Review: Nissan XTerra

2013 Nissan Xterra‘Kickin’ it old school’ and ‘Keepin’ it real’ are two much abused phrases today, but in the case of the Nissan XTerra, these are absolute truths. The first XTerra saw the light of day as a 2000 model, followed by a second generation bowing in 2005, and that is essentially the same XTerra you will find at a Nissan dealer lot in 2014. So yes, change with the Xterra tends to move at a glacial pace, but you need to understand what the XTerra is about to understand why that is perfectly acceptable.

The XTerra is based off of the Nissan Frontier pick up truck, the way every car company did its SUV’s before the crossover existed. In appearance, the XTerra is upright, purposeful, and most of all, dead serious. With an imposing front fascia, knobby tires, over the top roof rack and sharply sculpted fender flares, the XTerra in stock form almost looks as if it do duty as a Dakar Rally support vehicle. Backing up that persona are roof mounted off-road lights, roof mounted air dam gear basket, rear side bumper steps and a front tow hook. From the outside, the XTerra puts the ‘U’ in Utility, and the overall look is classic SUV, looks terrific, and oozes character in a growing sea of wishy-washy crossovers. Put another way, this is not a vehicle you will spot your typical suburban housewife flitting between Starbuck’s and her mani/pedi appointment.

2013 Nissan XterraClimb inside, and the utility theme continues. There is nothing superfluous or fancy to be found here. No nod whatsoever to style. In fact, the XTerra’s dashboard and controls are so simple compared to its contemporaries it is almost shocking. To some, the minimalism shown here may be extreme, bordering on the austere, but pause here for a moment, and look again. Acres of unforgiving hard plastic and a lack of gimmicks all add up to an interior that is ready to be beaten up. The XTerra’s cabin was designed to be abused. Yet for as primitive the XTerra’s interior appears, all the tech features one would expect to find on a current SUV are accounted for.

All XTerra’s share the same engine, a 4.0L V-6, rated at 261hp. You can order your XTerra as a 4×2 or 4×4. Rear-wheel drive only XTerra’s are only available with a five-speed automatic. Go for the 4×4 (honestly, if you are committing to this car, why wouldn’t you?), and you have a choice of a six-speed manual or the automatic. Our 4×4 was fitted with the automatic. Acceleration was more than adequate, and no doubt offers enough grunt in difficult off-road situations. And the XTerra should shine off-road. I know, because I have driven both am XTerra and the Frontier on which it is based at IMPA’s Test Days off-road course, set up and designed by Land Rover, the benchmark of all off-roaders. Trust me, the XTerra has the chops it takes for some brutal off-roading. And it’s fun too.

That’s important to keep in mind, because around town, the XTerra, while fully capable, never lets you forget you are essentially driving a truck ready for severe off-roading. If you’re OK with that, no problem. But if you are contemplating an XTerra, knowing full well you will never subject it to anything harsher than a dirt road, you should really ask yourself if you are willing to live with the compromises an SUV with such impressive off-road capabilities comes with. And if your answer is yes, then my next question is who are you trying to impress? There are simply too many other alternatives offering the space and utility of an XTerra that are much easier to live with on a daily basis. Buying an XTerra with the intent of never taking it off-road makes as much sense as buying a Nissan GT-R and never intending to exceed the speed limit.

2013 Nissan XterraThe XTerra is available in three trim levels: base X, S, and top-spec PRO-4X. Our test car was the PRO-4X. Standard equipment backs up the off-road ability with features such as Bilstein shocks, Hill Descent Control, Hill Start Assist and OWL rugged trail tires. Other standard features include navigation, Rockford Fosgate premium audio, SiriusXM satellite radio, iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, RearView Monitor, First Aid Kit, and multiple 12V DC outlets. Fitted with only a couple accessories, our XTerra rings in at a respectable $31,925USD, including destination charges.

The XTerra is impressive in that it has remained true to its mission since day one as a no-frills, no-nonsense, go-anywhere SUV. That type of vehicle is quickly becoming extinct. Toyota announced that 2014 will be the FJ’s last year, and that pretty much leaves the XTerra and Jeep Wrangler, not to mention stripped versions of the Toyota 4Runner as the last of their kind. Is it the SUV for everyone? No, and it was never intended to be. And to those who own XTerra’s and never ventured further than a dirt path, you owe it to yourself to find a local off-road club and discover all the fun you’ve been missing. You’ll thank me later.

Review: 2013 Nissan Pathfinder

IMG_1732The mid-1980′s saw the rise of the mid-size off-road capable sport utility vehicle, able to tackle rough terrain while carrying a family of four and their gear. It was a great idea. Credit the Jeep Cherokee, followed by the Toyota 4Runner, and then, in 1986, the Nissan Pathfinder. The recipe? Very simple. Take a Nissan Hardbody pickup truck, extend the wheelbase and add a permanent cab. Whammo, instant Pathfinder. Within a couple years the Pathfinder would become a four door, and added all the luxury features you could dream of. But at the heart of it, the Pathfinder was a truck, with serious off-road cred.

Then, in 2000, things got a little strange at Nissan. The Xterra made its debut. The Xterra was a modern incarnation of the original Pathfinder, which had moved upmarket. Still, I wondered why Nissan needed two seriously capable SUV’s of similar size, in addition to the full-size Armada fighting for buyers. My answer came in the form of the all-new, fourth generation Pathfinder. It is not only all new, it is a different kind of vehicle. No longer a proper SUV, the Pathfinder is now a bona fide crossover. Purists and car geeks, you have my permission to sob at the Pathfinder’s transformation. I liken it to people who consider themselves Elton John fans. On the one side, you have fans who prefer ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’, and on the other, weepy 1990′s bland ballads. I can’t even think of a song title, they all sound the same. But, that is the case with the Pathfinder-same name, but now speaking directly to an entirely different audience.

Remember, this is a business, and Nissan wants to appeal to as many people as possible. And turning the Pathfinder into a crossover has proven an overnight sales success. Last year, Nissan sold two Pathfinders for every one XTerra. This year? The XTerra sales are flat, but Nissan now sells FIVE Pathfinders for every single Xterra. Sure, the Pathfinder traded in its mojo in order to become kid tested, and mom approved, but Nissan is laughing all the way to the bank.

The Pathfinder now rides upon a platform shared with the Altima and Murano. So, any resemblance to Pathfinders of the past are long gone. Nissan even abandoned the Pathfinder’s trademark rear door handles integrated into the door pillar. What we’re left with is a fairly attractive, unoffensive and utterly forgettable shape. If not for the Nissan grill treatment, it would be impossible for most people to identify what kind of vehicle they are looking at. Our test car, finished in a somber Dark Slate did not help matters. The Pathfinder virtually disappeared in crowded parking lots.

IMG_1741While the original Pathfinder’s cabin offered all the luxury and refinement of an abandoned cabin in the woods, the current Pathfinder is quite the opposite. Three rows of seating, plenty of space make for a versatile and easy to live with interior for families. Fit and finish are impeccable, quality of materials are excellent, and despite offering all the latest technology, the Pathfinder is simple and intuitive to use. However, I cannot help but think whoever at Nissan ordered this particular Pathfinder was feeling down that day. Complimenting the Dark Slate exterior was a Charcoal interior. With no sunroof, and privacy glass surrounding most of the car, the Pathfinder’s interior was, like the exterior, rather somber and serious. White stitching on the comfortable leather seats, faux wood trim and silver trim help to break up the monotony, but the overriding feeling is sitting in the dark.

The new Pathfinder is available with a 3.5L V-6, rated at 260hp, paired to a Continuously Variable Transmission. Buyers can choose either front wheel or all-wheel drive. Our test car was equipped with all-wheel drive. Acceleration from a start was a little lethargic, but then the car seemed to wake up and go. Most people agree that Nissan makes the best CVT’s in the business, and I am one of them. That said, it’s like a restaurant in your town saying they make the best liverwurst. With the Pathfinder’s engine wailing uphill, droning endlessly until quieting down, I am gritting my teeth, knowing damn well you used to be able to buy a Pathfinder with a manual transmission. But that’s me. In the real world, most people either won’t notice or care. Fuel economy figures from the EPA show 19/25 MPG City/Highway. Not bad for a an all-wheel drive car of this size. And Nissan’s argument for putting in a CVT. Around town, the Pathfinder has enough torque the motor boating effect inherent of CVT’s is a non-issue. For a seven passenger crossover, the ride is obviously geared toward comfort, and the Pathfinder proves itself to be a very smooth cruiser. Finally, our Pathfinder had a towing limit of 5,000lbs, which is pretty generous for a crossover.

The Pathfinder can be had in S, SV, SL and Platinum trim levels. Our test car was an all-wheel drive SL. Standard features included 18″ alloys, power driver and passenger front seats, front and rear heated leather seats, push button ignition, three-zone auto climate control, six speaker audio with SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, 7″ color monitor, RearView Monitor, rear sonar, power lift gate and fog lights. Adding some minor accessories like splash guards, roof rail cross bars, floor mats and the Trailer Tow Package, our Pathfinder rings in at $37,945USD, including destination charges.

IMG_1735As I conclude my review of the Pathfinder, it is with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am a car guy, and I get emotional about cars. Nissan took the fabled Pathfinder name and applied it to a car that bears absolutely no resemblance to its ancestors. In other words, they sold out. On the other hand, they had no choice but to sell out. The Pathfinder as we knew it had become a dinosaur, and was becoming irrelevant. The Xterra remains for those who demand a true SUV ready tackle anything, and the Murano crossover, stylish as it is, does not offer the practicality  and utility offered by the latest Pathfinder. Yes, at the expense of personality and character, the Pathfinder suffered greatly at the hands of Nissan during this transformation, but in doing so, has found itself a new and larger buyer base. And remember, Nissan is in the business of selling as many cars as they can.

As for the Pathfinder faithful who want go-anywhere capability with a luxurious interior to boot? Well, the XTerra is all business and no frills. The Toyota 4Runner Limited offers all the luxury and capability of the Pathfinders of yore, and now owns that market. Nissan, are you listening?

Review: 2013 Nissan Sentra

IMG_1746Wow, for a moment I thought Nissan forgot they built a Sentra. The last Sentra hung around for a staggering six years, which is virtually unheard of in the hotly contested compact car market. The outgoing car, with its Lego-like styling and crude interior was hopelessly outdated. So, it was with great relief Nissan finally put the old girl out of its misery and delivered a completely redesigned Sentra. The car deserves that much, as it basically carried Nissan through the 1980′s alongside the completely forgettable Stanza.

To say that Nissan has taken the Sentra’s styling in a new direction does not even come close. The upright, tight edges of the outgoing car are gone, and will not be missed. Instead, we have a car with flowing, organic curves, not a harsh edge to be found. Our test car, fitted with attractive 17″ alloys and finished in Amethyst Gray and a ‘just right’ amount of chrome trim give the Sentra an upscale air that belies its price. Nissan aired a TV commercial where a junior executive is mistaken for someone far more important in a similar Sentra, and after seeing the car in person, I can believe it. No, it does not stand out, nor will it turn heads, but for the price of admission, you simply will not find another car that exudes this level of class and sophistication.

IMG_1754The austere cabin of the 2012 Nissan Sentra The Garage tested is also a distant memory. Nissan carried the Junior Executive theme inside, with features available only on high-end luxury cars ten years ago present and accounted for, and then some. Leather, and a pleasing mix of silver trim, chrome, and wood tone trim conspire to provide one of the most opulent cabins in its class. The contrasting beige and grey dashboard also add to the sense this is no ordinary compact. The quality of materials, fit and finish are excellent. Our feature-laden Sentra had easy to read gauges, and intuitive controls. As opulent our Sentra was, even more impressive was the amount of interior room. Front and rear, passengers had a surprising amount of room. The Sentra also boasts an enormous trunk.

In the engine room, all Sentras share the same engine, in this case a 1.8L four rated at 130hp, which is actually down on power from last year’s car. While that sounds like a step backward, it is Nissan’s attempt to bring the Sentra closer in line with the competition’s fuel economy ratings. In this case, the EPA rates the Sentra at a frugal 30/39 MPG city/highway. The base model Sentra can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, but all other models come standard with a Continuously Variable Transmission, a hallmark of Nissan passenger cars. Nissan makes the best in the business, but the mission of the CVT is to deliver optimum fuel economy, not driving pleasure. The new Sentra is no exception. Around town, the car gets around fine, but on highway on ramps, acceleration is lazy, and under full throttle, the inevitable motor boating effect is present. As elegant as the exterior and interior design are, under full throttle the Sentra is not. The ride is comfortable, and at cruising speeds, the Sentra is quiet and composed. The Sentra makes no promises of being a fun or engaging car to drive, just an easy car to live with. Driving enthusiasts, look elsewhere.

IMG_1750The Sentra is available in several trim levels to suit taste and budget. Our test car was the top-spec SL, with a starting price of $$19,760USD. For that, standard equipment includes dual zone auto climate control, push button start, six speaker audio with SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, LED tail lamps, LED headlight accents, LED lighting on side mirrors and fog lights. Our test car added the Premium Package, which includes a power moonroof, auto dimming rearview mirror and an eight speaker Bose audio system. The Navigation Package adds, well, Navigation with NavWeather and NavTraffic, a rearview camera, and hands-free text messaging assistant. Finally, the Leather package adds, um, leather seats, front heated seats, and oddly, rear disc brakes. Including destination, our Sentra rings in at a very respectable $23,655.

Will it set your heart afire? No. That’s the job of the Sentra SE-R, and we are waiting to see if such a  car will return. Long neglected by Nissan, the Sentra is back, and this is easily the best looking one yet, with a slick interior to match. In terms of style, comfort and features, the Sentra is tough to beat. Add an exceptionally roomy cabin and generous trunk space, and you have a winner. Most buyers won’t care that it is a bit on the slow side, or a bit soft in cornering. Nissan knows its buyer, and on that front has exceeded all expectations. It is simply the best Sentra of all time.

15 Seconds With: 2013 Nissan Titan Crew Cab

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“Dad, have you noticed how friendly people are around here? People keep waving at you.”

My kid’s observation was spot on, the people of Bancroft are friendly, but this was different than what we have experienced on other visits to the home of the Rally of the Tall Pines. In this case, every single thumbs up, wave or smile came from the driver of a traditional domestic pickup. Cottage Country is also pick-up country and the locals loved the Titan.

15 Seconds With: 2013 Nissan Titan Crew Cab

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Most buyers of the 2013 Nissan Titan Crew Cab will be choosing it as a hauler for their family and toys. The longer cab means a shorter cargo bed. Great for camping gear and water toys, but not quite long enough for the long loads a contractor might haul. For those guys, the 79? bed of the King Cab would be a better choice.

15 Seconds With: 2013 Nissan Titan Crew Cab

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For those of you who missed it, yesterday I shared the first edition of a new series I am trying called 15 Seconds With, where I post a short daily video on Instagram with something to say about my wheels of the week. Today’s edition comes from Silent Lake Provincial Park, near Bancroft, where we have brought along Big Red, a 2013 Nissan Titan to do some work while we camp.

Review: 2013 Nissan Murano

IMG_1531Remember how radical the Nissan Murano was when it hit dealer showrooms about a decade ago? Based on an Altima platform, the Murano arrived when families were moving away from SUV’s and getting into crossovers. The Murano’s avant-garde looks made for an instant sales success. When it came time to replace the Murano in 2009, Nissan played it safe with a very evolutionary redesign. The Garage spent a week with the second generation Murano, and we came away generally pleased, but three years later, what’s new with the curvy crossover?

The blunt truth is, not much. Front and rear fascias have been revised, LED taillamps added, but it would take a true Murano addict to spot the differences. Add that to the fact that the second gen Murano, appearance-wise was a mild refresh of the original car, we’ve essentially been looking at the same car for a decade, give or take a few minor changes. Credit is due to Nissan in that it is a pleasing shape, and there is really nothing else out there that looks like a Murano. Nissan took a risk in introducing the first Murano. As a car guy, I was eager to see Nissan push the envelope of crossover styling again. And I am willing to bet there are Nissan designers who were chomping at the bit for that opportunity. My guess is the accountants figured they already had a sales hit in their hands, and gave the directive to not mess with the recipe. Interesting design? Yes, but we’ve all grown used to it by now.

IMG_1541The cabin of the Murano is essentially unchanged as well. Gauges are clear as a bell and easy to read. In an era where automakers are rushing to have nearly all functions controlled from a touch screen, I found it particularly refreshing that the Murano has knobs and buttons that are easy to use at a glance. Sure, this may be due to the fact the Murano’s interior was overhauled four years ago, which is a generation in the car world. Still, I liked being able to simply turn a knob, and push a button to make an adjustment. It’s a system that worked for years, and the supposed high tech replacements simply do not work as well. The Murano is reasonably comfortable, with flat as a pancake bucket seats up front with nothing in the way of lateral support-a pity, since the Murano can handle. Our Murano was perfectly screwed together, and the quality of materials was ok, but not outstanding for the sticker price.

In the engine room, Nissan offers a 3.5L V-6 rated at 260hp. This is a fine, smooth engine that has been in the Nissan stable for some time now, and the only transmission available is a Continuously Variable Transmission. The Murano has enough torque that driving around town, you never notice it. That fine engine becomes a nuisance when you want to attack an on ramp, where the engine just wails relentlessly until you are up to speed. Ask any car journalist about CVT’s, and they will all agree that Nissan makes the best in the business, but that is akin to nodding to a chef who claims to make the greatest version of Spam you’ve ever eaten. Ok, it’s the best version of a product that is completely unsatisfying. Hurrah. The Murano does not offer shift paddles to simulate stepped gears as some other CVT cars are equipped. Otherwise, the Murano had a very comfortable ride, and confident handling when pushed. I’d beg Nissan for an automatic, but that would negate their Infiniti crossovers. The masses do not seem to mind, so Nissan is content to stay the course.

IMG_1535Our Murano was the mid-level SL with all-wheel drive (you can opt for front wheel drive). Standard on our car were 18″ alloys, leather power heated front seats, rear view camera, Bose audio, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, rain sensing wipers, dual zone auto climate control, push button ignition, dual panel sunroof, and power liftgate. Options included floor mats, and the Navigation Package, with NavTraffic, NavWeather, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and moving object detection. Including delivery, our Murano had an MSRP of $42,410. That is not chump change, and it bears mentioning at this price point you could put yourself in a prestigious German crossover, but without the high-tech features. And no CVT.

In 2003, Nissan worked magic in creating a curvacious crossover with the Murano. And hundreds of thousands of buyers have paid good money to buy in, in spite of the design’s inherit flaws. All the curves seriously cut down on cargo space. Blind spots so big it could conceal an 18-wheeler, Yet, there was a ready set group of buyers ready to open their wallets, and trade in some practicality for style. My question to Nissan is, where do you go from here? The new Pathfinder is a crossover, in addition to the smaller Rogue. Nissan, you broke new ground, but that was ten years ago. The new Pathfinder, and upcoming new Rogue are making the Murano, as much as a sales success as it is, redundant. Can someone please explain?

Review: 2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

It seems like ages ago, but in the not too distant past, Nissan had virtually no presence in the mainstream family sedan market. Stuck between the strong selling Sentra and high-end Maxima was the forgettable Nissan Stanza, a car that failed to resonate with buyers. Meanwhile, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry had already established themselves as the cars to beat. Twenty years ago, Nissan had enough, and introduced the Altima, a legitimate player with a lot to prove. How the times have changed. 2013 marks the introduction of a new, fifth generation Altima, which is currently Nissan’s best-selling car, and one of the best selling cars in the USA.

Taking a look at the Altima’s sheetmetal, it’s clear Nissan went conservative with the redesign. Yes, it’s curvy, even elegant at some angles, and with ample chrome trim it is apparent a more upscale look was desired. The Altima is pleasant to look at, and offends no one. And that works for the huge audience the Altima appeals to. The tradeoff is a completely forgettable car. It’s sort of like listening to Micheal Buble. Yes, he has a fantastic voice, sings the American Standards as good as anyone, and I enjoy his music while I’m listening to it. But if I’m not exposed to his music, I’m not thinking about it. I’m not replaying his songs in my head, or dying to hear his song again. So it is with the Altima. Nice enough to look at, classy enough to show your neighbors, but leaves absolutely no lasting impression at all.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

The Garage reviewed the fourth generation Altima in 2010, and we had no qualms about the interior. The new design inside is warmer, more inviting, and more thoughtful than the old car, which is good considering you’ll be spending the bulk of your time inside than out. It’s clear Nissan spent a lot of energy designing a thoughtful, easy to live with, and easy to use cabin. Even our feature laden test car’s controls were simple and intuitive. Comfortable and roomy, the Altima strikes all the right notes. While some critics have moaned about rear seat room, the reality is the Altima has all the room the average family could possibly need. In sum, the Altima’s interior is just right for a trip to the grocery store or a long distance drive.

In the engine room, the Altima offers updated versions of its previous engines. The base engine is a 2.5L four, rated at 182hp. Although some of the Altima’s competition has abandoned the option of a V-6, the Accord and Camry continue to offer one, and so does the Altima. Here, a 3.5L V-6 makes 270hp. Both engines are paired to an updated CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). No manual is offered. While our last time  out with an Altima had the powerful V-6, this time around we had the four cylinder, which makes sense-it is estimated 90% of all Altimas sold have the four. Which I am pleased to say is quite a refined engine, and for this car, and the typical Altima buyer, is all they really need. However, the Altima has a few feathers in its cap worth mentioning when equipped with the four. Nissan claims 0-60mph in 7.1 seconds, which is plenty quick for a four cylinder in this size. But, when you take in consideration the car’s EPA ratings of 27/38 MPG city/highway, the results are impressive. That sprint to 60 was once the territory of Porsche 944′s and Mazda RX-7′s. Now it’s a family sedan that can sip 38 MPG on the highway.

Yes, it is Nissan’s XTronic CVT that helps make it all happen. And the numbers look great, but mash the pedal to the carpet, and the buzz-killing engine drone sucks all the fun out of the equation. Again, another reality check is needed here. Most Altima owners are not going to floor it. They will drive gently through town, merge seamlessly into highway traffic, and likely never push the engine hard enough to even notice the ‘motorboat’ effect that is the curse of the CVT. And I would be fine with that, but the trouble is, the Altima’s handling is absolutely superb. Steering, brakes, chassis, the whole package is, well, exemplary for this class of car. Put a six-speed manual in this car and the Altima becomes quite the package for the family man with a knack for driving fun. Sadly, the vast majority of Altima owners will never appreciate just how well this car can handle.

2013 Nissan Altima SedanThe Altima is available as a sedan or coupe, but the coupe is a continuation of the fourth generation car. The four cylinder sedan is offered in Base, S, SV, or SL trim. Our car was the 2.5 SV, the most popular Altima. With a base price of $24,100USD, standard equipment is generous. All 2.5 Altima SV’s come standard with 17″ alloys, power driver’s seat, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, RearView monitor, dual zone auto climate control, iPod integration, push button start and chrome exhaust tips. Our test car added the Convenience Package (moonroof, auto dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, fog lights, and LED turn indicators), floor mats, and navigation. All in, our Altima totaled $27,005, including destination. Overall, a competitive price for a car with sought after features, but nothing that is remarkable.

With the fifth generation Altima, you get a clear sense of what Nissan wanted. To their exterior/interior designers, the message must have been “Listen, we have a good thing going here, let’s not take any risks and screw this up.” And that leaves us with a pretty vanilla car, judging by appearance only. Yet, to the engineers, a different message: “The last Altima was good. Make it better.” The beauty of the Altima lies within it. The engineers were let loose to make the impossible possible. An extremely efficient car that can seat five, sprint from 0-60mph in just a click over seven seconds, and deliver 38MPG. All in supreme comfort with all the amenities of a modern luxury car. The magic of the Altima is not what you see, but what you feel.

There is a glimmer of hope for us enthusiasts. Nissan has prepared an Altima for the Australian V8 Supercar race series. The chassis is so well sorted it deserves to be raced. Surely, an Altima SR could be in the works. For that matter, a NISMO Altima? Take the V-6 with a hot cam and a reprogrammed ECU with a manual, and Nissan has a bargain-priced Audi S4. NISMO, Nissan, are you listening?

Nissan Prices New Sentra

You’d be forgiven if you thought that Nissan had forgotten about the Sentra. The Garage sampled a 2012 Sentra SR earlier this year, and found it to be competent, but a design that lacked excitement, and worse, was really showing its age. For 2013, Nissan has taken the wraps off the seventh generation, all-new Sentra. For such an important car, Nissan has been extremely low-key about the launch of the newest Sentra.

While the outgoing Sentra looked hopelessly outdated, the new car is a breathe of fresh air with a level of grace and sophistication never before seen on the normally pedestrian Sentra’s of yore. The new Sentra is also 5% lighter than the outgoing car, yet is larger with more interior space while delivering better fuel economy. All Sentra’s share the same 1.8L four cylinder, rated at 130hp. Overall fuel economy is 34MPG.

The 2013 Nissan Sentra S starts at $15,990USD with a six-speed manual transmission (all other Sentra’s have a CVT). Nissan is offering seven variants of the Sentra, which seems like overkill between S, SV, SR, and SL trims along with an FE+ fuel economy trim level to further confuse matters. The top-spec Sentra SL tops out at a still reasonable $19,760. Keeping up with the latest in-car tech is a must, and Nissan will offer the Sentra with NissanConnectSM with Navigation, Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant, Point of Interest GPS powered by Google, and Pandora radio. Other available features include a rear view monitor, premium Bose audio, and dual-zone auto climate control.

The latest Sentra is by far the prettiest and most advanced yet, and it’s handsome lines will surely lead buyers to the dealer’s door when it becomes available mid-October, 2012. Why Nissan is keeping so quiet about one of the most enduring models in its line is a mystery to me, but we bid adieu to the old, archaic Sentra, and welcome the new model. Be sure to check in for a full review of the 2013 Nissan Sentra in the coming months!

Review: 2012 Nissan Armada

When I was asked what car I was currently reviewing, I replied it was the Nissan Armada. The question that followed was “Oh, what do you think of it?” As someone who talks about cars in paragraphs, not short sentences, I paused, and replied “Well, it’s like a Chevy Tahoe, except made by Nissan.” That may upset fans of the Bowtie, or perhaps maybe even Nissan. But the reality is the Armada and Tahoe compete head to head in a shrinking market for full-size, truck-based SUVs, so the comparison is inevitable. After living with a Tahoe for a week last December and an Armada this past July, the similarities and differences became clear.

The Nissan Armada as we know it is no spring chicken. Introduced as a 2004 model, in today’s automotive arena the Armada is ancient. In its favor, the styling of full-size SUVs moves at a glacial pace, so in spite of its eight year old design, it still manages to look current. In spite of its size, the Armada is quite understated compared to the stern, serious face of the Tahoe. Chunky 20″ alloys and enough, but not excessive use of chrome trim lent just enough elegance to justify the price of admission. Our test car, finished in Galaxy Black did an excellent job of masking the Armada’s most glaring design flaw. From the side profile, the roof of the passenger cabin rises and swoops downward, where it is met by the cargo area, where the roof is flat. In brighter colors, it looks like two different design committees designed the Armada, and never met to compare notes for a cohesive design.

Inside, the Armada offers the level of quality and ease of use we’ve come to expect from Nissan. All controls are simple to use and easy to understand. Seats front and rear offered plenty of room and were quite comfortable. Our Armada was capable of seating up to eight, although the top-spec model with second row captain’s chairs drops that number to seven. What I appreciated about the Armada was the amount of interior storage and cubbies available, whereas the Tahoe seemed lacking. While some complain the Armada offers less cargo room, I’ll counter with this. If you to want access that extra cargo space in the Tahoe, you’ll have to physically remove the third row seat to get to all of it. The Armada? Press a button, and the third row seat simply folds flat. I’ll take the latter option, thank you. To sum, the cabin of the Armada seems far more family friendly.

Just as the Tahoe is based on the Silverado pick-up truck, the Armada is based upon Nissan’s top-dog truck, the Titan. All Armada’s are powered by a 5.6L V-8 pumping out 317hp, mated to a five-speed automatic. Buyers have the choice between rear wheel and all-wheel drive. Our test car was a 4×2, with EPA fuel economy estimated at 13/19 MPG city/highway. In mixed driving, our Armada’s trip computer was showing an average of 14 MPG, so she is one thirsty girl. In a 4×4 Armada, expect about a 1 MPG drop. Towing capacity in our Armada is an impressive 8,200 lbs, while a 4×4 can tow up to 9,100 lbs. Acceleration from the V-8 is strong, and makes the right sounds, and is without doubt more refined than the Tahoe’s mill. Despite its size and weight, the Armada is very easy to drive and wiggle your way through town or highway traffic. Yes, it handles like a truck, because, well, it is, but that is not to say it lacks refinement or is at all crude. If you expect the creaminess of a Nissan Murano, you’re missing the point.

The Armada is available in three trim levels: SV, SL, and Platinum. Our test car was the mid-level SL. While I was thankful for being spared the bling of the chrome 20′s on the Platinum, I was incredulous that if you want navigation on your Armada, you must choose the top-spec car. Standard on our SL was a leather interior, power, heated front seats, 11 speaker Bose audio, XM Radio, Bluetooth, rear sonar, rear view monitor, dual zone and rear auto climate controls, and power rear liftgate. Options on our Armada included a rear DVD entertainment system, replete with wireless headphones, remote control and 8″ screen, and power moonroof. Including destination, our Armada carried an MSRP of $48,965USD. Hardly cheap, but the price is on par for full-size, well equipped SUVs. Still, the lack of navigation, even at this price just seemed wrong.

So when asked about the Armada, equating it to the Tahoe was the simple answer, but as you’ve seen, it is far more complex. Appearance is subjective, but I’d have the say the Tahoe is by far more handsome. It epitomizes the look you want from an SUV of this size. On the other hand, the interior of the Armada was much more family friendly. Comparing how they drive, the Armada felt more nimble. But as always is the case in the car business, it’s the sales that matter. By the end of July,  2012, for every Armada Nissan sold, Chevy sold nearly four Tahoes. In spite of this, I would say these two trucks are evenly matched enough they merit comparison shopping. So before you drop that check off at your Chevy dealer, you may want to make a detour to Nissan first.

If you do, to quote the Rolling Stones, just ‘Paint It Black”.