, despite adding a bit of lippy and a push up bra to the Almera, Nissan expects to sell fewer cars – down from 24,000 last year to 21,000 this time around, it says – because of segment shrinkage.
And of those 21,000, around 50% will be to fleets, and the vast majority will be petrol. Nissan recognises it has some way to go to get across its diesel message. For at the moment only 16% of Primeras are diesel, when the likes of Volkswagen and Ford are seeing at least 50% diesel penetration. To combat this the firm is looking to put together a diesel promotional programme similar to the likes of Renault to get the message across.
The Almera has never been a very exciting car, and nothing has changed with its mid-life spruce up. The 2.2 diesel is a big, noisy unit in a car this size, and gives it a bit of go, while there seems little to choose between the 1.5 and 1.8 petrol.
The Nissan can't hold a candle to a Focus as a drivers' car, but it is well endowed with specification, so for those looking for dependability and equipment, the Almera is worth considering.
|Revised Nissan Almera fact file|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||96/6,000||114/5,600||108/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||100/4,000||120/4,000||176/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||110||115||116|
|0-62mph (sec)||13.1||10.8 (12.5 auto)||11.4|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg)||42.8||37.7 (36.2)||47.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||158||180 (187)||157|
|Transmission:||5-sp man/4-sp auto|
|Fuel tank capacity (l):||60|
|On sale:||Now||Prices (OTR):||£9,995 - £13,650|