– Competitive pricing
– Large luggage space
– Japanese reliability
– Dashboard feels cheap
– Rear seat not so spacious
– Bigger engines not offered here
The dependable Nissan Sunny comes in many different flavours around the world. In Europe, it is known as the Almera. In Japan, it is called the Bluebird Sylphy. And in America, it is called the Sentra and even has a different body. The Sunny nameplate, however, has remained constant in the Middle East for more than a decade. Nissan’s “world car” has improved over the years and has now come to represent a compact car so good that it is on the shopping lists of seasoned Corolla and Civic buyers.
The current version is actually nearing the end of its lifecycle. Last facelifted in 2004 with a redesigned front bumper and headlights, along with a longer rear end with new tail-lights, it carries over to 2006 virtually unchanged. It was expected that Nissan will replace the Sunny with the all-new Tiida, but the Sunny is actually one level higher than the subcompact Tiida in the lineup.
The Sunny is available with a choice of three engines, all of which are available in 2 different trim levels. The 1.3-litre model comes in basic FE and a better EX trim. The 1.6-litre comes in EX and value-packed SG trims. The 1.8-litre comes in EX and fully-loaded Super Saloon trims. Options include a rear spoiler and front passenger airbags, among other add-on accessories.
The current exterior design has a smooth and upscale look, though it still looks as anonymous in the crowd as any other Japanese compact car. It offers a fairly roomy interior, especially for cargo. The interior is ergonomically designed and panel fittings are done well enough. The front seats feel wide and firm. The seats adjust every which way. The driver and front passenger sit relatively high, making for excellent all-round visibility, although it is still difficult to judge where the front of the car is. The seat fabrics are not exactly as upscale as the exterior styling, but should last a long time. The lighter interior colours come in a two-tone scheme, while a dark grey scheme is standard in most of the base models. The dashboard is a simple design, and looks positively cheap in black. Stereo controls are positioned high on the center console, making them easy to adjust. All the other controls are straightforward and easy to use. The interior is equipped with generous cabin storage, including centre-console storage and a large glove box. A compartment on top of the dash is useful for storing a wallet or sunglasses. The cup holders work well for soft-drink cans. The rear seats can accommodate most adults, but headroom is not as extensive as in, say, the tall Toyota Corolla. All three rear-seat positions have proper three-point belts, though three large people in the back would be a very tight squeeze. The luggage trunk is bigger than ever after the 2004 facelift, and can fit at least two medium suitcases.
Interior gadgets are limited in this budget sedan. Power windows and mirrors are limited to the EX and Super Saloon models, while the sunroof, keyless entry and automatic a/c are only available on the Super Saloon. The standard stereo is adequate, with decent sound quality, but nothing to rave about. A CD player is available in the top models.
The same old engines that debuted in the 2002 Sunny are carried over to the 2006 model. The 92 hp 1.3-litre petrol engine feels overwhelmed when the accelerator is floored, and needs a manual gearbox to keep it up to speed. The 110 hp 1.6-litre models make more sense in terms of power, managing to cruise at highway speeds without redlining every time the throttle is called into action. The 126 hp 1.8-litre engine offers even more power, but few people opt for it due to budget constraints, even though it is the most practical in terms of passing power and does not consume that much more fuel than the smaller engines. None of these motors turn the Sunny into a sporty car, but we’d pick the 1.8-litre simply because it is the only one with enough juice to make passing manoeuvres at highway speeds. There are even bigger engines offered in the United States, reaching up to 2.5 litres, but these powerful engines are not offered in Gulf-spec models.
Handling is okay, given the simple suspension setup. The car feels comfortable in most cases, but it punishes you for driving it through large potholes. Its cornering limits are reached pretty early, with tires squealing if hustled around roundabouts. Body roll is as excessive as in the Toyota Corolla, and more so than the Honda Civic and the Mazda 3. The steering provides quick and direct control, but it feels heavier in comparison to the Civic’s electric power steering. The skinny tyres offer decent grip on dry roads when aggressive cornering is not called for, but care is needed in the rain, especially when braking. All models come with 14-inch steel wheels with plastic caps, while the Super Saloon comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, giving it slightly better cornering ability.
The manual shifter is direct and easy to use, though not as silky smooth as the units in the Corolla and Civic. The automatic is very basic, limited to four speeds while Mazda now offers five speeds in the 3 sedan. Braking feel is good, but stopping distances are above average due to skinny tyres coupled with drum brakes at the rear, with ABS not even available in basic models.
The reliable Nissan Sunny continues to be a good choice among compact sedans as a passionless commuter car, frugal and trouble-free. It is starting to show its age in terms of technology, but the last styling revision gives it a fresh appeal. It is also priced aggressively to slightly undercut the Corolla and the Civic, making for good value as a Japanese car. There is a reason why it managed to topple the Corolla in some recent years as the best-selling car in the Middle East.