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2020 Nissan Versa SR: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Any modern vehicle manufacturer can produce a good automobile if price is no object. The trick is to build a decent, affordable small car like the 2020 Nissan Versa.

The Versa has been around for more than a dozen years as Nissan’s entry-level economy car. Marketed as a subcompact but usually with the interior room of a larger car, it was offered as a four-door sedan and a hatchback, recently called the Versa Note.

Versa MMP4a-sourceIt has been consistently popular and in 2018 was the best seller  against the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, and Ford Fiesta.

For 2020, it may have a tougher uphill route because Nissan has axed the Note in favor of shunting shoppers toward its subcompact Kicks crossover sport utility vehicle, which some argue is more of a hatchback anyway because it does not offer all-wheel drive.

The 2020 Versa sedan is all-new, longer, lower and wider than its  frumpy predecessor, with more of a family resemblance to the midsize Altima. It even mimics European luxury brands by offering extra-cost exterior paint jobs.

One was the focus of this review, a top-line SR model done up in “Scarlett Ember,” one of eight colors. It cost an additional $395. Even at that, however, the test car had a bottom-line sticker of $20,040, about 15 grand less than the current average price of a new car.

Versa MMP10a-sourceBut if you have a tighter budget, you can order an entry-level Versa S with a base price of $15,625, including the destination charge. That’s with a five-speed manual gearbox. Add Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and the price jumps to $17,295.

That price covers full basic safety equipment plus automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane departure warning, rear-view camera (without line markers) and high-beam headlight assist. It also includes Siri eyes-free Google assistant with voice recognition. All Versa models come with pushbutton starting.

The cool thing about the S is that, like cars everywhere, it is equipped with the basics anybody would need, including the 122-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 114 lb-ft of torque that delivers a government city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  32/40/35 mpg with the CVT.

Versa MMP7a-sourceThat doesn’t sound like a hot car on paper and it is not. But the S and its sibling SV and SR trim levels are quite comfortable in any driving situation anyone is likely to encounter on American’s increasingly clogged streets and freeways.

You won’t win many stoplight drag races, but acceleration is strong enough for urban traffic, freeway merging and passing on two-lane roads as long as you allow enough space. The CVT transmission, which ordinarily has no shift points, is one of the better units of its kind, and Nissan incorporates a system called D-Step that adds a kick-down shift for more responsive passing power.

2020 Nissan Versa SV-1-sourceSurprisingly, the base S model rides comfortably and is nearly as quiet a highway cruiser as the SR test car, perhaps benefitting from smaller 15-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers and fatter tires than the 17-inch alloy wheels with skinnier sidewalls on the SR trim. There was little mechanical and wind noise, and the main intrusion — as on the top-line SR — came from the tires on the variety of irregular pavements found everywhere.

The tested top-line SR adds blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, remote starting, leather-wrapped steering wheel and LED headlights.

2020 Nissan Versa SV-2-sourceIt also came with Nissan’s back-seat warning system, which could save the life of a child or pet left in a closed car on a hot summer day. The system activates when you open a rear door to place a child or something else in back. Later, when you shut down the engine and leave the car, visual and audio warnings are activated to remind you to check.

With 89 cubic feet of space for passengers, the Versa SR delivered supportive and comfortable so-called “zero gravity” seats up front, with upgraded cloth upholstery, and adequate head and knee room in the outboard back seats for average-sized humans. However, as in most cars, the center-rear passenger gets an uncomfortable perch with a floor hump and intrusion of the center console.

The trunk is uncommonly large for a compact car, at 15 cubic feet, and the rear seatbacks fold for additional cargo. However, the trunk lid’s C-hinges are not protected and could damage luggage and other contents.

2020 Nissan Versa

Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Nissan Versa SR four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder; 122 hp, 114 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: D-Step Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 89/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,729 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 32/40/35 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $19,135.
  • Price as tested: $20,040.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Versa MMP2a-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As a new trim level, the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek arrives as the least truck-like sport utility vehicle in the Pathfinder lineup during its more than three-decade history in the United States.

This is a fully realized midsized crossover SUV in the current idiom that leans more toward family transportation and long-distance cruising  than off-road bashing around in bush country. It is neither expensively luxurious nor barefoot economical but a decent performer at a competitive price.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There are three rows of seats for seven passengers, so this Pathfinder can substitute for a minivan, though overall it is not as commodious, especially for beach-vacation cargo. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft, allowing a division of knee room that enables third- and second-row adult passengers enough space for moderate comfort.

Original Pathfinders were built like Nissan’s Hard Body compact pickup trucks, with body-on-frame construction. As used vehicles, they were sought after by rock climbers and mountain bikers without the wherewithal to purchase expensive Jeeps or Land Rovers. Their main competitor was the Toyota 4Runner and the short-lived Isuzu Trooper.

Nissan at Chicago Auto Show

There was some indecision along the way. From 1996 to 2004, the Pathfinder became a crossover with unit-body construction, though it retained the looks of a truck. Then it was redesigned again as a body-on-frame SUV, where it remained until 2013, when it returned to a car-like unit-body.

Today, competitors include the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia and Mazda CX-9.

Customers familiar with Washington, D.C., will immediately associate the Rock Creek Edition with the creek and park of the same name that runs up the spine of the city. But Nissan says the name was chosen to connect the vehicle’s rugged heritage to outdoor-adventure minded families.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-24-sourceThe Rock Creek Edition package is available on the Pathfinder’s midlevel SV and upscale SL trim levels, in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. Tested for this review was the SV with all-wheel drive. It had a base price of $37,005 and, with the Rock Creek package and a few other options, topped out at $39,675. Both prices include the destination charge.

Rock Creek items include special tires on 18-inch alloy wheels with a smoky patina, and black mesh grille, roof rails, door handles, outside rearview mirrors and fender details. Inside are unique two-tone seats (upholstered with comfortable cloth on the SV tester), metallic trim and high-contrast stitching on seats, doors, console lid and steering wheel.

The Rock Creek comes with adaptive cruise control and safety equipment that includes automatic emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and tire-pressure monitoring along with basic traction control , rear camera and electronic brake-force distribution.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-20-sourceOptional equipment included Nissan Connect infotainment with a navigation system, SXM satellite radio, and heated front seats, outside rearview mirrors and steering wheel.

Controls are intuitive and consist of a touch screen, large knobs and buttons. There even are redundant radio pre-set buttons in addition to those on the screen. However, USB and charge ports are so far back in a center stack cubby they are nearly inaccessible. Fortunately, there are extras ports in the console.

The Pathfinder is powered by 284-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 259 lb-ft of torque. On the tested all-wheel drive SV, the power travels to all four wheels via Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). Both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-8-sourceSome critics routinely bash CVTs, which multiply torque with systems of belts and pulleys or, in some cases, with gears. Their main characteristic is a lack of shift points, so acceleration is smooth and seamless. However, some CVTs feel and sound as if they are slipping.

That’s not the case with the Pathfinder and other CVTs from Nissan, which arguably has more experience with them than other manufacturers. Moreover, the transmission on the Pathfinder incorporates a kick-down passing gear that mimics a conventional automatic.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-12-sourceWith ample power from the smooth-running V6, the Rock Creek Pathfinder is an amiable highway companion. It cruises quietly and effortlessly with few steering corrections needed in straight-line driving. Of course, it is no sports sedan but handles curves capably as long as it’s not pushed too hard.

A twist knob allows the driver to select two-wheel drive for economy, automatic all-wheel drive and locking all-wheel drive for gooey or gravelly conditions. Though marketed as a rugged vehicle, the Pathfinder is not equipped for serious off-roading.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-19-sourceSpecifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Pathfinder SV Rock Creek Edition four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 284 hp, 259 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Nissan Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 (47, 80) cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,448 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 6,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,005.
  • Price as tested: $39,675.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek-21-sourcePhotos (c) Nissan

Is a BEV in Your Future?

by Jason Fogelson

I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.

That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.

Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.

2019 Sentra SR TurboHere’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:

Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00

Total: $3,030.00

Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.

2018 Nissan Sentra

There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.

You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.

You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.

But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.

Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:

2018 Nissan Sentra

2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
$33,228.75 Total

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
$31,500.00 Total

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.

After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.

2019 Nissan LEAF e+

Photos (c) Nissan

2019 Nissan Maxima and Murano: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Even when you are fundamentally healthy like Nissan’s 2019 Maxima sedan and Murano crossover SUV, it never hurts to add some bling to enhance your appeal.

Usually it happens midway through a model run. In the automobile biz, they call it a refresh — changes that present a new face and personality to prospective customers.

2019 Nissan Maxima-7Both the sport- and luxury-oriented Maxima sedan and the Murano midsize crossover are marketed by Nissan as top-of-the line flagships. Though they do not compete in the luxury segment — that’s the job of the company’s Infiniti brand — the 2019 designs nudge them closer. They are intended to appeal to buyers who want luxury content without big price tags.

Of the two, the Maxima needs the most help. Reflecting the nation-wide trend among buyers toward crossovers and away from sedans, the Maxima’s sales have dropped precipitously in 2018. The Murano, on the other hand, is on a path to increase sales.

MikeDitzPhoto.com

The Maxima competes in the near-luxury, large car class, although like Toyota’s Avalon, it actually is classified by the government as a midsize car.

From a performance standpoint, the Maxima doesn’t need a thing. It is powered by a 300-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine with 261 lb-ft of torque delivered to the front wheels through Nissan’s Xtronic continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The combination earns a city/highway/combined fuel economy of 20/30/24 mpg.

Some critics deride CVTs, which have no shift points, as noisy and sluggish. But Nissan arguably has more experience with them than any manufacturer and it shows on the Maxima. Throttle response is quick, smooth and powerful. Also, the Maxima handles curving roads like a sports sedan. Straight-line cruising is quiet and effortless with few steering corrections needed.

2019 Nissan Maxima-16The new appeal is mostly about appearances, especially on the tested top-line Maxima Platinum with the Reserve package, though there are safety enhancements as well. With a bottom-line sticker of $43,835, it was loaded with the full 2019 package of safety and luxury enhancements.

One is Nissan’s new rear door alert. The system notes if you open a rear door to stash a package — or a child — in the back seat. At the end of the trip, if you leave without re-opening the back door, it will sound the horn.

Other freshening included Nissan’s V-Motion styling, which sends body lines flowing from the distinctive grille up and over the body. LED headlights and taillights punctuate the styling and augment interior color schemes and accents. The taillights give the impression of width and streamlining.

2019 Nissan Maxima-13The Maxima’s Reserve package, with a $1,140 price tag, includes heated rear seats, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, “Rakuda tan” leather upholstery with diamond-quilted seating areas, two-tone leather covered steering wheel, charcoal headliner and pillars, and satin bronze interior trim.

Similarly, the Murano moves closer to luxury territory with new colors like its rusty-shiny “Sunset Drift Chromaflair.”  Along with the Maxima, it also incorporates the company’s Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking, rear braking, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-sport warning. One apparent shortcoming: there’s no mention of lane-departure assist.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-10Though not as powerful as its sibling Maxima, the Murano contains enough oomph to avoid embarrassment in the stoplight sprints or on the freeways. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 260 hp with 240 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the front wheels or all four wheels through the Xtronic CVT.

The version tested for this review was the mid-priced SV trim level with front-wheel drive. It had a base price of $35,485 and, with a modest list of options, checked in at $39,230. Add $1,600 if you want all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 mpg.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-24Handling, of course, is not as crisp as the Maxima’s but the Murano acquits itself well, with little body roll, on twisting mountain roads. Its forte, however, is more attuned to quiet, straight-line cruising with the audio cranked up and the kids on their video games with earphones.

The SV trim eschews leather upholstery in favor of a sturdy embossed cloth, which to some people — including this critic — is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather. On the Murano, the cloth covers a supportive seat structure that takes the fatigue out of long-distance cruising.

A nearly flat floor should enhance comfort in the center-rear seating position. Unfortunately, the cushion is high and hard, and knee room is compromised by intrusion of the center console.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-11Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Maxima Platinum Reserve four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 300 hp, 261 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,676 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/30/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,335.
  • Price as tested: $43,835.

*   *   *

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Murano SV four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 260 hp, 240 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Xtronic continuously-variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 103/31 cubic feet. (65)
  • Weight: 3,837 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/28/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,485
  • Price as tested: $39,230.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Nissan Murano_F1-5Photos (c) Nissan

2018 Miami Auto Show: A DriveWays Report…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Miami Beach, Fla. — One of the stars of the Miami International Auto Show in October was a modified Nissan Titan pickup truck that looked like a survival vehicle prowling the landscape in a dystopian future.

Ultimate Service TITAN 2018

But there were no machine guns or rockets for defense, and it was very much intended for offensive survival in the present. Called the “Ultimate Service Titan,” the truck was conceived, developed and manufactured by Nissan with the American Red Cross spelling out its requirements for hurricane and other disaster relief duties.

Based on the Titan XD Diesel Midnight Edition Crew Cab, the pickup has a special extended commercial-grade ladder frame, raised chassis for ground clearance and other enhanced off-road capabilities. It is powered by a 310-hp, 5.0-liter Cummins diesel engine that develops 555 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force. To extend the range, the Ultimate Service Titan comes with a 75-gallon fuel tank.

Ultimate Service TITAN 2018

Substantial modifications transformed the four-door full-size truck into a mobile command center with a power generator and Wi-Fi hotspot for communications.

With a desk, couch and bed, the command center can function as an aid station with facilities to collect and deliver blood donations. It also can double as a shelter with food service. Equipment includes a microwave, stove, sink and refrigerator. Besides the bed inside for treatment or rest, there’s a tent on the command center roof.

Ultimate Service TITAN 2018

Nissan donated the Ultimate Service Titan to the Red Cross of South Florida, where it will be used by first responders. Though a one-of-a-kind now, it struck this observer as a vehicle with commercial possibilities.

Jeremy Meadows, a Nissan senior marketing manager, said the out-the-door cost of the truck was $125,000 — certainly affordable by many governmental and private disaster relief organizations.

Ultimate Service TITAN 2018

2019 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With its groundbreaking new engine, all-wheel drive and other enhancements, the 2019 Nissan Altima bolsters the Big Three of Japan’s in-your-face challenge to the surging popularity of crossover sport utility vehicles.

Chevrolet, Ford and Fiat Chrysler of the USA are in the process of eliminating sedans from their lineups, betting on pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, crossover SUVs and small numbers of sports cars as the wave of the future.

2019 Nissan Altima-1At the same time, Japan’s Toyota, Honda and Nissan are rolling out new and more desirable midsize sedans to continue offering full lines of vehicles. The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord were all-new for 2018 and now Nissan joins them with the 2019 Altima.

The company argues that sedans are far from becoming museum pieces. According to Nissan’s research, the annual U.S. market includes six million sedans, with two million of those midsize. That’s about 35% of the 17 million cars and light trucks sold in 2017.

Moreover, the company is targeting young professionals and calculates that 44% of generation Z customers (born between 1995 and 2010) intend to buy sedans while 18% will choose two-row SUVs and crossovers, and 11% will pick three-row crossovers and SUVs.

2019 Nissan Altima-11The numbers are different for generation Y millennial intenders (born between 1980 and the end of 1994), with 30% ripe to buy sedans, 27% two-row and 18% three-row SUVs and crossovers.

With such rosy assumptions, it’s no surprise that Nissan loaded the new Altima with its biggest investment in new basic architecture in the last 20 years and its highest-ever investment in a new powertrain, including two new engines.

The most radical, state-of-the art engine is the all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with variable compression, called the VC-Turbo. It’s a world first in a production car. The technology continuously changes the engine’s compression ratio while underway anywhere from 8:1 for high performance and 14:1 for maximum efficiency.

2019 Nissan Altima-19The VC-Turbo makes 248 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque while delivering city/highway/combined fuel economy of 25/34/29 mpg on regular gasoline. Power gets to the front wheels via Nissan’s continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The VC-Turbo replaces the Altima’s previous 3.5-liter V6 engine.

Though the VC-Turbo is the star, there’s a second new engine — a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is expected to power the highest number of sales of the new Altima. With direct fuel injection, it makes 179 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque.

2019 Nissan Altima-20For the first time, the Altima will be offered with all-wheel drive for an extra $1,350, but for now only with the 2.5-liter engine. Nissan did not rule out all-wheel drive for the VC-Turbo but for the time being it will be equipped only with front-wheel drive.

Fuel economy varies depending on the engine and trim level. There are five trim levels with the 2.5-liter engine: S, SR, SV, SL and Platinum. With the VC-Turbo there are three: SR, Platinum and Edition One. The last is a special introductory model limited to 3,900 copies.

Driven for this review were an all-wheel drive 2.5-liter Platinum and the front-drive VC-Turbo SR, with the focus on the latter with its all-new variable compression technology. The 2.5-liter had an EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 25/35/31 mpg; the V-Turbo SR was rated at 25/34/29.

2019 Nissan Altima-22Both versions displayed robust acceleration and secure handling, though the 3.5-liter exhibited a bit of body roll in rapid cornering. The V-Turbo was quicker off the line with sharper moves on twisting roads. Both were quiet cruisers though the VC-Turbo engine was a bit raucous under hard acceleration.

Nissan’s Intelligent CVT exhibited little of the droning and feeling of slipping exhibited by other CVTs as engine revolutions build. For years, Nissan has focused intensely on CVT development and builds some of the better units.

2019 Nissan Altima-21With Nissan’s so-called zero gravity seats and a supple ride, the new Altima is a serene cruiser. Front seats are supportive and long-distance comfortable. Outboard rear seats have plenty of knee and headroom, and even the center-rear position is spacious with a truncated but resilient cushion.

The new Altima is longer, lower and wider by one inch than its predecessor, though the flowing styling does not affect interior space.

Nissan has made what it views as a rational choice by investing in the Altima. With sales of 5.7 million overall and 254,996 in 2017, it continues in the top three in sales of midsize sedans. You could call it the company’s bread, butter and jam.

2019 Nissan Altima-15Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Nissan Altima SR V-Turbo four-door sedan.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter variable-compression four-cylinder, turbocharged; 248 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,418 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $30,045.
  • Price as tested: $30,045.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019 Nissan Altima-6Photos (c) Nissan

2018 Nissan Kicks: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If the 2018 Nissan Kicks landed a part in a western movie, bystanders likely would be moved to say, “Seems like a mighty fine ride.”

The Kicks is the latest in a proliferation of small crossover sport utility vehicles, though it is not accurate to call them subcompacts because their interior volume – the combination passenger and cargo space — nearly matches that of a midsize sedan.

2018 Nissan Kicks Blue

For the Kicks, it amounts to 119 cubic feet, with 94 cubes for passengers and 25 for cargo behind the back seat. Another cubic foot and the interior space would be in the federal government’s large car category.

It becomes apparent when you climb inside. The Kicks has ample head-, shoulder- and knee-room front and back. Even the center-rear passenger, who usually is dissed in most vehicles, gets almost as much room, with a nearly flat floor, as the outboard passengers, although he or she must sit on a raised, hard cushion.

Nissan regards the Kicks’s main competitors as the Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport and the all-new Hyundai Kona. But there are others, including the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR and Chevrolet Trax.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Although some of these can be ordered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the Kicks — like the Toyota C-HR — comes only with front-drive. It also betrays its economy orientation with disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear wheels. But they are effective given the Kicks’s light weight.

It’s an endearing package for young couples or singles with limited budgets. Nissan says the styling was inspired by a concept car that made its debut in Brazil. Five youth-oriented two-tone paint combinations are available.

There are four trim levels, starting with the base S model and moving up to the SV, SR and the tested SR Premium, which is the top of the line. Prices start at $18,965 for the S, $20,665 for the SV and $21,265 for the SR. The SR Premium adds $1,000 for a total of $22,265.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Standard equipment on all versions includes automatic emergency braking, cruise control, hill-start assist, power windows, hands-free telephone system, Bluetooth connectivity, pushbutton starting, keyless locking, automatic headlights and roof rails.

Features on upper level models include Apple CarPlay, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, alloy wheels, SXM satellite radio, heated outside mirrors, LED low-beam headlights, around-view camera and remote starting.

The tested SR Premium had all of that plus an upscale Bose audio system with eight speakers, a security system and heated cloth front seats with faux leather trim. The seats, using Nissan’s “zero gravity” design, were particularly luxurious with superb support and comfort.

B-Roll video: 2018 Nissan Kicks

At just an inch more than 14 feet long, five feet two inches tall and weighing just 2,672 pounds, the Kicks is quick, maneuverable and economical in urban traffic, as well as on desolate freeways and curving mountain roads. It cruises quietly at freeway-plus speeds, delivers an acceptable ride on rough surfaces and holds a straight line without frequent steering corrections.

Though its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has but 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, the light weight combined with a vigorous continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) delivers instant throttle response, making it feel faster than it is. Some critics bash CVTs for their lack of shift points, as well as sounds and a feel that the transmission is slipping.

2018 Nissan Kicks

That’s not the case here. Of all the manufacturers, Nissan likely has the most experience with CVTs and it shows. Unless you are overly sensitive or picky, you won’t even notice anything unusual. Mash the throttle or feather-foot it, the Kicks easily moves off.

City/highway/combined fuel economy on the SR Premium is rated by the EPA at 31/36/33 mpg.

The cargo area behind the second-row seats is well-designed and roomy. Space more than doubles from 25 to 53 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded. However, though they fold flat they are a step above the cargo floor. There’s an overhead privacy cover and a temporary spare tire resides under the cargo floor. Moreover, the tailgate rises high enough for a six-foot-tall person to load or unload without ducking.

Though the Nissan folks say that the Kicks is not a replacement for its quirky Juke, the Juke itself is going away from the U.S. market. Its Kicks replacement amounts to a more than worthy replacement and entry in the increasingly competitive small crossover class.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Nissan Kicks SR Premium four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 125 hp, 115 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/25 cubic feet. (53)
  • Weight: 2,672 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 31/36/33 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $21,265.
  • Price as tested: $22,025.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018 Nissan Kicks

Photos (c) Nissan

2018 Chicago Auto Show

by Jason Fogelson

I went to the 2018 Chicago Auto Show last week as a guest of Nissan, and I covered the event for Autobytel.com. Here’s a link to my article for them, which was entitled “Must See Vehicles from the 2018 Chicago Auto Show.”

I love going to the Chicago Auto Show. Of the major US new car shows, it is always the most relaxed and easy to navigate. The event happens at McCormick Place, a massive convention center, and the lucky journalists stay in one of the high-rise hotels that are connected to the building — which means that the weather is not a factor during the day. And that was a good thing this year, as the weather was cold, snow fell constantly and there was no reason for man nor beast to be outside.

The trip in was a pleasure, as Nissan invited Detroit-area-based journalists to travel to Chicago with them via Amtrak. Getting to my closest train station in Dearborn was a bit of a struggle, as the big snow storm extended across the Midwest and dropped several inches of the white stuff on the roads during the night before my departure. I had planned to take a Lyft or Uber for the 10-mile trip to the station, but when I was ready to leave, there were no willing drivers available. I had to wake my wife, who donned her winter coat over her pajamas without complaint and drove me through the snow-covered streets. The train trip to Chicago took about four hours, most of which I spent chatting with other journalists. Nissan shuttled us to the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, where warm rooms awaited.

On the first night, I attended Nissan’s welcome party in an adjacent hotel ballroom, and then took an Uber to the Lexus party in an event space on the other side of downtown. Lexus had a 10th Anniversary F-Sport RC-F on display, along with a West Coast Customs replica of the Black Panther’s LC. An Uber back to the hotel afterwards, and on to bed.

In the morning, I attended the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) breakfast, with a keynote address from Subaru of America’s CEO, Thomas Doll. Then, it was off to the show, running from press conference to press conference. At the end of the day, my dogs were barking, but I still found the energy to jump on a shuttle to Geno’s East for the annual Mazda Pizza Party. I’m not really a deep dish guy, but it was a very nice meal and a good time hanging out with Mazda PR folk and auto journalists. I had a ticket for a music event, Sweet Home Chicago, but chose instead to return to the hotel for some rest.

The next day, more press conferences, more snow, lots of writing. I made a quick swing through the show floor to take some photos (I’m sharing some here for your viewing), and prepared for my flight home. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans, as I got notices from Delta Airlines that my plane was delayed from a 4:45 pm departure to 9:00 pm. I decided to punt, and bought a ticket on the 5:40 pm Amtrak from Union Station back to Dearborn, because I was pretty sure I’d make it home — and it would be better than sleeping at O’Hare airport. I finally pulled in to Dearborn station at 1:00 am, and made it home by 2:00 am in an Uber.

All-in-all, an excellent trip, made a little bit frustrating by the weather. It could have been worse — I could still be sleeping at O’Hare.

Photos (c) Jason Fogelson.

 

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Not only does the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport give its maker a promising addition to an extensive lineup of cars, trucks, crossovers and an SUV, it has the potential to boost the Rogue to the top of the sales heap.

All-new (to the U.S.), the crossover Sport is smaller than its compact sibling. Its length is a foot shorter, height six inches shorter and the interior volume is smaller by about nine cubic feet — almost all of it from the cargo area. It also is lighter by couple of hundred pounds and has a less powerful engine.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

The Rogue Sport has been sold as the Qashqai around the world since 2006. The name comes from an area in Iran and one source says it translates as “a horse with a white forehead.” Nissan Americanized it to bolster the Rogue lineup.

There’s the opportunity. Because it uses the same Rogue name, the Sport’s sales likely will be combined with the larger model. It would be as if the subcompact crossover Honda HR-V’s sales were lumped in with the best-selling compact CR-V.

In 2016, Honda CR-V sales totaled 357,335, compared to the Rogue’s 329,904. However, the Rogue, which is Nissan’s best seller, has been nipping away at the CR-V and passed it in the first quarter of 2017 with 101,421 sales compared to 94,057 for the CR-V.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

A quarter, of course, does not necessarily portend what will happen over an entire calendar year. But the addition of the Rogue Sport to the Rogue’s sales statistics enhances its prospects to overtake the leader.

It is possible that the Rogue and Rogue Sport numbers will be reported separately. But an analogous precedent could be the Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, whose sales are combined. The former is a large, three-row crossover and the latter is a midsize, two-row crossover.

However it is viewed, the new Rogue Sport is an intriguing vehicle. Its tidier dimensions and lighter weight make for nimble handling in urban traffic and clogged freeways. The 141-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, sending its power through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), provides decent acceleration off the line and good passing power thanks to Nissan’s D-Step tuning of the CVT, which mimics the kick-down passing gear of a standard automatic.

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The Rogue Sport delivers spacious comfort up front with seats that offer support for long-distance driving. In back, the outboard seats have enough head and knee room for average-sized humans, though the center-rear position—as in most vehicles these days—is substantially less comfortable with foot room limited by a floor hump.

Out back, there’s a cargo area of 23 cubic feet, about double what you’d find in a compact sedan. Fold the rear seatbacks and the cargo area expands to 61 cubic feet.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Like the Rogue itself, the Rogue Sport comes with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available as a $1,350 option on all three trim levels: S, which starts at $22,380; SV at $23,980, and SL at $27,030. Tested for this review was an all-wheel drive SL with two options packages that brought its suggested delivered price to $31,365.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT are standard on all models, as is a basic suite of safety equipment; a fully independent suspension system, and electric power steering with a sport setting. When the sport setting is engaged, it increases the steering effort, so slightly that it’s almost unnoticeable.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

With its options packages, the top-line SL came with adaptive cruise control, rear camera with around-view monitor, lane departure monitoring and prevention, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.

SL equipment also included leather-appointed front seats, the Nissan Connect system with navigation, Sirius XM satellite radio and other services, a 7-inch color touch-screen display, remote engine starting, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, motorized glass sunroof, 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights, heated outside mirrors, and leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel.

2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

An innovative “Divide-N-Hide” rear cargo area uses a system where panels can be positioned upright to convert the area into compartments for securing grocery bags and other items.

With the addition of the Rogue Sport, Nissan fields a double-barreled approach to the burgeoning small and compact crossover SUV market segment. A Nissan engineer confided that if it was just her, she’d go for the Sport. But she has two kids and will stick with the regular Rogue.

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SL four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, 141 hp, 147 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,415 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/30/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,380.
  • Price as tested: $31,365.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

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Photos (c) Nissan.

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