If this magazine was called Refrigeration Quarterly, the new Nissan Sunny would be our cover star. The air conditioning system chills better than a Whirlpool.
That first paragraph is sort of the lines along which I was hoping this review would go. I wanted to playfully mock the Sunny, because I'm a sad sensationalist and mocking is funny.
But I can't do that. Five minutes in the new Sunny and it was clear that it's a decent car. Four days on top of those first five minutes, and the Sunny proved to be more than just decent.
But we'll start with the looks. And… We're done.
One paragraph on the new Sunny's design, is one paragraph too many. That's all I'll say on that subject…
OK, I tried. Just look at that rear quarter? What exactly is that supposed to be? The 2012 Nissan Sunny is so ungainly, it tried to get into the Geneva Motor Show but it got kicked out for public indecency. (Somehow, Bentley's EXP 9 F still managed to sneak in.) The Sunny doesn't look like it was styled; it rather appears to be the result of someone playing connect the dots. Only, there were no dots.
Thankfully if you buy a new Nissan Sunny, you'll get to spend most of the time inside it where its looks are hidden from view. And the inside of a Sunny is actually quite good. Nissan shuffled the five-year-olds out of the room for this job, and called in adults to do the cabin. They brought some dots with them. Everything fits fairly well, and there are only a few visible plastic moulding seams, although they're quite obvious, such as across the top of the handbrake lever instead of the out-of-sight bottom part. Left of the steering wheel, there is also a curious mould imprint for a blank switch. Note that it's not an actual blank switch, but a plastic mould seam for one.
On the steering wheel itself, the right spoke features shiny, ill-fitting plastic trim that doesn't align with the actual spoke, while the other side of the wheel houses smart looking and intuitive audio controls. You win some, you lose some, I guess.
And in the rear the space is mystifying. How exactly Nissan managed to offer more rear passenger room in the smaller new Sunny than in, say, an Altima, is beyond me. There is enough legroom for Yao Ming.
The highlight of the interior, though, has to be the genius centre arm rest that doubles up as an even more ingenious rear air conditioning unit. Basically, there's a fan inside that scavenges whatever cool air blowing out of the dash it can, spitting it out the back for the rear passengers to fight over. In addition, like I said it doubles up as an arm rest, but unfortunately it's way too uncomfortable to rest your arm on because it features a convex bulge thoughtfully positioned to irritate your elbow.
Also, the 2012 Nissan Sunny doesn't have that satisfying new-car smell. It just smells.
In all fairness Nissan makes up for these few minor quibbles with the kind of features you don't normally expect in a car costing less than a year in a water-less Discovery Gardens apartment. You get a trip computer, so you don't have to quiz your 10-year-old to divide decimals and get you your fuel economy, as well as rear parking sensors, that multi-functional steering wheel and interesting rear-cooling solution, Bluetooth capability, power mirrors and windows, keyless entry, and crucially dual front airbags and ABS with electronic brake distribution on all trim levels.
I'm glad that Nissan let sense prevail and fitted dual airbags, unlike many of its rivals that stubbornly stick with one. Although, despite the Sunny's new engine and transmission you'll never be going fast enough to warrant an airbag-deploying shunt. With 99 horsepower and 134Nm of torque, you're safe in the knowledge that the biggest wreck you might experience is a parking lot ding.
Now you know why the stereotypical road-rage-inducing, infuriating Sunny driver hogs whatever lane he's in at 40kph below the limit. Even if the limit is 40kph.
The torque delivery is even and the four-speed automatic gearbox shifts are smooth — there just isn't ever any power channelled to the front wheels to warrant the laborious din from the four-pot. Merging onto the highway and wandering left towards the fast lane is a risky business, as you hold your foot mashed into the carpet rooting for 120kph to show up on the speedo. Eventually it does, almost 20 seconds later if you start from rest, and at that point the Sunny settles into an admirably composed stride. Try not to twitch your right foot and encourage the four-speed 'box to have a down-shifting fit, and you're making very comfortable progress.
Challenged with some corners, the new Sunny really starts to surprise. With taut and cooperative steering, the car feels more weighted at the front than it should, providing great traction into corners. It loses some of the grip mid-bend and ‘powering' out of turns, throwing in noticeable body roll into its handling abilities, but its initial dartiness is impressive nonetheless, and especially its compelling steering feel. I didn't expect such eagerness to please from a car on spacesaver-sized 15in tyres with the reputation of a slow-lane hogger.
I shouldn't have been surprised - the 2012 Sunny measures in shorter nose to tail than the old model, and rides on a new V platform that also underpins the European Micra weighing about 70kg less than before. It's been stretched here for that massive interior, and sits on typical MacPherson struts in the front and torsion beam rear suspension.
In this price range, you won't find a better thought-out car. And that sticks even if they did put approximately zero thought in the styling. There's nothing funny about that, actually.