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Executive wheels: Buzz kill

I’m not a big Nissan fan, overall, although a few of the line’s models – the innovative Juke, the ground-breaking, all-electric Leaf, the venerable Maxima   -- are very nice, very competitive vehicles. About 10 years ago, Nissan also showed some styling moxie with the Murano, which was a departure from the SUV market at the time.

And the Z – which is now the 370Z, having begun life more than 30 years ago as the Datsun 240Z – is one of the oldest sports-type cars on the market, with staying power that demonstrates its appeal. But for my money, most Nissan models are simply variations on the other Japanese brands, Toyota and Honda, and I have found those other two to be superior.

Not everyone agrees with me, of course. The Altima, which in made in Tennessee and debuted as a 1993 model, has become the second-largest selling passenger car in the country. They are everywhere on the road.

I have, however, driven just about every competitor – Honda Accord and Civic, Toyota Camry and Corolla, VW Passat and Jetta – and the Altima would be last on my list. I drove the brand-new 2014 model with the smaller engine, a 2.5-liter 4-banger with 182 hp, and while it is very quiet, it is only moderately comfortable. It has all of what you’d expect in standards, but nothing stands out as distinctive.

Two things about the car really bugged me – little things, but sometimes it’s the little things that matter.

One was the trunk. I have a habit of opening the trunk of any car I get to test drive pretty much before I get into the car. I want to know if it is sizeable, if it will fit golf bags (emphasis on the plural), and if it will handle luggage and stuff for a trip to the mountains or a ride to the airport.

As it turns out my wife and her girlfriends planned a trip for the week I had the Altima and I gave three women – and their five-day luggage each – a ride to DIA. When I first looked into the trunk, like someone would do at a dealership, I thought, “Hey, this is a nice large trunk.” But when I went to use it, things changed. The hinge bars on the trunk lid – those pillars that allow the trunk lid  to swing  up and down, are right in the trunk, so when you try and shut it with luggage, it won’t close. This design flaw pretty much takes about 30 percent of the useful space in the trunk away.

It was annoying. It annoyed me all the more a couple of days later when a friend of mine and I went to play golf and the trunk lid – once again – got in the way of stowing gear. This is one of those things that, if I owned the car, would continue to bug me no end.

The second thing was the side windows. Now this sounds trivial, but I assure you it isn’t, but on many of the mornings I had the Altima I got a lot of dew fogging up the windows, a situation that happens on every car from time to time. In other cars you simply roll the window down and the rubber gasket on the top of the door where the window tucks away simply squeegees off the moisture and away you go. Not in the Altima. Roll the windows down, then up again, and they come up still dewy and foggy – so much so that I had to go out of the car and wipe them off all the way around.

You never know what will annoy you – but these are two things you would never find on a typical test drive, and happiness over a new car would give way to buyer’s remorse.  

The Altima began life with the 1993 model, the first Nissan to be built in the U.S.  It has grown over the years, but given its mid-size designation and its price point, it is so similar to the Maxima that I don’t understand why Nissan bothers with making them both.

There are seven trims available in Altima, beginning with the base model with a 2.5-liter 4-banger with 182 hp (rated at 27 mpg city/38 mpg highway) and based priced at $21,860. At the upper end is the 3.5-liter V6 SL model, with a 270 hp engine rated at 22/31. I drove the 2.5 SV, base price $24,180, with the same smaller powerplant.

The car features a continuously variable automatic transmission, and while it runs smoothly, it is a bit sluggish, so the car feels as though it has less horsepower than advertised. On the other hand, with that gas mileage rating, perhaps I can put up with a slight lack of power.

I suppose the SV designation here is that this trim package includes more stuff – and, yes, this car as equipped was far from basic. It has tractikon control, ABS, power seats, a 5-inch color audio display, SiriusXM radio, rearview camera, Bluetooth with streaming audio, remote engine start (attention “puffers”), power outlets, and auto on/off headlamps. They also added on a Conveniece package for $1350, featuring a moon roof, compass, fog lights, and Homelink garage door openers, and a $1,090 Technology package with navigation (upping the color display to 7 inches), blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection. I do like the Nissan safety equipment.

The bottom line with $810 destination and $185 in floor mats is $27, 615. It is competitively priced, it is obviously a quite popular model given its status as the number two car in U.S. sales. It looks good and drives as well as anything else in the mid-sized Japanese car marketplace.

I just don’t get the buzz.


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Jeff Rundles

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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