– Cheap to maintain
– Good luggage space
– Japanese reliability
– Dashboard feels cheap
– Rear seat not so spacious
– Bigger engines not offered here
The 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. And in America, it is called the Sentra and even has a different body. The Sunny name, however, has remained constant in the Middle East for more than a decade. The Sunny has improved over the years ans has now come to represent a compact car so good that it is on the shopping lists of Corolla and Civic buyers.
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 trim. The 1.8-litre comes in EX and fully-loaded Super Saloon trim.
The Sunny 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. Driver and passenger sit relatively high, making for excellent all-round visibility. 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 black scheme is available. 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. Other controls are straightforward and easy to use. The interior is equipped with generous cabin storage, including a center-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 drink cans. The rear seats can accommodate most adults, but headroom is not as extensive as in, say, a tall Toyota Corolla. All three rear-seat positions have proper three-point belts, though three large people in the back is a tight squeeze. The luggage boot became bigger than ever after the 2004 facelift.
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. For 2004, a CD player was available in the top models.
Underneath the styling changes there are the same old engines. 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 be lively at highway speeds even with an automatic gearbox. The 126 hp 1.8-litre engine offers even more power, and 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. There are even bigger engines offered in the United States, reaching upto 2.5-litre, but these powerful engines are not offered in Gulf-spec models.
Handling is okay, given the simple suspension setup. The car feels comfortable, but its cornering limits are reached pretty early, with tires squealing during quick driving around roundabouts. The steering provides quick and direct control, but it feels heavier in comparison to the Civic’s electric power steering. The skinny tires offer decent grip on dry roads, care is needed in the rain. 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 not the strongest due to drum brakes at the rear, with ABS not even available in most models.
The reliable Nissan Sunny continues to be a good choice among compact sedans. It is starting to show its age in terms of technology, but is still appealing as an everyday practical 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.