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  • 2010 Nissan Sedans

    Posted on October 11th, 2009 ninarussin

    Maxima, Altima, Sentra and Versa get refreshed styling and technology updates

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Nissan Altima sedan

    2010 Nissan Altima sedan

    Virtual imaging has been a blessing and a curse for the car world. On the plus side, design teams can take concepts from the drawing board into production faster. The drawback of virtual imaging is that designs have, in many cases lost the human touch.

    The Nissan Xterra is a perfect example of how important humanism is to car design. The design team didn’t conceptualize the Xterra in the studio. They did it by spending time with athletes in and around San Diego, and observing their lifestyle needs.

    The same type of humanism infuses Nissan’s sedans. The 2010 models offer many new features active buyers crave.

    A good example is the $400 navigation system available on the 2010 Versa and Sentra. The value-priced option interfaces with onboard infotainment: it includes a touchscreen and is available with a rearview camera.

    Renewed focus on sedan lineup

    Sedans are Nissan’s bread and butter.  The upscale Maxima, best-selling Altima, compact Sentra and value-priced Versa compete against some of the highest volume vehicles in the car market: the Toyota Camry and Corolla, Honda Accord and Camry among them.

    The recent economic slump has shrunk the pool of prospective customers, making it more difficult to conquest customers away from other brands. Nissan’s strategy has been to give the sedans refreshed styling and some important technology updates for the coming year.

    All four models have redesigned front ends, including new headlamps, grilles and hoods. The redesign gives Nissan sedans a more cohesive appearance, enhancing their brand identity. Designers refreshed the vehicle interiors with new upholstery and updated instrument panels.

    All sedans except the Versa come with standard vehicle dynamic control: one of the most effective accident avoidance technologies. A new Nissan quality assurance program includes updated computer systems in assembly plants, positioning the workers within eye level of the vehicles to reduce accidents and manufacturing flaws, and an enhanced vehicle inspection system.

    Technology updates on the 2010 Maxima include standard Bluetooth interface, and an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with steering wheel mounted controls, dual zone climate control, push button start and numerous 12-volt power points.

    The volume-leading Altima also gets push button start, two 12-volt power points, speed sensitive wipers, and speed-sensitive wipers.

    Both the Altima and Maxima feature a larger standard audio touchscreen display. The optional navigation system comes with a larger screen and rearview camera. Buyers who subscribe to XM satellite radio get real-time weather and traffic updates. Both models come with a USB port and iPod connectivity.

    Nissan developed the new Sentra/Versa navigation system with Bosch. Maps are displayed on a 4.3-inch touchscreen with birds-eye view. The Sentra comes with a standard USB port and iPod connectivity.

    The Versa is Nissan’s least expensive model, available as a sedan or five-door hatchback. Pricing for the base model starts at $9,990 with a five-speed manual transmission. Standard safety features include front, side and side curtain airbags. The upscale Versa SL vehicle dynamic control, keyless entry, available satellite radio and iPod interface.

    Test drive in La Jolla

    This past week, Nissan hosted a media program at its La Jolla design center, giving journalists the chance to drive all four sedans. The longest of the drive routes included sections of freeway, suburban streets and some two-lane winding roads.

    Volume-leading Altima

    2010 Nissan Altima sedan

    2010 Nissan Altima sedan

    Of the four cars, the Altima was the one I was most impressed with. Remembering the original Altima introduced in ’93, the current model seems like a completely different car. The test car was the upscale 3.5 SR, with a 270-horsepower V6 engine and continuously variable transmission. While the Altima can’t quite match the power and performance of the sportier Maxima, it comes pretty close.

    Seventeen-inch wheels give the Altima a large footprint that enhances performance during high-speed driving.  Despite its front-wheel drive configuration, there is no noticeable tendency to understeer.

    The SR model, which replaces the 2009 SE, comes with a specially tuned suspension. Unique spring and shock tuning, together with larger diameter stabilizer bars, keep the chassis flat in the corners. The suspension may feel too firm for customers who travel on rough roads and want a more compliant ride, but it’s ideal for driving enthusiasts. Vented front and solid rear disc brakes stop the car quickly without being grabby.

    Unlike former models, the 2010 Altima comes exclusively with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Car enthusiasts who prefer a manual gearbox can still find it in the Altima coupe.

    The continuously variable transmission feels nimble rather than slushy. The Altima has ample low-end power for accelerating from a stop or into traffic. It soars up hills, with plenty of power to spare.

    Visibility is excellent to the front and sides of the car. Thick C pillars create some blind spots to the rear, most noticeable when backing up or parallel parking. The rear backup camera on the test car takes care of the problem.

    The Altima’s interior is attractive and user-friendly. All passengers have access to bottle and cupholders in the doors, the center console, and a fold-down armrest in back. Other storage areas up front include a covered bin at the base of the center stack, a locking glovebox and center console bin. Dual-zone climate controls keep both front occupants happy.

    A digital display in the gauge cluster displays instant fuel economy.

    Standard keyless entry and pushbutton start allow the driver to enter the car and turn on the ignition without removing the fob from his pocket. A standard USB port and 12-volt power point in the center console bin interface with a variety of electronic devices.

    Headroom is somewhat limited in the backs seats due to the roof’s sharp rake. However adults should be comfortable in the two outboard positions. A high floor tunnel and the center console severely limit legroom in the middle.

    The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to create a pass-through for longer cargo.

    Pricing for the Altima 3.5 SR starts at $24,520, not including a $720 destination charge.

    Versa offers value

    2010 Nissan Versa hatchback

    2010 Nissan Versa hatchback

    The Versa LS five-door is an active lifestyle vehicle with value pricing. I test drove the upscale SL, equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. Pricing for the SL starts at $16,530, not including the destination charge.

    While the Versa lacks the Altima’s low-end power, the 122-horsepower engine has enough on the low end to merge into high-speed traffic. I would recommend the manual gearbox over the continuously variable automatic: it makes better use of the engine’s available power, and extends the car’s fuel economy.

    An independent front and torsion beam rear suspension provides a compliant ride, while stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners. Steering feedback is adequate for doing the occasional emergency maneuver.

    Front-wheel disc and rear drum brakes stop the car in a linear fashion. Standard antilock braking enhances the brake system’s wet weather performance. I don’t like drum brakes because they retain water and are harder to service. In this case, they are a way of keeping manufacturing costs down. Vehicle dynamic control is standard on the SL.

    Visibility is good all the way around the car. Designers inserted a glass triangle at the base of each A pillar to keep the post from obstructing those oblique angles. I don’t particularly like the solution from a design stance, but it does eliminate the blind spot. A standard rear wiper keeps the hatchback’s back glass clean.

    The test car is equipped with keyless entry and start. A standard tilt and telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. The front doors contain map pockets and bottle holders.

    A small bin under the armrest holds portable electronic devices. A 12-volt power point next to the brake lever and USB jack at the top of the center stack interface with cell phones, iPods and MP3 players. Tow overhead reading lamps light up the front at night while a dome light illuminates the rear.

    Second-row passengers in the outboard positions have an abundance of leg, head and hiproom. A tall floor tunnel limits legroom in the middle position. The rear seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor. The Versa hatchback meets our bicycle friendly standards. However since the load floor isn’t flat, getting a bike inside takes a little maneuvering. A standard tonneau cover conceals items stored behind the rear seats.

    Sentra offers affordable performance

    2010 Nissan Sentra

    2010 Nissan Sentra

    The slightly pricier Sentra offers drivers a more powerful engine with equivalent fuel economy. The 140-horsepower 2-liter engine  mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission averages 26/34 mpg city/highway. The base engine has significantly more torque than the Versa block, resulting in much better low-end acceleration. Buyers looking for more power can upgrade to the SE-R Spec V with a 2.5-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission.

    Sentra buyers also get more optional content, including leather seating, a Rockford-Fosgate premium audio system, moonroof, and the new navigation system with available rearview camera. All models come with a standard iPod interface and 12 volt power point for recharging cell phones. XM satellite radio is standard on the upscale SL model, including real-time traffic updates.

    Speed-sensitive steering produces excellent on-center response on the highway, for better handling during emergency maneuvers. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard on all but the base model. The independent front and torsion beam rear suspension with stabilizer bars is compliant without feeling mushy.

    Visibility is good all the way around the car. I found that the side mirrors interfered with my view when cornering to the left, but my taller driving partner didn’t have the problem.
    Front disc and rear drum brakes stop the car in a firm, linear fashion.

    The driver and front passenger have ample head, leg and hip room. Rear passengers don’t have as much space as they do in the Versa, but most adults should feel comfortable in the outboard positions.

    Second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to create a pass-through from the trunk. Standard safety features on the Sentra SL include vehicle dynamic control, traction control and antilock brakes. Pricing for the SL begins at $18,560, not including the destination charge.

    Premium Maxima

    2010 Nissan Maxima

    2010 Nissan Maxima

    Styling upgrades to the 2010 Maxima give Nissan’s sport sedan a European look. The new taillights remind me of contemporary German car designs. A strong shoulder gives the car a planted stance, reflective of its performance. New headlamps and a hood bulge complete the styling update.

    Underneath the hood, an aluminum 3.5-liter V6 gives the Maxima ample power. Peak torque of 241 foot-pounds comes on at 4400 rpm: well below redline. As a result the Maxima has superior launch characteristics, both off-the-line and in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range.

    The independent front and multi-link independent rear suspension gives the Maxima a compliant ride, while offering exceptional steering feedback. One thing I like about all of the Nissan sedans is the small steering wheel size. As a smaller driver, the smaller wheels are more ergonomic and easier to manipulate.

    Standard 18-inch wheels on the base model provide a substantial footprint for high-speed driving. The larger wheels also dress up the sedan’s exterior.

    While I wasn’t able to spend as much time in the Maxima as the other sedans, I did drive the car on a combination of city streets and highways. I found visibility good all the way around. I was able to see traffic in adjacent lanes easily.

    The rearview backup camera on the test car makes parallel parking a snap. At night, standard bi-xenon headlamps deliver a longer beam of light that is closer to daylight than halogen beams.

    Vented disk brakes on all four wheels provide exceptional stopping power in all weather. Engineers achieved a nice balance between interior quiet and the  exhaust note. There is enough road noise from the tires so the driver doesn’t feel detached from his surroundings.

    Inside, product planners enhanced the sedan’s infotainment system, with standard Bluetooth interface on all models. All cars come with a standard USB port and iPod connectivity.

    An optional monitor package adds the rearview camera that displays images on a seven-inch color monitor. The monitor package also includes a two gigabyte music server. A technology package includes DVD playback capability, Bluetooth streaming audio and XM weather updates.

    Buyers can choose from two interior configurations: 60/40 fold-flat rear seats, or fixed rear seats with a center pass-through for skis.

    Standard safety features include four-channel antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, traction and vehicle dynamic control.

    Pricing for the Maxima starts at $30,460 for the S grade and $33,180 for the SV. Prices do not include a $720 delivery charge.

    Nissan’s new sedan lineup is rolling into dealerships nationwide.


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