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Category Archives: Nissan

What I think: 2013 Nissan Altima

Nissan’s Altima doesn’t have the brand heritage that the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry possess in the family car segment, but Nissan must be doing something right: in 2011, the Altima outsold both of those cars.

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Good news for Nissan, but all three of those cars were redesigned recently: the Camry for 2012, and the Accord and Altima this year. Given the improvements that Honda and Toyota have made to their family sedans, Nissan had some work to do to keep the Altima in the game.

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Looks are important in any car segment, but are not paramount to success for a family car. The 2013 Altima does away with the frumpy look of the outgoing car, replacing it with a design reminiscent of a generation-old Lexus ES. Classy, but unexciting.

On the other hand, the interior design has been dumbed down, in my opinion. It looks fine and works well enough, but has a cookie-cutter look to it, where the old Altima’s interior neatly incorporated stylistic elements borrowed from the sporty 370Z coupe. Sporty isn’t what family sedans are about, so the 2013 Altima edges closer to the automotive equivalent of sensible shoes.

One of the most important parts of any car is a set of sensible seats. Nissan co-developed the Altima’s front chairs with NASA. These “zero gravity” buckets are presumably comfortable for someone, but not me; they hurt my back and made me glad I wasn’t doing any long-distance travel in this car. Balancing out the weirdly-shaped backrest was a soft bottom cushion. (At least one part of my backside was well taken care of.)

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The rear seat cushions are similarly soft, but here, the backrest angle is raked a few degrees too far back. It’s great for napping, but less so for those following mom’s advice to sit up straight.

Headroom is more generous here than in the new Accord, but that car feels roomier overall. The Altima boasts similar trunk space and trumps the Accord by including a split-folding rear seat; in the Accord, you either fold all of it, or pay someone to deliver your Ikea purchase.

I was less impressed with the Altima’s interior quality. To be fair, everything looks good, and the materials mostly feel like they belong in a $30,000 car, but the dash generated a couple of buzzy, creaky noises that didn’t go away once the car was warm. A speaker grille in the top of the dash – front and centre for all to see – was poorly fitted, looking like it had warped slightly over years of exposure to hot sun, but my test car had just 4,000 km on its odometer.

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Nissan’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder is the volume seller in this car, and it boasts a nominal power increase to 180 hp for 2013. It’s not a sweet-sounding motor, so it’s best that the continuously variable transmission (CVT), standard in all Altimas, is good at keeping engine speeds well below the “buzz point.”

Nissan is known for CVTs and says this one has been redesigned with a view to reducing friction and increasing efficiency. The company’s fuel consumption claims are 7.4/5.0 L/100 km (city/highway); those are very impressive numbers that my test car didn’t stand a chance of matching in a week of cold, snowy weather, instead averaging just below 10 L/100 km in city driving.

I’ve long liked Nissan’s CVTs, but have found in the past that they favoured refinement over performance, so the cars felt slower than their power numbers would suggest (even if that was just a seat-of-the-pants perception). This Altima felt more responsive and eager to let the engine spin when acceleration is called for.

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The ride is fabulous, a near-perfect balance of comfort versus body control that trumps the Accord’s too-firm suspension tuning. Steering response is decent, but the electro-hydraulic power assist is a bit over-boosted; that’s a good thing at low speeds (like parking lot crawling), but makes the car feel less poised at highway speeds. Plus, the steering feels a bit “off” in sweeping corners, where Nissan’s Active Understeer Control kicks in to help keep the car on course. The company says it’s “almost undetectable,” but I detected it, and I didn’t like it. It sounds like a feature meant to augment performance at the car’s handling limit, but Nissan says its aim is to help improve steering accuracy in normal driving. Here’s something else I detected: Nissan overthinking the steering system in a family car.

No doubt, the Altima continues to be a good car. Its problem, following this redesign, is that it is neither as cushy as the latest Camry, nor does it boast a personality as sharply defined as the new Accord’s. It tries to strike a balance between the two, and mostly succeeds, but not comprehensively enough to make this a great car.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Nissan, Test Drives, What I Think

 

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What I think: Buying a used Nissan Quest

The third-generation Nissan Quest was a styling standout among a stodgy field of minivans, but it’s also a lesson in why standing out is not always worthwhile. Click here to read my Autos.ca Used Vehicle Review.

 

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What I think: About a bunch of vehicles

I’ve been lazy about updating lately, so here are links to a number of recent reviews of mine, published at Autos.ca:

Test Drive: 2012 Acura TSX V6 — A very nice sport sedan that nonetheless needs a serious dose of personality and a number of high-tech features that many most of its competitors offer.

Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Altima, 2007-2012 — As a Japanese company, Nissan has a reputation for building tough cars. It earned that in the 1980s and 90s, but its later models are less robust; the fourth-generation Altima mid-size sedan is a good example.

Used Vehicle Review: Lexus GS, 2006-2012 — Speaking of Japanese cars that don’t live up to the nation’s reputation for well-built cars, there’s the third-generation Lexus GS. Compared to the quality benchmark set by Lexus (and parent-company Toyota) in the 1990s, this car falls well short.

Used Vehicle Review: Mitsubishi Outlander, 2007-2012 — Then, there’s Mitsubishi, a company with plenty to prove. It’s proving it well, apparently, with the well-built Outlander crossover, an underrated vehicle that gets overlooked by many used-vehicle buyers.

Used Vehicle Review: Mazda Tribute, 2001-2011 — I always thought the Tribute was a stop-gap vehicle added to Mazda’s lineup to fill a gap until it designed its own crossover model. It was a near carbon-copy of the Ford Escape, and so inherited that vehicle’s positive traits — and its common flaws.

Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Frontier, 2005-2012 — Here’s a modern Nissan that seems more in line with the company’s reputation. The Frontier has a few common problems, but is generally a decent little truck.

Used Vehicle Review: Acura RDX, 2007-2012 — The RDX is Acura’s compact crossover, and the first-generation model is a quirky vehicle, for being the only Honda-built product to use a turbocharged engine. Common problems include air conditioning compressor failures, but the basics — engine, transmission and nifty all-wheel drive system — seem to be pretty tough.

 

What I think: 2012 Nissan Versa

In 2007, the then-new Nissan Versa was a giant among subcompact cars, with interior volume that rivalled compacts and refinement that bettered some bigger cars. A lot has changed since then, and a number of the Versa’s competitors have caught up. Nissan’s response, for 2012, was to once again make the Versa the biggest small car there is.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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What I think: 2011 Nissan Quest SL

By Chris Chase

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL

You might expect a company that builds crazy fun cars like the 370Z and GT-R to have an entire line-up of vehicles infused with a fair amount of amusement. Indeed, Nissan is no slouch in building performance-oriented vehicles, such as the Maxima and the SE-R version of the otherwise dull Sentra, not to mention a couple of Infiniti models that challenge the world’s best sport sedans.

However, it seems Nissan’s supply of fun factor ran out when it got around to putting together its redesigned 2011 Quest. Certainly, no one gets into a minivan expecting it to drive like a sports car, but even taken on its own merits the Quest was disappointing, with ponderous handling and vague steering, two aspects that were pulled sharply into focus on a back-roads cottage getaway. I’ll admit that my expectations were coloured by a recent test of the also-new Honda Odyssey, a van that carries itself with far more poise, with a tight suspension and unexpected cornering ability.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL

To be fair, the Quest’s soft ride won’t go unappreciated; that’s a great thing in a vehicle designed as a people-mover, and means it will attract buyers who appreciate the cushy ride of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country twins.

The Quest’s interior does play against type. One of its best features is the third row of seats that fold away forward, instead of back and down into the well behind them. This creates a permanent, covered “trunk” available no matter the positioning of the rear seats, a real, practical benefit for everyday use.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL

However, another against-the-grain design element doesn’t work as well: the second row seats that can’t be removed from the van. They do fold, but the result is a higher load floor with all seats down than in other vans, which limits the Quest’s maximum cargo space. Still, the Quest is a big vehicle, and the reduced cargo volume will only be a problem for transporting very large items too tall for the interior.

Nissan’s other interior trick is to play with perceptions to make the front seats spacious and yet give the driver the visual impression that he or she is piloting a vehicle sportier than a minivan. The dash and cowl are high and the windshield header squeezes down lower than in most vans, lending a gun-slit effect to the forward view. At the same time, the door panels and side glass are pushed out to create a spacious environment for the driver and front passenger. The overall effect – and I’ll let you decide whether this is a good thing – is like sitting in a bathtub with a chopped roof.

The front and second row seats are wide and comfortable, the fronts nicely sculpted for long-haul comfort. The third row suffers from the usual minivan maladies, with a bottom cushion too low and too short on thigh support for adult legs. Headroom is generous throughout, but legroom feels tight in the second and third rows.

Getting in is made easy by a low step-in height. The second-row seats slide forward to ease access to the third row, but not quite far enough to make it truly easy for adults. Toyota got this part right, with second-row bottom cushions that fold up as the seat is moved forward, to make more space.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL

Looks-wise, there’s a lot of Infiniti (Nissan’s upscale brand) in the Quest’s dash; panel fits are easily as good, but the materials aren’t. One glaring problem, literally, is the way that the glossy wood and plastic trim at the top of the centre stack reflect the midday sun straight into the driver’s eyes. Also, the climate and radio controls are partly obscured from the driver when the transmission shift lever is in the “drive” position.

Nissan’s well-known 3.5-litre V6 fills the Quest’s engine bay, generating 253 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. This is the first Quest to use the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has become common in other Nissans, and as is common to all Nissan CVTs, this one works smoothly. It can be slow to “downshift” when more power is needed, however. Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption ratings are 11.1/8.1 L/100 km in the city and highway test cycles, respectively; in real-world driving, my tester averaged 13.3 L/100 km in the city and what I thought was a disappointing 9.6 L/100 km over 400 km of highway driving at speeds in the 80 to 110 km/h range.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL

With a starting price of $29,998, the Quest lines up pretty closely with its import rivals, but costs more than the Dodge Grand Caravan. Get into the higher-end trims, and the Nissan gets pricey, with the top-end LE running $48,498. If you’re after lots of luxury and technology, this is the most expensive van you can buy, particularly if you add the $2,000 dual-pane sunroof to the LE.

My tester was the SL, positioned two rungs up from the base trim and priced at $38,798. All Quests include cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power mirrors, six-way manual driver’s seat, keyless entry and pushbutton start and a removable second-row console. The SV model adds alloy wheels, fog lights, seat heaters, upgraded stereo display, USB port, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and dual-level front centre console and conversation mirror.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL

Basic kit in my SL model included 18-inch wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth, heated side mirrors, power liftgate and sliding doors, automatic headlights, leather seats, eight-way power driver’s seat and four-way power front passenger seat, one-touch-release third row seats and a backup camera. My tester also had the optional, $2,100 DVD player that will run video through the seven-inch screen in the dash, and an 11-inch display that folds out of the headliner for rear-seat riders. With that add-on, the total MSRP was $40,898, plus $1,600 freight.

The Quest does day-to-day minivan stuff well: it’s easy for people to get into, comfortable once they get there, and includes a handful of practical cargo touches. On the downside, the Quest is no deal in its higher trim levels, and the dull drive is a turn-off even by minivan standards.

 

The Big Idea: Practicality in its prime

As a vehicle type, the minivan is nearly 30 years old. Therefore, most of the major innovations have come and, if they were good ideas, stuck around. Think along the lines of dual sliding doors, seats that fold away into the floor and, gimmicky as it might be, the swivelling second row seats and hideaway table offered in the Dodge Grand Caravan.

So, what’s left? Not much, but a handful of manufacturers have included a couple of small, but useful, features in their recently-redesigned minivans.

In the Honda Odyssey, the second-row seats can move a few inches side-to-side, providing space to set three child seats across. And here’s a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that feature: a garbage bag ring that folds out of the back of the front-seat centre console – no more searching for an out-of-the-way place to hang a trash bag during those rolling road-trip fast-food lunches.

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite

2011 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite; photo courtesy Honda. Click to enlarge

Every minivan available at the moment has a third-row seat that folds away into the floor; the cavity it fits into can be used for cargo when the seat is upright. But Nissan did something unique in its 2011 Quest by designing the seat to fold forward, instead of toward the back, leaving that storage well free even when the seat is stowed. Hard panels that fit over the opening provide out-of-sight storage for valuables.

2011 Nissan Quest SL

2011 Nissan Quest SL; photo by Chris. Click to enlarge

Less practical, but still cool, is the second-row lounge seat that can be optioned into the Toyota Sienna, creating the kind of luxurious seating normally reserved for ultra-luxury sedans.

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited V6

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited V6; photo courtesy Toyota. Click to enlarge.

What will they think of next for this most versatile of vehicle type? We’ll have to wait a few years, until the next round of redesigns, to find out.

 
 

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