The Nissan Sunny is one vehicle that needs no introduction, as every driver would have driven one, mostly while learning how to drive, or during some phase of their lives where a bullock-cart and a Chevy Spark would have been the only other cheaper alternatives. Many wouldn’t have known the fact that Nissan had actually gone ahead and offered some variety in their Sunny models at one point, by bringing in a Japanese model, and another one made by the Apple-biting manufacturers from the Land of “Gangnam Style”. In fact, we were so mesmerised by the Korean pop number, that we decided to try out the Samsung-built Sunny from Korea, and investigate the reason behind the failure of Korea’s Sunny to gain as much fame as Korea’s ”Gangnam Style” did, besides observing how well it fared against its own Japanese siblings and the rest of its segment rivals.
Our Nissan Sunny, a rebadged Samsung SM3, was sourced from a rental agency. This rental Sunny was to stay with us for quite some time, hence to keep things interesting, we opted for a manual one over the costlier “slow-as-a-snail” automatic variant. The vehicle had clocked over 28,500 kms when it reached our hands, and already had signs of abuse in the form of partially worn-out front tyres, but that never stopped us from brushing up our “Fast-&-Furious” shifting styles in this econo-sedan, on the pretext of trying to achieve the best acceleration times.
Talking about acceleration, the rather-sprightly 1.6-litre unit found under the hood, mated to the 5-speed shifter, gave us pretty surprising acceleration times. During our hell lot of runs in early-winter weather, and with near-perfect shifts, the fastest time we had clocked with our Korean Sunny was a mind-blowing 9.13 seconds! That was enough oomph to give the nastiest off-the-line surprises to severely hurting the ego of several others, driving everything from slow mid-size sedans to underpowered heavy-weight four-wheel-drives. Add to it steering and controls that give surprising levels of feedback, with confidence-inspiring handling levels, and that is already a hell of a lot more than what you thought about this heavily-berated so-called econo-junk! At a time when most new sports-cars fail to offer good feedback through driver controls, and heavily rely on artificial systems, which monitor everything except your farts, it is a respite and sadness together, to see budget cars offering so much in terms of driver-feel.
On the downside though, and contrary to popular myth surrounding the “Sunny” nameplate, fuel-efficiency is not exactly its forte. As far as our manual calculations revealed, the best fuel-efficiency we could ooze out of this car, even with some careful driving, was a rather deplorable 10.5 litres/100 km in mixed driving conditions. If you were to blame our aggressive driving styles, then we can lash back at you with some spectacular fuel-efficiency figures we’ve managed to achieve with the Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1.5 and the Toyota Corolla 1.6.
The list of features in this basic Sunny, you can count on your fingers, as it only comes with power door-locks with central locking, power front windows, 4-speaker single-CD audio system with AUX input, a strong manual air-conditioner, and nothing much else. But an interesting fancy bit in this car happens to be the button for the central door-locking system, which is a large backlit button on the dash, with a red ”glowing” lock indicating that the door-locks are secured. As far as safety features are concerned, there is just a single driver’s airbag, seat-belts and nothing more, not even ABS. The higher-trim model does get dual airbags and ABS though.
The exterior of the car is so distinctive in its appearance that it is, in one word –- boring! Talking of the interior materials, the entire dashboard, from top to bottom, comprise of hard plastics, which seem to be of better quality and finish, when compared to that of, say, a Renault Duster or a Toyota Yaris. Interestingly enough though, the upper and mid-door panels consist of soft-touch padding.
Even as the Nissan Sunny seems big enough to be a compact car from the outside, things are a quite different on the inside. Headroom and legroom throughout the car is average, at most. The front driver’s seat is not height-adjustable, and the steering wheel is non-telescopic, so near six-footers will have trouble finding the perfect driving position. Tall passengers in the rear seat will not enjoy the plastics behind the front seats. There is a small center-armrest for front occupants, something which most low-end fleet cars lack. There are push-to-open cup-holders in the lower center-dash, just above the gearbox, one of which becomes absolutely useless should you decide to plug in your mobile charger into the 12-volt cigarette-lighter port, located right below the holder. We are not sure if you already feel like clubbing us to death, but there is only so much nitpicking we could do.
On the positive side though, the vehicle is a fairly comfortable place to be in, as it negotiates even some moderate road imperfections in a relatively gentle manner. While it feels slightly more comfortable than the Japanese-built Sunny Classic, its costlier stable-mate, the Nissan Tiida, feels far more comfortable and smooth.
Despite the several shortcomings it has, we actually quite liked the Korean Sunny, ironically, solely for the driver-feel it offered -– whether or not that qualifies for the joke of the year. Apart from that one aspect though, we have even the sub-compact Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent, let alone the cars in the compact segment, beating it out downright on almost all fronts. And mind you, when seen driving this Sunny, most fellow road-users, drivers and even the suicidal road-crossing labourers alike, consider themselves superior to you, and they don’t mind swearing and cursing at you, to prove it – even if they mistakenly happen to jump in to your way. It may not be the perfect daily-driver one can buy, but with a manual shifter, it definitely is one of the few fun-to-drive econo-sedans one can still get.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury