Good For: Being fuel efficient while being fun. Automakers are refining all sorts of technology to make cars more efficient, but most of them scare the auto enthusiast because we like cars that go fast and make lots of noise. While the Altima was not designed to be a sports car, driving it ended up being more fun than I expected. Big 4-cylinder engines like this 2.5L seem to always provide a nice amount of torque, but the CVT works the magic of efficiency while providing a fun driving experience. It will rumble at an ideal 1500 rpm when cruising at any speed, sipping gas without bogging down. This sort of efficiency is not represented by EPA numbers, which measure highway efficiency only at one speed - I was definitely beating 32 mpg, and New York City does not provide ideal highway conditions for efficiency. Open up the throttle, and the transmission ratio jumps up, giving you the same feedback as the downshift of any automatic transmission would. Keep the throttle planted and the engine spools up to the optimal speed for your throttle input, providing an interesting, constant rush of acceleration without the interruption of additional shifting. Surprisingly, I didn't miss those shifts, but found the jet-like behavior of the engine rather nice. A 175hp powerplant would provide decent performance under normal circumstances, but with the ability to constantly deliver it, at any speed, it's a surprisingly fast car.
Compromises: The parking break is a foot pedal - why put it there unless you need the space for a bench seat?
Overall reaction - Thumb up to Nissan for using technology to make cars both more efficient and fun. The Altima has changed my negative perception of CVTs to a positive one. Attention to many details (such as a center armrest that slides forward) makes this an excellent car.
Wednesday, 30th of March, 2011
Tuesday, 29th of March, 2011
Wednesday, 9th of March, 2011
Monday, 7th of March, 2011
Thursday, 3rd of March, 2011
Anyway, on to the car review of the week:
Good for: Being hip. Unlike the other boring Toyotas I've driven, this one tries to be hip with a non-circular steering wheel. I found four different places to store my hip coffee and naked juice containers while driving in to a very hip tech company customer this week. Wagons aren't hip anymore - rear quarter windows have shrunken to slits that don't serve any function except invite break-ins. But functionally the 2nd generation is the same size as the first. Call it a hatchback if you want to be hip - it's way shorter than a Corolla and easy to park in small spaces, while the rear hatch provides great cargo functionality.
Compromises: Unfortunately, the hip Toyota can't escape the problems that plague all other Toyotas, or maybe it's just the socialization of dumb Toyota designs so all can enjoy them. You still can't lock the car with the remote until doors are closed, and it's not on the long list of dealer-programmable options either. I also have the sluggish 4-speed auto, though it's smart enough to downshift for engine braking while in cruise control. It's stupid that the two trims that need the 5-speed the most to move this 3000-pound hip-mobile (the base 1.8L and the AWD) are exactly the ones that are stuck with the 4-speed. It doesn't have the gearing to keep the little 1.8L in its happier high-rpm power band. By the way, this hipster has gained weight. It's 265 pounds heavier than the Vibe I drove in 2002, turning this into the worst powertrain experience I can remember. By the way, it's also hip to have the goofy speedometer that encourages speeding through school zones (0 is straight down). I decided to be hip and Tweet my complaints, and how Toyota Motors is following me...
Overall reaction - Thumb down: Everything I liked about the first generation of this car is gone with the hip makeover. Actually, there is one exception - the dash-mounted shifter. The shift lever sitting right next to the steering wheel is perfect, but unfortunately it just had me longing even more for the 5-speed manual that I drove in 2002 instead of just "D". Cost-cutting seems to be the trend here - features that I liked are now optional (110V outlet, folding front passenger seat) while the price keeps climbing. When I was looking to buy one back in 2002 it was going to be a $13k car. And if I had actually bought it, I would have every reason to keep it instead of buying this "hip" Toyota offering.
Tuesday, 1st of March, 2011