I am not the kind of guy who makes a lot of fuss over cars. I like them, I love the convenience of owning one, I know how they work, I can even do simple repairs, but for the most part, I just sit and drive them. This may be why I was sent to cover Nissan’s new Almera test drive. I’m more or less the average Juan. I want a roomy, comfortable car with which to get myself, my things, and my people around. I was expecting a pretty sparse, maybe even Spartan ride to and from Anvaya Cove, with as little excitement as possible. I was so glad to have been disappointed.
The day started at 0700. I had gotten up an hour and a half prior, in order to make it to the scheduled call time. We all converged at the North Edsa Nissan dealership, where we all started to get acquainted over breakfast. The vast majority of the folks were, unsurprisingly, from the motoring press, and I, the sole tech writer, stuck out the proverbial sore thumb. I decided to just keep to the task at hand and get a good feel for the car for this article. At breakfast, we were given an overview of the tasks ahead. There were to be five teams, split into two groups each. One group would do a fuel economy run, and the other, an Amazing Race-style set of tasks as we made our way to the venue. Our team, composed of Bam Olivarez (Manila Standard Today), Neil Pagulayan (Powerwheels), Anton Umali (FHM) and myself, was at a handicap; we only had four members against the other groups’ six, so we had to make do. It was immediately decided that Bam and Neil would do the fuel economy run, seeing as they were both part of the motoring press and had a much better chance of nailing the task, while Anton and I would do the adventure race, by virtue ofthe both of us being barely adequate motorists. Before we knew it, we were in our assigned cars, and I was behind the wheel of a new Nissan Almera, driving north. In the car, we opened the envelope containing our first task: it said we were to drive to the first Total fuel station, and along the way, take a quick shot of a Nissan Almera billboard located on the northbound lane ofthe NLEX. I knew we had to make up for a little lost time, so I focused on driving as best I could. The Almera performed admirably, and handled like a champ through all the legal and safe overtaking I was doing. I was so focused on getting us to the billboard, that when I took time to look at the gauge cluster, I was alarmed to find that we were pushing 150 kph. I pointed this out to my navigator, who was just as surprised as I. The Almera gave such a smooth drive, the only clue I had, apart from the speedometer, that we were breaking the legal speed limit, was the fact that we were leaving other cars behind. We were able to take a quick snapshot of the Almera billboard at a very reasonable 90 KpH, and shortly thereafter, found ourselves at the venue for the second challenge: Total NLEX.
At the stop, we were given an envelope that contained the next task, which seemed simple enough. Based on clues, we were to find items that had a Nissan sticker attached to them. After a little searching, a lot of cursing, and a huge mess, Anton and I found the relevant items: A map, a bottle of coolant, sun block, candy, and a sports drink. We hurried over to the checker, who verified that we had the correct items, and were pleasantly surprised to find that we had come in first! This meant bonus points towards our total, and a chance at first place for the whole team. As we waited for the other teams to complete their tasks, we stepped outside to have a chat with the other teams and discuss the drive ahead. Anton and I decided he would be taking the wheel for the next leg, and I would navigate. Because of a slight oversight on our part (and the call of snacks), we neglected to notice that the other cars had been gassed up, and had since left. We were the last team still at the stop, so we hurriedly topped up, got out next clue, and drove off, with Anton and I switching roles.
The broad, flat highway gave us a chance to really stretch the Almera’s legs. In this segment, we found that the Almera, while a little weak at accelerating, had no real trouble once we got to speed. There was great control, and the wheel, while just a bit soft at high speed, gave enough feedback to not make one nervous about losing control. As Anton was furiously playing catch up with the teams that had left us at Total, I took a moment to fiddle with the Almera’s creature comforts. All the controls were large and easy to manipulate for both the driver and front passenger. I had no trouble working the climate controls up front at any point in the trip. Rear passengers would have had it easy as well. The Almera features rear climate control as well, Task three: a fuel economy quiz. We all wished we had wireless data at this point. so even the most scorching of days will be no problem for anyone in the vehicle. It was also very roomy overall. There was a lot of legroom up front, even with the seat pushed forward quite a way, and the high ceiling did a lot to make me feel less tired, even over two hours into our trip.
The next task was at the Total station at Subic, and had us complete a quick fuel efficiency quiz. Both Anton and I thought we were more or less competent enough to handle this, and without the help of our motoring teammates, we would have to. We had ten questions to answer, ranging from the best time of day to refuel, to tire pressure and different fuel types. There were a few trick questions thrown in, and we got snagged; 8/10 wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.
We then waited for the other teams to complete the challenge, and drove off to Harbor Mall for lunch at Claw Daddy. While at Subic, the Almera really shone. It was scorching hot outside, and we were doing a lot of stop and start driving, but the comfort afforded by the car didn’t suffer. From lunch, it was again my turn behind the wheel, for the final 30 Km to Anvaya Cove. The road to Anvaya was mountainous, uphill and curvy, which gave me a good feel for the handling and braking abilities of the car. I am pleased to say both Anton and I survived the twisty ride. As a matter of fact, the overall handling ofthe car was really quite nice, particularly for a sub-compact. At no point did I feel I was in danger of losing control, even at speed through sharp turns, and the brake pedal was giving me great feedback the entire time. It would take the 1.S-Liter engine a little push to get up to speed, and the engine was shifting a little late for my taste, but, again, for a sub-compact, I could not complain at all.
The sweeping mountain roads were gone just as I was really starting to push the car. While most of us were ready for a snack, a nap, and maybe a drink or three, the Nissan team had more in store for us. As soon as the fuel economy run teams had arrived, it was announced that the teams would have to shoot and edit a 30-second TVC for the Nissan Almera. We were all a little tired from the drive, but, determined to overdo everything worth doing, we soldiered on. Using the original “Where’s George?” TVC as a concept, we re-imagined it to be a little less serious, and a whole lot creepier.
Thanks to Neil’s vision, and the hammed-up acting of the rest of our team, plus the special participation of Greg and Jen, shooting took all of 30 minutes, and Neil had a final edit out in a little over 90 minutes. While shooting, I got a very good look at the massive 490 square foot trunk space on the Almera. It is exceptionally large. More than enough to fit weekend gear for five people, or three Gadgets Magazine Associate Editors. I know the latter from experience.
Between shooting and submitting a final edit, the Nissan Team had more in store for us. They divided all the members of the press into two groups and issued a challenge: Fit the greatest number of people in the Almera, plus items in the trunk, in one minute. The winning team managed 13 people(!) in the cabin, plus 17 medium -sized bags in the trunk. It was an amazing feat, and testament to just how roomy the vehicle is, though I did have to lie down on the dash. The rest of the day was spent at dinner, the spa or the beach, until the program started. At the program, awards were given to the winners of the various tasks. Though our Adventure Race duo failed to nail top spot, we were pleased to find that our Fuel Efficiency duo of Bam and Neil not only won the challenge, but managed to break the Nissan Factory record of 23 Km/L with their own 25.7 Km/L. While we didn’t really have anything to do with the win apart from not interfering, we were still part of the team, and as such, got a share of the loot. The awarding ceremonies signaled an end to the day’s events, and as we made our way back to our rooms, tired but extremely fulfilled, my thoughts drifted to the morning, and all the fun I’d have driving the hundred or so kilometers back home in the most comfortable ride I’d had in awhile.
First published in Gadgets Magazine, April 2013
Words by Ren Alcantara