Mark Bites Back: In Defense of Nissan

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

Bark and I, either by fate or consequence, were presented with very similar automotive options lately. While his choice was made on the Emerald Aisle, mine was made over the phone before a planned trip to watch the final round of the Nissan Micra Cup in Quebec.

And while he was less than impressed with the 370Z — and, on the surface, I can’t disagree — his view extended to the rest of the Nissan lineup.

From an enthusiast’s perch, Bark may not be able to see the forest for the trees.

Let’s start with that aforementioned Z, since that’s where Bark’s torrid rant began.

Bark is right on a few points: the Z isn’t comfortable, it doesn’t sound as good as it could and the audio system in the base model car that I drove was certainly befitting a base model car. It’s also now six years old, and it wasn’t incredibly “new” when it came out.

Yet, the base model Z can be had for less than $30,000, regardless of what side of the 49th parallel you live on. For the sake of comparison, a base model Scion FR-S, which has 132 less horsepower than the Z, is just over $25,000 before destination charges and taxes jack up the numbers. Effectively, you are paying $5,000 for 132 horsepower. I’d call that good value. Hell, the 370Z has more than double the horsepower of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, and nobody is complaining about all the other things you don’t get with that car.

The same argument can be made for the Genesis Coupe, which will actually give you an extra 148 more horsepower over the FR-S for a lot less coin. Personally, I would have the Z over the Genesis Coupe solely because I dig the Z’s curves, but I can see why someone would go for something else.

Why? The Z is rough and gruff and in need of a shave. It could be a lot more refined. It could weigh less. It could be less like a last-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse. But, Bark’s assertion that the remainder of Nissan’s lineup falls in line with the 370Z might be a case of painting the brand with a very, very broad brush.

Case in point: Nissan Murano

Even I’ll admit that the lifestyle crossover from Nissan isn’t the best looking vehicle on the road — but a lot of people disagree with me on that. Actually, over 50,000 people disagree with me on that fact so far this year. (Me too. I think it looks great. — Aaron) This year’s sales of the Murano have surpassed those from the last two years already and with two full months left in the sales year.

If you can get past the styling, you’ll see why it’s so popular. The Murano is one of the most comfortable crossovers — if not vehicles, regardless of segment — that money can buy. It’s the Cadillac of SRXs, you could say. The only other vehicle that holds candle to the Murano in its class is the Ford Edge. I’ll have a review of the Edge up soon, but in a nutshell: the Ford is better looking, but not as comfortable and — at first glance — might not be built with the same attention to detail as the Murano.

The problem with crossovers is that they’re as exciting as rice pudding, especially for a guy who owns two performance vehicles painted in louder-than-life colors. Nothing in the segment is going to make you lust to carve corners, and it shouldn’t. Comfort rules. Sporting intentions drool.

The Murano is truly the best in its class — in my eyes, at least. So, score one for Nissan.

Next: Nissan Leaf.

Bark makes the point that the Leaf might be a shoe-in segment leader in Nissan’s vehicle range as if that’s a bad thing.

Nissan is best at making an affordable, all-electric vehicle? That’s horrible!

Toyota produces the most popular hybrid on the planet? Shameful!

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is continually the most technologically advanced car on the market? Disgusting!

Have you driven a Leaf? With the incentives available, a Leaf can be picked up for a song depending on where you live, is more comfortable than many other compact cars and will cost you ramen noodle money to operate over 10 years of ownership. Even Nissan was impressed by the long-term durability of its batteries.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Nissan being the best at building an affordable electric vehicle. Nothing at all.

( They even turned one into a pickup! Do you remember that? Only madmen do that!)

Grunt: Nissan Titan XD

Jokes about how it looks like the product of a drunken night between Ford and Ram designers aside, Nissan is reaffirming its commitment to the pickup segment with a solid game plan: play where the domestics aren’t.

By splitting the difference between traditional light- and heavy-duty options, the Titan XD has no direct competitors and can offer up a unique drivetrain with its 5-liter Cummins turbodiesel V-8. So far, and for what it’s worth, the Titan XD has nabbed the much coveted Truck of Texas award, and it may do the same for North American Truck of the Year.

Our invite to the media drive for the Titan XD was lost in the mail, so we don’t have anything to go on for driving impressions. However, as the domestics reach ever higher on the pricing ladder, it will be interesting to see if the Titan XD resonates with an ever-growing populace of truck buyers.

Forbidden Fruit: Nissan Micra

America, blame yourselves for being stuck with the Nissan Versa Sedan. If you liked hatchbacks more, you could have this for around $8,000.

The best part of the Micra? It’s actually a lot of fun to drive! It has an engine note that sings rather than grumbles about being pushed too hard. Oh, and you know those CVTs you hate so much? You won’t find one here! You have a choice between a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic.

For the Luddite only wanting the minimum when it comes to modern safety equipment and a more engaged driving experience, what’s there not to like about the Micra?

(Okay, there’s the looks, but us gents are not the primary demographic for Micra. Unfortunate.)

Finally: Everything Else

The Altima is new for this coming year and plays directly to the groups that buy them most: fleets and boring people. And that’s absolutely OK. There needs to be an automaker serving the part of the market that can be hoodwinked into thinking a front-wheel drive sedan with a 3.5-liter V-6 is a racecar.

The Sentra and Versa Note aren’t going to set your heart on fire with desire — but should they? They are affordable, honest cars that have no sporting pretense. Sure, there was a time when the Sentra could be had in Vindaloo guise, but those days are over. Same with the Xterra; unless you have seven-slot grille at your disposal, there’s not much point in building a compact, body-on-frame SUV anymore.

And the Maxima, which I had the pleasure of driving in Tennessee, is actually a really good car. However, because it’s so similar in size to the Altima, the Maxima has a difficult time justifying its continued existence (especially in Canada where nobody buys full-size sedans anymore). The Maxima’s main claim to fame during its launch was a quick time around Buttonwillow. That’s reaching really far. Who takes a front-wheel drive, pseudo full-size car to a race track unless it has an M, AMG or RS badge on the trunk?

Probably the only model in Nissan’s lineup that’s fairly lacking and behind the times is the Armada. The Titan-based SUV is so long in the tooth that it’s giving itself neck piercings. But, with the new Titan coming, maybe a new Armada will come with it, and maybe it could even be a diesel. Maybe. Probably not.

This year is probably one of the most important in recent history for Nissan in America with new model introductions left, right and center — and they will be lost on many due to their lack of enthusiast appeal. However, I can’t think of another mainline automaker willing to challenge the status quo as much as Nissan either.

Overboosted, performance crossover that looks like a frog? Check.

$100,000 “supercar”? Check.

Weird box-like vehicle with “wrap-around” rear glass? Checked. (The Cube didn’t do well, but at least Nissan had the courage to try.)

While those models aren’t in the public consciousness today, there’s a lot to look forward to at Nissan. A new Z will be coming (we just don’t know its form quite yet), the GT-R is due for another generation (which will likely bring electrification to the table along with its twin-turbo V-6) and we might get a hot Sentra once again.

So, just because the here and now might be a bit, well, normal, that doesn’t mean there’s a never-ending stream of beige in Nissan’s pipeline. If history has taught us anything, it’s that as predictable as Nissan is with their mass-market offerings, they’re equally unpredictable about everything else.

Stay tuned. I think we’re in for quite a ride, and sooner rather than later.

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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  • Maymar Maymar on Nov 03, 2015

    I haven't had enough exposure to how the current generation of Nissans age, but the previous stuff are clearly kind of shoddy, nasty, and just bound for quick beaterdom. I don't mean to imply anything about actual reliability, but to get a little hyperbolic, it's like someone missed the experience of sitting in 90s GMs. Even Muranos through the last generation, something that can easily clear $50k CDN, were usually a little more ragged than normal by about 100k kms. It'd all make sense if they had some unifying compelling trait to justify their weaknesses against some very strong competition, but I just don't get it (and the mainstream affordable stuff doesn't seem like it's made any great leap forward. Mind you, the 370Z is at least fun, if so very crude, the Juke is weird and not awful to drive, and a rental Altima was unobtrusive and efficient, if nothing special otherwise. I don't get the love for the Micra, but as I've complained about before, weird optioning meant that, to get the things I want, I had to go with a trim level that had it priced up against slightly better stuff.

  • ChrisG ChrisG on Nov 04, 2015

    Thanks for this - my sentiments exactly... and perhaps perception is highly regional, but Nissans are very popular here in Alberta. They sell a wide range of vehicles that suit this climate well - AWD, lots of comfort and features for our urban sprawl etc. :-) But really, I wanted to hopefully add some info on the Rogue. We picked up one a couple weeks ago. Did my spreadsheets, research etc etc and much to my surprise, on paper the Rogue compared very well, if not better than the RAV4, CR-V and Cherokee... so, I put it on my list of vehicles to test drive. The Rogue was the last of my test drives that day. And it completely blew the other vehicles out of the water. The interior made sense, there were no odd "edgy" curves, the seats are comfortable, it is quiet, and the SV has a great feature set that the other models only offer in higher trims. I feel that Nissan is actually looking around to see what the other mfg's are doing - across all trim levels. Honda (we are Honda fans) is stuck in the past - the new CR-V might have updated sheet metal and headlights/grille, but the inside felt within 10 degrees of our old, retired 2003 Odyssey. The RAV4 interior felt like the inside of an Anime Gundam Fighter, and I don't like the beak-like exterior styling. The Cherokee - I love, actually. The interior styling felt good and I've always "got along" with the centre stack. Honeslty? The sales people are terrible, and the North trim was frustrating to navigate features/what's missing. Also the four-banger was noisy. The Rogue - feels bigger. The longer hood, classy sheet metal, large cargo area and lots of headroom underscore that it *is* actually bigger. Ride height is almost an inch higher than the competitors, the 180hp engine is more than ample and spirited enough for me. It sips gas, and is a fantastic "second vehicle" for our family. Among the table-stakes standard features, the low-mid SV trim has a lot of features I've only seen on higher trim/mid-market vehicles: - AWD - 4WD lock - Eco/Sport mode (the CVT is great) - Hill descent control - Chassis/stability control - Independent tire pressure monitoring On the inside, I got heated seats without leather, panoramic sunroof (without leather), toneau cover, cargo area storage and unique 'transformable' shelves and barriers, and lots of smart little things that just make sense. Wish folks wouldn't categorize this as a "for ladies and retirees" vehicle. Folks that are in the market for a vehicle like this should definitely take a look.

    • Macca Macca on Nov 04, 2015

      ...And this is another portion of my rebuttal also in defense of Nissan. When it came time to get my wife a larger vehicle for our first child (yes, I know, spare me the whole "you can get five kids in a 1995 Corolla" rant) we shopped the CUV market. The 2nd-gen Rogue was by far the most compelling option in that segment for our wants/needs. I don't need to rehash much of your reasoning as we also found that the Rogue offers up an overall package that is unmatched. After 2 years of ownership it continues to impress. The refinement, ride quality, efficiency, and cargo capacity are all excellent. Just take the adjustable cargo shelves in the trunk, for instance. We can adjust one shelf up and slide our stroller underneath, allowing for a ton of cargo space that is neatly divided. It's an exceedingly simple feature that has a huge impact for families. Clearly the market has responded, too, as YTD sales of the Rogue are 238,196 thru October (CR-V = 288,531 & RAV4 = 256,178). Nissan is selling 23.8k Rogues/mo on average thru 2015, whereas in 2014 the average was just under 17k/mo (199k total 2014). This is within spitting distance of Toyota's 25.6k RAV4's sold per month. The CR-V is currently up only 935 sales/month and the RAV4 is up 3,310/month, but the Rogue is up 7,220 sales/mo, using 2014 sales total/12 versus YTD 2015 numbers/10. [All of the Rogue numbers are a bit complicated given that the 2nd-gen showed up in Nov. 2014 and the 'select' 1st-gen is still sold as well.]

  • Ronin The very asking of the question "Are Plug-In Hybrids the Future?" is an interesting one. Because just 2 or 3 years ago we'd be asking- no, asserting- that E cars are the future. We're no longer asking that question.
  • Peter Benn There apparently were some K-code 4-dr sedan Fairlanes. Collectible Automobile Apr 2024 has found a '63 500 with HD 3/spd.
  • Mia Hey there!I recently stumbled upon the Crack Eraser DIY Windshield Repair Kit (check it out here: https://crackeraser.com/collections/diy-windshield-repair-kits) and decided to give it a shot on a small chip in my windshield. I have to say, it worked like a charm! Super easy to use, and it saved me a trip to the professionals. If you're dealing with a similar issue, this kit is definitely worth considering. 😊
  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
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