First drive: 2012 Nissan Sunny in the UAE
The Nissan Sunny was once a leader in the local compact segment, battling the venerable Toyota Corolla and occasionally even outselling it. Heck, most of us learned to drive on that thing, as it was the car of choice for driving schools here. But things changed once the impressive Tiida came into the scene, stealing sales from the Sunny and largely relegating it to fleet-vehicle status, having barely changed in more than a decade. Now that Nissan has decided to dust off the Sunny name and bring in a completely revamped model, keep in mind that it is not playing in the same segment any more.
For one, the Sunny now goes one size smaller, playing alongside the likes of the Toyota Yaris and the Hyundai Accent now. It is actually 55 mm shorter than even the Nissan Tiida sedan, and far shorter than the older Sunny. Interestingly, the next-generation Tiida is coming in a few months, and that car will grow bigger to chase the Toyota Corolla.
The cars coming to the GCC are also now built in India, although it was designed in Japan and is now built in several countries to serve the entire world. However, we have to admit that quality control is rather excellent, as the Sunny had far fewer niggles than the likes of the Chevy Sonic. Of course, there’s no denying that the car looks like a beluga whale and the interior comprises of only hard plastics beyond the fabric seats and optional door inserts.
And yet, we found it to be an astounding car at the GCC launch event. The amount of space inside the car is nothing short of miraculous, especially in the back seat. It offers more rear headroom and legroom than many larger cars. Back-benchers would surely be happier in the new Sunny than in a Chevy Malibu or a Jaguar XF. And to top it off, there are optional rear vents with a speed-controllable fan in them that sucks in some of the a/c air from the front and sends it to the back, sort of like a poor man’s rear a/c. Even the 490-litre boot is apparently the largest in its class.
At the GCC launch event, we drove from Dubai to the Al Maha Desert Resort out in the middle of nowhere for lunch. Expectedly, the Sunny’s 99 hp 1.5-litre engine hardly offered any push with three passengers in the car, revving away freely instead. That is about as much as can be expected from any car in this class.
What it did impress with was the general drive at highway speeds. The engine wasn’t noisy if the throttle pedal wasn’t moved, the automatic gearbox wasn’t ever hesitant, the wind noise was moderate at most but largely low enough to have quiet conversations, while the ride quality itself was mildly firm, but still very pliable and not the least bit tiring. It could be vaguely sporting as well, with somewhat-light steering that is full of feedback, firm brake pedal feel that is as good as most sports cars, and body roll that is noticeable on violent turn-ins but never gets out of hand. It drifts a little in crosswinds and takes a bit longer to brake than we’re used to, but again, it was actually a bit better in these than some of the other cars in this class, such as the Renault Logan or even the older Toyota Yaris.
Our drive even consisted of a brutal “offroad” segment as we headed into the resort, which is surrounded by a desert nature reserve full of Oryx — local deer-like creatures with straight long horns — that darted around alongside and across the single gravel road. Except that the road wasn’t gravel, but it had a solid “washboard” surface that made the car jitter all the way in. Even on that, the ride was easily bearable, although the exhaust can was clunking around a bit.
Nissan kept pointing out the “heritage” associated with the Sunny name throughout this event, even going as far as pasting that on the doors of our test cars. The car has changed completely compared to any Sunny of the past two decades though, and potential buyers would be interested to note that this Indian-built car is going head-to-head on pricing with the Toyota Yaris and the Hyundai Accent, all three topping out at roughly Dhs 55,000. Do not take the “Indian” tag as a mock though, as the car felt more solidly-built than even the Japanese-built Toyota Yaris, which is saying a lot.
Even the basic model gets dual airbags, a trip computer, CD/MP3 stereo with AUX jack, strong a/c, and ABS with EBD. A fully-optioned car gets 15-inch alloys, Bluetooth, rear fans, keyless entry, parking sensors and more. But major omissions include cruise control, sunroof and a USB port, not available even as options. Still, the Sunny is the class-leader now in terms of space, so if you don’t mind the styling and the hard plastics, this is pretty much the only car we can recommend for you in this segment.