Bark's Bites: Nissan Doesn't Make A Single Car You Want To Buy
When I arrived at the Emerald Aisle at LAX on Wednesday, I had a slight moment of excitement when I saw a low-mileage Nissan 370Z coupe resting comfortably in the far corner of the Executive area. You see, I very nearly bought a Z back in 2005, and the car has always held a special interest for me. Back then, the Mazda RX-8 and the Nissan 350Z held quite a grip on the young American car culture—the Z was the official ride of Drift King in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (a fine and underrated film, in the opinion of your author). I tried to talk my father into buying a 350Z convertible a couple of years later, and I nearly succeeded, too, until his wife got a look at it and declared it to be “impractical.”
So I sauntered over as casually as possible, so as not to alert my fellow National customers to the presence of the Z on the lot, and quickly threw my bags in the back. “Aha,” I thought. “I won the Rental Car Lottery today!”
Then I started to drive it.
The seven-speed automatic transmission felt clunky and forever inbetween gears. The six-cylinder VQ motor sounded like it was being simultaneously strangled and flogged with a Cat O’ Nine Tails. There wasn’t a seating position that I could find that even resembled comfort. The stereo’s display looked like it was straight out of a Tandy tape deck, and the sound it put forth was sonically wretched. It was decently quick, but any similarly priced Mustang or Camaro would look better, sound better, and be at least competitive in a straight line with the woefully outdated Z.
In other words, I hated it. I got so bizarrely angry about my decision that I promptly drove it to the Hustler Casino on the edge of Compton and parked it conspicuously in the back of the lot in the hopes that somebody might steal it, and then National would be forced to deliver another car to me. Like, any other car.
It occurred to me as I drove it to Auto Club Speedway today with my good friend Matt Farah, who alternately described the sound of the the VQ as “rough” and “worse than a GM 3800” as he squirmed uncomfortably in the passenger seat, that Nissan, the company who used to make things that kids actually put on their walls as aspirational dreams, doesn’t manufacture a single, solitary car that anybody would consider to be the best or most desirable car in its class. Not one.
What is Nissan good at? Who are they? What’s their brand identity? I’m not sure anybody knows these answers. At this point, one could make a solid case that Nissan’s best car is…the Leaf. Ouchies.
In each segment in which Nissan competes, they are no better than a third option, and in most cases, they’re worse than that. Versa? Pretty sure I’d rather have a Fiesta or a Fit. Sentra…wait, they still make the Sentra? No kidding. Huh. Hard to make a case for it against any of the cars in the segment. The Altima is the official vehicle of people who say things like “I need a car but I don’t like cars or really know anything about them but I just wrecked mine so I need to replace it with something.” Would anybody actually pick a Maxima over a V6 Impala? The trucks are okay, but they’re such also-rans in the segment that I sometimes forget that they exist. The CUVs are setting new standards, but only for being completely and utterly forgettable. The GT-R sells in such low numbers as to be statistically insignificant.
And the Z. The spiritual successor to some truly great cars, it now just feels old and forgotten. Seriously — go back and watch Tokyo Drift and tell me that you didn’t want a Z when you saw that film. Now? According to our own Tim Cain, only about 6,000 people have bought a Z in 2015 so far. Compare that to the Camaro — another car that came out only a year after the 370Z, has been aging badly, and is finally getting a replacement — which has sold over 60,000 units. The Z, as it stands today, is no longer a relevant car in the marketplace.
Now, here’s the question: Does the completely ho-hum nature of their lineup even matter? I can make an argument that it doesn’t — or at least, it’s not doing them much harm. Nissan’s year-over-year growth is actually decent. They do face a growing threat from Hyundai-Kia in their quest to hold onto the number six spot in the U.S. market, but their position in the marketplace seems stable.
But, it does make me sad. As a 16-year-old boy in 1994, I lusted after a Nissan Sentra SE-R in the worst way. I watched friends of mine drive NX 2000s, and I was pea green with envy. I used to love rolling up to school in my dad’s ’87 Maxima as a child. And the Z32 300Zx? Well, that was just about as good as it got.
I have a friend who loves Nissan. However, as much as he adores the brand, he, too, has admitted to me that they don’t have a single class-leading car. He was excited, however, when I posted a picture of my rental Z to my Facebook wall earlier this week. “Would be interested to know your thoughts,” he posted.
You want to know my thoughts? Here are my thoughts. The car is awful. I’m sure that a manual transmission would have helped, but it wouldn’t have helped nearly enough.
Let me go on. The brand is terrible. I wouldn’t buy anything they sell, and I honestly can’t recommend that anybody else does, either. No, they don’t sell bad cars. They just don’t sell any good ones. I’d honestly be surprised if anybody even makes a Nissan poster in 2015, and I’d be even more surprised if any tweens asked for one for their bedroom walls.
In closing, allow me to paraphrase the great lyricist, Everclear, here. Nissan, it’s time to pack it up. Nobody is fooled by your RACE CAR ALTIMA OMG WOW commericals. You don’t have a brand. You don’t have an image. You don’t have a halo car. You’ve got bland, boring cars.
Are you going to do anything about it? For the sake of your fans, shouldn’t you?
More by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
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