Nissan's all-new Almera, released in South Africa this week, is a global car for Nissan, designed to project a youthful, Mediterranean image; even the name is derived from the Spanish term for a big diamond - "almendra".

The roots of the nameplate stretch back to 1995, and the second-generation Almera became a quiet success in South Africa when it was released here in 2001.

The new Almera, however is built in Chennai, India and is already on sale in key markets such as the United States Thailand and China, as part of a planned roll-out to more than 170 countries.

The modular interior is ergonomically laid out with textured surfaces designed to reduce glare from sunlight into the driver's eyes as well as windscreen reflections.

TAILORED ACCOMMODATION

The accommodation (complete with rear passenger arm-rest) is tailored in black and grey fabric, with matching black trim on the door panels, while a long (2600mm) wheelbase contributes to a luxurious 636mm of rear knee-room.

The instrument cluster has two analogue dials flanking a central LCD trip information display screen. Silver trim elements also highlight the centre console and the air vents - of which there are an extra two for rear-seat passengers with their own fan speed control.

There are also plenty of nooks and crannies in which to lose things, including three storage compartments, four cup or bottle holders and a 490-litre boot.

NUTS AND BOLTS

The Almera has a 1498cc, four-cylinder petrol engine rated for 73kW at 6000rpm and 134Nm at 4000 rpm, and Nissan quotes average fuel consumption of on the five-speed manual version of 7.3 litres per 100km, or 7.2 on the four-speed auto model, with carbon emissions pegged at 149 and 171 grams per kilometre respectively.

Suspension is by Macpherson strut with coil-over dampers in front, with an H-type torsion beam at the rear.

Standard issue one the one and only Almera derivative, the Acenta, includes colour-coded door handles and mirrors, chrome exterior detailing, 15" alloy rims, power-adjustable side mirrors, air conditioning with dedicated rear vents and independent fan speed control, a radio/CD/MP3 audio system with aux input port, four speakers and steering-wheel audio controls, a height-adjustable driver's seat, tilt adjustment for the steering wheel, remote central locking with speed-sensitive auto-locking doors and a comprehensive trip computer with two trip meters, instant and average fuel economy readouts, tank range and service information.

PRICES

1.5 Acenta - R165 000

1.5 Acenta a/t - 175 500

These include a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a three-year or 60 000km service plan - which, with 15 000km service intervals, means that unless you're a very high-mileage driver, the first three annual services are on the (Nissan) house.