In Malaysia, B-segment sedans remain a staple for parents wanting to buy their kids a first car, or just someone seeking a reliable, headache-free daily companion. When this segment came about, its occupants were just simple machines with no fancy gadgetry or technolgy.
How times have changed. Now, B-sedans come chock-full with ADAS, plush interiors, and even new forms of propulsion. B-segment sedans are now genuinely good cars, instead of something purchased out of utility. But below RM 100,000, which one is the best buy?
The suprise package
If you didn't know, you'd be pleasantly surprised at just how good the current Nissan Almera is. I've sung praises about it time and again, you can read it here. This is my default class recommendation and was my choice for our Car of The Year awards. This is a car I'd happily sit through the daily grind in.
There are so many things I like about this car. It's refined, rides and handles well, the seats are superb. It may be down on power on paper, but the turbocharged torque makes daily driving and overtaking so effortless. It never feels rushed, exuding only calmness and composure. That it is so fuel efficient (5.8-litres/100 km on our internal testing) and quiet (66 dB at 90 km/h) just seals the deal. And, dare I say, the Almera is the best looking car in its class.
Dislikes? There is no Android Auto connectivity here, so if you're an Android user, it's Bluetooth or nothing. The two-tone dashboard, whilst imparting a sense of space, will attract dirt rather easily. But, by far the thing I dislike most is the Almera nameplate. It's a millstone that is weighing down a car this good. Call it a Versa, or better still, Pulsar. It really deserves a new name.
The ever-present companion
In the runner-up position is the Honda City. If you want a fuss-free, no-drama motoring experience, then you could do a lot worse than the Honda City. Like the Almera, the City is blessed with a very composed, calm chassis. It runs the Almera really close for top honours, but falls just a little short. Only just.
What it does better than even the Almera is interior packaging, something that has been a Honda forte for eons. There are plenty of storage solutions for your bobs and bits, and your occupants will never complain about having insufficient space in the City. Thanks to improved sound insulation (68 dB at 90km/h), long-distance journeys are made easy.
Where it loses out to the Almera is in the powertrain department (in V spec anyway). In most situations, you'd have to cane the City's 1.5-litre engine to make brisk progress, or to overtake. Whereas, in the Almera, you just squeeze the throttle and off it goes. There is nothing wrong with how the City delivers its power, its just how naturally aspirated engines behave. Moreover, the City can't hope to match the fuel effeciency of the Almera (6.3-litres/100km on our internal testing).
The motorsport-infused choice
The Toyota Vios. It's been the default, safe choice since dinosaurs roamed the earth. So what's it doing coming in last? Well, lack of innovation is one. Playing too safe is another. There's nothing in particular about the Vios that tries something new or groundbreaking.
Where Nissan and Toyota are making attempts to spice up their powertrains (turbo or hybrid), Toyota has decided to stick with a tried and tested package. The 1.5-litre engine and transmission combo is often derided, but is that a fair assessment? Kind of. The CVT transmission is ponderous and hesitant sometimes, which makes for laborious acceleration. The Almera and even the City makes it feel slow. Its 6.8 litre/100 km fuel consumption figure is also the highest here.
The interior, when compared to the other 2, looks a bit dowdy and old-hat. Nothing particularly grating about it, but the Almera and City have vastly superior interiors. The GR-S enhancements try to elevate the ambience, but it comes off as a bit contrived. Worse still, the Vios does not have reach adjustment for its steering. What on earth? It's 2021 guys, come on.
What the Vios (in GR-S form) does with qualified distinction is ride and handling. It is the best of the 3. Where the Almera and City try to strike a comfort-biased balance, the Vios is outright sporty in the way it drives, Yet, it is supple enough to live with day to day. Motorsport-inspired handling? Not an empty boast. If driving is all you care about, buy the Vios GR-S.
The Nissan Almera, Honda City and Toyota Vios are testament to how far segment has moved over the years. From being merely 'point A to point B' cars, they have evolved into sophisticated, feature-laden and multi-talented products. For less than RM 100k, any of these 3 cars can give you years of trouble-free motoring.
As mentioned before, the Nissan Almera is my personal pick of the 3. But my needs differs from yours. Do your reading, have a go at each one and find out which of the 3 is the one that is worth your money. After all, you're paying for it, not me.