Words by Angel S. Rivero and Steven Yu
Photos by Ardie O. Lopez
Nissan Sylphy, The Smooth Operator
By Angel Rivero
There was a time that when you thought of a Nissan Sentra, an image of your uncle or Tito driving it, would first come to mind. Looking back, perhaps it was because this was the primary market that it served at that time – middle-aged lads who were starting their own families. A lot has changed since that time… and I don’t just mean the associations made with the market. The once divided factions of Nissan distributorship in the country have now merged into a single power – “One company, one direction, one Nissan,” as clearly put by the new, centralized Nissan Philippines, Inc (NPI). And the Sylphy is one of a pair of initial offerings that the unified NPI will be selling in the country.
Positioned to replace the outgoing Nissan Sentra, the Sylphy intelligently carries over all the strengths of the previous model (and yes– that includes the iconic, robust air-conditioning) and improves on many other aspects surrounding the car. After all, this is truly the essence of evolution – keeping all the assets and experimenting with new features, where needed. The new Sylphy is neatly and more aerodynamically designed, compared to its more rounded predecessor; and although it is not the type to invoke raw excitement at first glance, its neutral face is certainly style-forward compared to the outgoing model, and this time, more ‘executive’ in aura.
The new model screams of the design DNA that it shares with big brother Nissan Altima – in fact, it undeniably looks just like a smaller version… with a lot of assets inherited from the outgoing Teana. Reinforcing its now executive image are the car’s large xenon headlamps with standout LED daytime running lights, and its new trapezoidal grille (finished in chrome to exude a sense of luxury). Giving it some aerodynamic flair is the sexy character line that runs from the headlamps all the way to its horseshoe-shaped tail lamps that greet you with 15 LED lights. The horizontal design of its front bumper emphasizes how the vehicle has grown in breadth; and little details such as the chrome found on the door handles, turn signals on the side mirrors, etc. all contribute towards achieving that overall upmarket look.
The magic of the Sylphy really comes into play once you are inside the cabin – the ambience is premium, and thoughtful details such as the soft-touch, padded surfaces on the door rest, nice texture on the door trim and generous front center armrest invoke that collective, executive feeling. Fit and finish of all amenities are perfect, and although the layout is quite conventional, it serves its purpose and is conveniently ergonomic. Its dual zone climate control, rear aircon vents and legendary, robust air conditioning system are all assets in providing optimum comfort; and the keyless entry and push-button start are all at par with contemporary segment-leading features. I found the actual start/stop button however, to be a bit small and not intuitively located, but it is an extremely minor peeve and something you will quickly forget, in a cabin that is truly delightful to be in. Displays are large and controls within good reach, although it would have been nice if the steering wheel had reach adjustments and mounted audio controls.
The stereo system is straightforward and with a nice, big touchscreen display – it is too bad there is no rear-view camera installed (as this is now increasingly becoming a standard in the C-segment) and that the unit is not NAVI-ready.
The car drives very well in a city-setting as it has great low-end grunt for the frequent stop-and-go; in fact one of my first impressions of the car was that I immediately loved the initial surge upon acceleration. One of the benefits of Nissan’s proprietary Xtronic CVT is that it offers a lot of traction within relatively low revs, and hence the natural, peppy feeling which I always seek in cars intended for the daily drive to work.
Its highway driving has a slightly different dynamic though – the car does not bank on top-end explosive power, and hence begs for the driver to keep the car at cruising speeds, rather than going for aggressive bursts. And this is probably how the car is meant to be driven anyway – its exceptionally smooth drivetrain does for the car what it does best: has it gradually accelerate, make smooth shifts and cruise in comfort. Hence, it does not encourage aggressive overtaking maneuvers on the highway, but rather some steady, consistent pace you would take your family around in.
Ride and drive comfort is certainly something that the Sylphy easily excels in – the leather seats are totally cozy, the steering responsive and light, and the commendable suspension does a great job of soaking up all the road bumps of the Metro. It exploits MacPherson struts for the front and a torsion beam for the rear suspension, and they effectively offset notorious Manila-road undulation, making for an ideal car to take children and family in, if not the discerning driver.
Furthermore, the car does great in the NVH department – road, wind and engine noise are very well-contained, thanks in part to the Sylphy’s high stiffness body structure (which consequently delivers low vibration and reduced noise). It also helps that the car is now clearly more aerodynamic and wind-slippery – with a published 0.29 drag coefficient, achieved largely in part by under-body optimization aided by CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) & wind tunnel testing. And these always translate into better fuel economy figures. Additionally, the Sylphy’s drivetrain also encourages notably low carbon emissions.
Continuing to carry the torch borne from the Almera’s excellence in providing car space, the Sylphy likewise boasts of an exceptionally spacious cabin, with remarkable legroom in the rear, and an extremely accommodating almost-flat rear floor. Perfect for families and large-bodied guests going on long journeys, the Sylphy shares the 2700mm wheelbase of other cars in the segment, that offer class-leading space. Moreover, the boot offers an impressive 504L of storage – easily accommodating up to 3 golf bags.
Speaking of safety equipment, the Sylphy struts the standard stuff – dual SRS airbags, ABS, EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) and BA (brake assist). Its chassis uses high-tensile steel for reinforcement, and the car exploits disc brakes on all 4-wheels (with the front discs ventilated). Although the car fails to provide a rear camera for backing up, it does have reverse sensors which assist you while parking.
The new Nissan Sylphy is clearly a delightful reinvention of the outgoing Sentra, that has somehow lost its mojo in the years past. The Sylphy may not strike you with some initial Oomph, but once inside you will discover that it has indubitably upped the standards for refinement in the compact car category. It is a safe and practical family sedan, brimming with space, and low in carbon footprint. It boasts immediate responsiveness from a standstill, and though may lose steam when it comes to upper-end power, this is totally forgivable as its virtues obviously lie elsewhere. Remember, everyone – even enthusiasts – still need a family car, at some point. This car finds its strength in its smooth drivetrain and brilliant CVT transmission. Hence, I have a song playing for it in my head, and it goes…
He move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy
City lights and business nights
When you require streetcar desire for higher heights
He’s a smooth operator… A smooth operator…
Nissan Altima, Back On Track
By Steven Yu
If you’re a true car guy (or car girl, sorry), you’ve probably noticed that over the last few years, Nissan’s presence as a brand has somewhat toned down. You won’t notice it with their commercial vehicles, sport utility vehicles and light trucks – the Urvan Escapade, Patrol and Navara, respectively – which have been selling well and are a regular sight on our thoroughfares, but how about their newer passenger vehicles? When was the last time you saw a current Sentra, or the either of the last two generations of Teanas? What about the Almera, launched last mid-year to much fanfare? Chances are, you won’t have seen any of these cars today, nor will you tomorrow – unless you own one, but of course that’s not the point. Yet, it wasn’t too long ago when the front-wheel drive Cefiro Elite, Brougham and 300EX– with their multi-awarded VQ engines – were among the top-of-mind choices in the executive class, while the Sentra Exalta – with its segment-unique leather-and-wood interior, privacy screens and moonroof – was the aspirational C-segment sedan to have, and the lovely, GT-esque, 200-horsepower 200SX was the only available rear-wheel drive Japanese coupe in the market.
Then, in what felt like the automotive industry’s equivalent of a heartbeat, consumers just stopped buying Nissan passenger vehicles. Not because their products lost their mojo – the Cefiro’s successor – the 2.5 liter, then later, 3.5 liter Teana – would have been a worthy heir to the Nissan throne, and the Sentra variants – up to the 180GT – were handsome, spacious, and technologically advanced. It was more due to several factors, one of which was their competitors catching up: their C-segment cars were being made available with a two-liter variant, while displacement in the largely V6-equipped executive class had burgeoned from 3.0 liters to 3.5. Another reason was the growth of the automotive industry itself and the emergence of new brands, including popular European brands. Other reasons were present too, but didn’t weigh as much as the aforementioned two. Whatever reason factored the most, the end result was Nissan’s passenger vehicles slipping further behind in the race for consumers’ loyalty and, more importantly, patronage.
For almost as long as I can remember, Nissans always had a technological edge over their competitors. Sometimes it was small, like the canvas sunroof on the three-door mid-80s Pulsar; or significant, like the “spoken” vehicle notifications on the late-80s 200 Laurel (rather than a chime or buzzer) and the straight-six cylinder engine on the first-generation 1989 Cefiro; or game-changing, like the first fuel injection system (ECCS or Electronic Concentrated Control System, which may sound amusing now but was groundbreaking then) and full host of power-assisted convenience features in a C-segment vehicle, found on the 1992 Sentra Series 2 that later went on to boast the first application of ABS in its class. The rear-wheel drive 200SX may have been locally available only with an automatic transmission, but that hasn’t stopped hardcore enthusiasts from modifying its lightweight SR20DET engine to produce upwards of 300 horsepower. The list goes on, but if there was anything certain it was this: if any new technology was going to be introduced by a car maker, there was a high likelihood that Nissan would have the balls to deliver it first.
One Position, Different Names
From the time the company officially dropped “Datsun” from their vehicle’s badges, Nissan’s local flagships have been called different names. Whether it was the Laurel, Maxima, Bluebird, Cefiro, Altima or Teana – in that order, with the “Cefiro” nameplate appearing again after the Altima’s reign – they served one purpose: executive transport. Interestingly, not only were their names different, but so were their platforms, in the sense that these vehicles did not necessarily succeed each other in the official chronology of Nissan’s vehicles. Furthermore, for marketing purposes, their names were interchangeable depending on the region, such that the Philippine-spec Maxima was sold in North America as the Stanza, while the second-generation Philippine-market Cefiro would be known as the Maxima in the US. Confusing? Yes, but at least each particular name served as a “date-stamp” to signify the approximate era of the vehicle’s Philippine availability.
The Altima badge has been around before, and if you’re old enough to know this firsthand, you could be part of the new Altima’s target market. I say “could” because age and income are not directly proportional and the new Altima – as with its executive-segment contemporaries – isn’t cheap. Then again, neither was the previous one. The first Altima that appeared on our shores was a bloodline successor to the Bluebird Super Select Saloon of the early 1990s. So why the name change? Marketing.
To further distinguish the rounded, aerodynamically-shaped Altima from its boxy, angular predecessor, the North-American “Altima” name was adopted locally. On one variant, an “SSS” (Super Sport Sedan) badge was visible on the grille, a nod to the Altima’s Bluebird heritage and probably delighted one particular Philippine government agency. Nonetheless, the name worked. It sounded classy, and was marketed heavily as an efficient, streamlined aero-form that promised space with speed. It delivered, too. With 150 horsepower from its SR20DE engine, the manual Altima SSS in stock form could keep up with – if not outrun – the justifiably popular Mitsubishi Galant GTI-16V. Not to be outdone, Mitsubishi fought back later on with the 165-hp Galant VR, but let’s save that revival story for another time.
Up From the Ashes
Following the restructuring of what used to be two local distributors for Nissan vehicles, Nissan Philippines Incorporated – the unified company’s new name – has brought in two exciting new models to put the brand back on track. Our two cover vehicles – the new Altima and new-for-the-Philippines Sylphy, look ready to do just that and there was no better venue to capture NPI’s objective for these two cars than on, well, a racetrack.
Built entirely in Smyrna, Tennessee, the Altima that reaches our shores doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis. It is designed as an Altima, and sold in North America as an Altima. It’s a true Altima, even in the bloodline sense, following the L platform of the previous two generation of North American Altimas, instead of the J platform of the Teana which it replaces. Curiously, this L33 Altima will be sold in other regions as – wait for it – a Teana. Nevertheless, a rose is a rose by any other name.
The 100-odd kilometer drive to Clark International Speedway revealed a lot about the Altima, particularly the 3.5 liter SL variant lent to us for this feature. Even before embarking, I had immediately noticed the Altima’s dynamic, flowing lines. It’s a beautiful car from any angle, and Nissan’s new design language manages to balance elegance with the appearance of rapid movement. It’s a refreshing departure from the angular executive-class sedan treatment found on the Altima’s contemporaries and I must admit it appeals to a younger generation of executives; the ones who work hard and play hard.
The Altima’s long, sloping hood conceals a powerful engine and seven-speed continuously variable transmission. Producing 270 horsepower, it’s the same engine found on Nissan’s 350Z sports car; albeit with a quieter intake and exhaust to provide the executive sedan with more civility. The VQ35 engine is remarkably refined and barely perceptible in operation, even at highway speeds. In fact, the only sound you will hear while cruising is the muted rumble of the tires rolling on the pavement. Apart from that, there is nothing else, unless you have the Bose premium audio system on, sending your music through nine speakers around the well-insulated cabin.
Nissan, of course, didn’t merely put a sports car engine in a luxury sedan for the sake of big numbers. The Altima goes as quickly as it looks. It may glide quietly at 100 km/h on the highway, but when you need to overtake a string of slow-moving vehicles, a quick stab of the throttle will push the land jet to over 160 km/h without strain. Thankfully, the Altima’s four-channel ABS brakes with EBD haul the vehicle back down to the legal speed limit without any drama, or needing to use both feet on the brake pedal. Like a true luxury car, the Altima can be pushed to its limit without ever hearing it complain.
The passenger cabin is long and wide, providing very relaxed seating for five occupants or sinful opulence for four. Trimmed in beautiful beige leather, chrome and dark wood, the interior is one of the most cleanly executed designs in recent memory; devoid of clutter and unnecessary accoutrements. The front seats are – get this – designed by NASA and are called ‘gravity seats’ because of the way they distribute your weight over the entire seating area, giving you the sensation that you are floating. The seats are very, very comfortable on a long trip and that’s not an exaggeration. In true North American fashion, the front buckets can be warmed and if you think a seat warmer is redundant in the tropics, guess again. By turning the seat warmer on ‘low’ and adjusting the Altima’s dual-zone air-conditioning correspondingly, I was able to arrive at a happy balance between muscle-soothing heat for my back, and cool ambient air for the rest of my body. I never thought I’d find this feature practical, but now I look for it in my personal vehicle. One convenience feature I do look for in North-American-sourced vehicles is the steering wheel heater. You probably think I’m nuts, but if you haven’t driven a vehicle with a heated steering wheel, your hands are missing out on something great. As heat speeds up the circulation in your palms and fingers, there is less need to take your hands of the wheel intermittently to stretch your fingers and palms, and counters the cold gust from the nearby air-conditioner vents.
Legroom in the rear half of the cabin is beyond generous; you can stretch your legs straight and still not reach the front seat. Then again, I’m not as tall as Tom Selleck. The markers and needles on the instrument dials are lit bright white against a contrasting black background, and the height of the numbers makes them easy to read at a glance – no need for a heads-up display.
The wide rear windshield flows smoothly into the deceptively short but well-proportioned trunk lid. The trunk compartment is cavernous, as you would expect from a vehicle designed in North America for the needs of, uh, North Americans, and can easily fit all your mobile office equipment plus a pair of golf bags and a personal assistant. We don’t recommend the latter, but you get the idea of how much space there is behind the rear seat. The Altima is beautiful, spacious and no slouch on the highway. But how did it do on the track?
Unlike its competitors that are now sporting 18- or 19-inch wheels on prophylactic-thin tires, the Altima – with 17-inch wheels and 55-series Michelin Pilot tires – doesn’t compromise comfort for performance. It may not have the slalom prowess of the 370Z or GT-R, why should it? Still, the Altima handles respectably on the track. We repeatedly had to shoot the vehicle around turns 2, 3 and 11 of the wide, unbanked CIS track and needed to build up speed to get the necessary effect. Following the race line, it’s possible to drive the Altima around a corner at impressive speeds with minimal understeer and body roll. It’s surprisingly well-planted for a 1,530-kg vehicle and recovers quickly from each corner. Yes, the tires will squeal at their limit, but not break away unexpectedly. That’s inspiring, especially when you need to make a sudden evasive maneuver on the highway. On a 1-kilometer straight, the Altima will hit over 180-plus km/h before running out of road. The brakes slow the vehicle down quickly, without diving, a testament to the Altima’s front-to-rear balance. ABS engages only at the very limit, and that doesn’t happen very often, even when driven hard.
After a half-day shoot on the track, I drove the Altima back to Metro Manila with a light foot, and consistently saw a 20-plus kilometer-per-liter reading on the car’s trip computer. Right now, I can’t think of any other gasoline-powered, six-cylinder, 3.5 liter Japanese executive car that can replicate that kind of fuel efficiency while delivering such effortless performance.
With its sharp, distinguished looks; segment-leading power and refinement plus American build quality, the Altima 3.5SL is more than ready to assume pole position in the executive car segment once again.
Who says athletes can’t look great in a suit?
2014 Nissan Sylphy 1.8L Upper
Location: Front, Transverse
Displacement: 1,798 cc
Cylinder Block: Cast Aluminum
Cylinder Head: Cast Aluminum, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, Continuous Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS), Electronic Concentrated Control System (ECCS)
Fuel Injector: Direct Fuel Injection
Max Power (bhp @ rpm): 131 bhp @ 6,000 rpm
Max Torque (lb ft @ rpm): 128 lb/ft @ 3,600 rpm
Drag Coefficient (cd): 0.29 cd
Transmission: XTRONIC CVT
Front Suspension: MacPherson Strut with stabilizer
Rear Suspension: Torsion beam with stabilizer
Fuel Capacity: 52 liters (13.8 gallons)
L x W x H (mm): 4,615 mm x 1,760 mm x 1,260 mm
Wheelbase (mm): 2,700 mm
Brakes: 11.0” x 0.9 Ventilated Disc Brakes with Single-Piston Sliding Calipers
Rear: 9.0” Solid Disc Brakes with Single-Piston Sliding Calipers with ABS, With Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA)
Wheels: 17″ x 6.5 J Aluminum Alloy
Tires: Continental ContiPremiumContact2E 205/50 R17 89V
Weight [Kerb] (kg)(lbs): 1,260 kg (2,778 lbs)
0-100 km/h (sec): 9.7 sec.
Top Speed (km/h): 185 km/h (115 mph)
Fuel Milage (km/L): 14.5 km/L
Price as Tested (PhP): PhP 998,000.00
+: plush interior; upmarket driving experience; lots of legroom and space; very comfortable ride
-: no reverse camera, not NAVI-capable, no steering-wheel mounted audio controls, could use some more excitement, light colored cabin susceptible to dirt
Editor’s rating: 9.5/10
2014 Nissan Altima 3.5L SL
Location: Front, Transverse
Displacement: 3,498 cc
Cylinder Block: Cast Aluminum
Cylinder Head: Cast Aluminum, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder, CVTC (Continuously Variable valve Timing Control)
Fuel Injector: Sequential Multi-Point Fuel Injection (MPFI)
Max Power (bhp @ rpm): 270 bhp @ 6,400 rpm
Max Torque (lb ft @ rpm): 251 lb ft @ 4,400 rpm
Drag Coefficient (cd): 0.29 cd
Transmission: XTRONIC CVT with manual mode
Front Suspension: Independent Strut With Coil Springs
Rear Suspension: Independent Multi-link
Fuel Capacity: 68 liters (18.0 gallons)
L x W x H (mm): 4,863 mm x 1,830 mm x 1,488 mm
Wheelbase (mm): 2,775 mm
Brakes: Front: 11.7” x 1.02” Ventilated Disc Brakes with Single-
Piston Sliding Calipers
11.5” x 0.35” Solid Disc Brakes with Single-Piston Sliding
Calipers with ABS, With Electronic Brake Force Distribution
(EBD) and Brake Assist (BA)
Wheels: 17″ x 6.5 J Aluminum Alloy
Tires: Michelin Primacy LC 215/55 R17 94V
Weight [Kerb] (kg)(lbs): 1,530kg (3,373 lbs.)
0-100 km/h [or 0-62 mph](sec): 7.2 sec.
Top Speed (km/h): 235 km/h (146 mph)
Fuel Milage (km/L): 10.2 km/L
Price as Tested (PhP): PhP 2,030,000.00
+: Plush interior, smooth power, abundant legroom
-: Lacks controls for air and audio for rear passengers
Editor’s rating: 9.5/10