STICKING a big diesel engine into a small car normally sets alarm bells ringing.
Usually it signals old technology under the bonnet and the nasties so long associated with diesels such as noise and lacklustre performance.
That is not the case with Nissan, though, for it has taken the 2.2 litre diesel that made its debut in the heavyweight X-Trail 4x4, and dropped it into the Almera hatchback.
The result is the fastest car in the Almera range with a top speed of 116mph - quicker even than the ones powered by a 1.8 litre 16 valve petrol engine. Admittedly the diesel is not as brisk off the mark, but there is only half a second between the two when it comes to 0 to 60mph acceleration - and who is going to notice that?
If anything it is the diesel, with the benefit of loads of mid-range power, that is the more rewarding to drive, and it has the added attraction of better fuel economy at almost 48 miles per gallon.
However at £13,750 the top range Almera 2.2 SVE costs £1,000 more than a similar specification petrol version, and although the diesel has lower exhaust emissions it still falls into the 18 per cent tax bracket for business users, which must be a disincentive.
For the private buyer it is a different story and the diesel, with its 157g/km CO2 rating, is £30 a year cheaper to tax than the petrol model.
But this car has a fuddy-duddy image which dates back to earlier models, and on the latest versions it is totally undeserved. It may not look as swish as some of the newcomers in the mid-range hatch market - such as the Renault Megane - but the Almera has plenty going for it.
For a start it is made in Britain at Nissan's Sunderland factory. The Almera has a decidedly European feel to its handling and its looks are quite conservative. That will appeal to those who are not ready for the quantum leap in styling that is coming out of a few design houses at the moment.
The Almera got a new-look front in a makeover a couple of months ago and now boasts Nissan's family nose that is shared by one of the cars it is built alongside - the Primera.
Inside, for a small to medium sized car, the Almera is remarkably comfortable - as sitting in one for several hours in a traffic jam proved. On the SVE versions, automatic air conditioning is standard, so are advanced braking systems, a CD player and a trip computer.
Yet although the layout of the dashboard looks straightforward, things are not what they appear. Those numbered buttons you assume change channels on the radio have other purposes - such as operating the heater controls. That, combined with a fairly complicated digital display mounted in the middle of the dash, makes easy operation almost impossible.
Cars these days should be idiot proof and this one isn't. Something is badly wrong if you have to consult the handbook just to work out how to demist the windows.
Technology needs to be as simple to use as it is smart in function, and the desire to spruce up the Almera by installing space age kit has backfired in a big way.
At the lower end of the technology scale the Almera is fine and very practical for the average family. Head restraints and crossover seatbelts are provided for each seat, and as a touch of added comfort there is a foldaway armrest in the rear. Luggage space at more than 12 cubic feet is also generous in this size of vehicle.
The Almera's finest point is on the road where it drives wonderfully well. The ride and feel through the steering is just right for British tastes. Compared to other Far Eastern manufacturers, Nissan has a knack for such characteristics.
This diesel is fine to drive, kind on the pocket when it comes to running costs and pleasantly comfortable - but it is badly in need of being made more user friendly from a driver's point of view. Keep it simple - we are British after all.
Nissan Almera 2.2 Di 5dr SVE
Mechanical: 108bhp, 2,184cc 4 cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 5spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 116mph
Combined mpg: 47.9
Insurance group: 7
CO2 emissions: 157g/km
BiK rating: 18%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles; 6yrs anti-rust; 3yrs paint