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  • 2014 Nissan 370Z Touring

    Sports car stays true to its roots

    By Nina Russin

    Nissan 370Z Coupe

    Nissan 370Z Coupe

    When Nissan introduced the 240Z to the US market in 1969, the idea was to offer driving enthusiasts a serious yet affordable sports car. Although the 240Z’s 150-horsepower engine might not sound like much by today’s standards, it provided ample power for the lightweight chassis. Paired with a four-speed manual transmission, the original Z accelerated from zero-to-sixty in about eight seconds, and cost the buyer about $3,500.

    Over the past forty years, the Z has evolved into a much faster and frankly more expensive car. But compared to its German competitors, the $35,000 Z is still a bargain. And it’s also that serious, with a 332-horsepower V-6 engine and six-speed manual gearbox. A rev-blipping feature enhances the driving skills of whoever might be behind the wheel. Zero-to-sixty acceleration is in the five-second range.

    After a major refresh for the 2013 model year, the 2014 model remains basically unchanged with the exception of the NISMO. The coupe’s fastback profile harkens back to that of the iconic 240.

    Convenience features on the upscale Touring grade tested include keyless entry and start, xenon headlamps, satellite radio, automatic climate control, eight-way power driver’s seat, heated seats, aluminum pedals and heated exterior mirrors.

    A sport package on the test car adds nineteen-inch forged aluminum wheels and low profile tires, bigger brakes, sport shocks and a rear spoiler. The optional navigation package includes a seven-inch color monitor with rearview camera, USB port with iPod interface, Bluetooth streaming audio, real-time traffic and weather updates.

    Final MSRP including the $790 destination charge is $41,460. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Nissan 370Z Touring Coupe

    Sports-coupe favorite gets a price cut

    By Bob Golfen

    2014 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    2014 Nissan 370Z Coupe

    The Nissan 370Z is one of the best sports-car deals out there, quick and agile and with just enough warts to remind you that it is a Nissan after all and not some fancier, pricier brand.

    The big news for 2014: the 370Z coupe has become an even better deal with a price drop of $3,130 for the Base coupe, which now starts at a reasonable $29,990 for the stickshift car, plus $790 shipping.  The luxurious Touring coupe drops $2,550 to $36,270, plus shipping.

    The roadster versions of the 370Z Base and Touring remain in the low $40,000s, same as for 2013. The NISMO Z tuner performance version, which has added new body and interior features for 2014, retains its starting price of $43,000. The NISMO Z comes only as a coupe.This latest generation of the Z raised the bar for the popular Japanese sports car, with more performance and a much-improved interior for the sporty two seater.  The styling remains controversial, some seeing it as bulky and unattractive.  To my eye, the look is properly muscular with a modern twist, its angular forms melded into the traditional style of a long-hood sportster.

    The Touring coupe tested here includes a suite of luxury and convenience add-ons.  The price of the test car jumped with the addition of the desirable Sports and Navigation System packages, hitting a bottom line of $41,460, which is not cheap but still a lot of sophisticated sports car for the money. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Nissan Rogue

    New compact crossover adds seating for 7 and cargo flexibility

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Nissan Rogue

    2014 Nissan Rogue

    The phrase, ‘go rogue,’ means to cease to follow instructions and act in an unexpected way. At first glance, the Nissan Rogue doesn’t seem very roguish. After all, compact crossovers are one of the fastest growing segments of the automotive market.

    Where the Rogue departs from the pack is in its combination of value and function. Nissan launched the first-generation car as a joint venture with Renault. This relationship continues with the all-new 2014 model, built on the common module family architecture.

    What this means to the consumer is better value. Pricing for the 2014 models starts at $22,490 excluding the $860 destination charge. Nissan will also continue producing a stripped down version of the 2013 car, priced under $20,000.

    Production moves from Japan to Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant: part of a strategy to produce 85 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States in North America. In addition to being able to react more quickly to changes in the target market, the move enables Nissan to utilize more US suppliers. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Nissan Sentra SR

    Compact sedan with cool technology

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Nissan Sentra

    In the automotive world, winning is less often a matter of changing the rules than playing the game differently. All OEMs have to comply with the same federal C.A.F.E. standards. Engineers who can meet those requirements with technology that doesn’t compromise performance are the ones whose cars turn heads.

    When Nissan introduced the current Altima a little over a year ago, the company did just that, by developing a continuously variable automatic transmission that doesn’t feel like a rubber band. The compact Sentra that followed utilizes a similar strategy to provide exceptional gas mileage in a car that’s fun to drive.

    Designers chipped in with styling that stands apart from vanilla competitors. Using Nissan’s tried-and-true formula of having headlamps and tail lamps provide the punctuation for the car’s character lines, they imbued the newest Sentra with youthful, yet substantive personality.

    The new car is lighter than the model it replaces, enhancing both gas mileage and handling. Overall dimensions are slightly larger than the outgoing car, and the interior more spacious.

    There are five grades: S, FE+ S, SV, FE+ SV, SR and SL. FE+ models get slightly better gas mileage on the highway.

    The SR model tested starts at $18,870 excluding the $790 delivery charge. Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 130 horsepower and the CVT transmission. The base S model is also available with a six-speed manual gearbox.

    A convenience package on the test car adds push button start, automatic headlamps, Bluetooth interface, satellite radio, iPod compatibility, easy-fill tire alert, and rear disc brakes ($1,080). The other option is navigation with NissanConnect, a voice-activated system that includes text messaging ($650). Carpeted trunk and floor mats bring the final MSRP to $21,500. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Nissan Rogue SV AWD

    Compact crossover gains around-view safety technology

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Nissan Rogue

    The Rogue is Nissan’s compact crossover, competing against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Hyundai Tucson. This year, the Rogue gains the same around-view safety technology as the upscale Infiniti JX. The technology uses four side-angle cameras around the vehicle perimeter to provide a 360-degree view, making it much easier to squeeze into a tight parking spot.

    Pricing starts at $20,310, excluding the $845 destination charge for the base front-wheel drive model. The all-wheel drive car starts at $21,610. All models come with a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously-variable automatic transmission.

    There are three trim levels: S, SV and SV with the SL package. The test car is the all-wheel drive SV that starts at $26,050. The $3,900 SL package adds leather trim, heated front seats and outside mirrors, navigation, satellite radio with real-time weather and traffic updates, a Bose premium audio system, , power moonroof, , xenon headlamps, 18-inch alloy rims and automatic climate control. Final MSRP is $30,965. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL 4X2

    Seven-passenger SUV enters its fourth generation

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Nissan Pathfinder

    2013 Nissan Pathfinder

    The 2013 Nissan Pathfinder is a solid, well-built seven-passenger SUV with good fuel economy, excellent towing capability and good road manners. It is not, however a pathfinder.

    The original model was, as the name suggests, an off-the-grid vehicle: designed to scramble across rocks, plough through mud and snow and even ford the occasional small stream.

    While the fourth-generation has an available all-wheel drive system, nobody would mistake it for an off-road vehicle. The wheelbase is 114 inches long and ground clearance is 6.5 inches. The all-wheel drive system has a locking differential, but no two-speed transfer case.

    The standard powertrain consists of a 260-horsepower V-6 engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. The two-wheel drive version tested has a 5000-pound towing capacity: well in excess of our minimum ALV standard.

    Base price is $34,470 excluding the $825 destination charge. Options on the test car include splash guards, roof rail cross bars, carpeted floor mats, illuminated kick plates and a premium package that adds a Bose 13-speaker sound system, 120-volt power outlet, dual panorama moonroof, tow hitch and trailer harness. Final MSRP is $38,870. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

    OEMs predict a brighter 2013

    By Nina Russin

    The fourth-generation Range Rover made its North American debut in LA

    Los Angeles is the first of four major auto shows in the United States, and therefore sets the tenor for the remainder of the season. While sales statistics can be misleading, catering spreads which accompany the various press conferences are much more telling.

    Before the crash of 2008, the show floor was rife with the spoils of success. It was rare to find any press conference without an espresso machine and plates of scones. Full-fledged buffets with open bars were not unusual. I remember one automaker inviting journalists to take home folding chairs set out for the event. The chairs were nice enough to furnish a summer cabin.

    When things went black four years ago, it was hard to find a bottle of water on the show floor, much less a cappuccino. While I don’t condone swag wagons at editorial functions, the lack thereof was certainly telling.

    Gradually, the amenities came back, beginning with some ice buckets with refreshments and the occasional Danish pastry. But it was not until the 2012 show which opened to the media this week that “real food” made its reappearance on the show floor. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Nissan Juke SL

    Compact crossover for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Nissan Juke

    Nissan has attracted legions of devotees through its development of unique niche products. The Xterra, Leaf, 370Z and GT-R are all models that appeal to relatively small groups of buyers. Think about it: small slices of a pie can have as much of an impact as one big one, assuming that there are enough of them.

    This isn’t to ignore the significance of the popular Altima, but rather to explain that Nissan, while not the largest automaker, has much more depth than many people give the company credit for. The Juke compact crossover is yet another example of Nissan’s marketing finesse. Available in both front and all-wheel drive platforms, the Juke stands apart from the crowd with its funky styling, an available manual transmission and exceptionally good fuel economy: up to 32 miles-per-gallon on the highway.

    Its styling alone means that the Juke is not for everyone, but for some buyers, it’s the perfect machine: affordable, versatile, fun to drive, and with enough ground clearance to work well in snowy weather.

    The Juke is small enough to fit into parking spaces on the street, yet has enough room inside for five passengers and their gear. If I still lived in Chicago where winter is ferocious and parking spots are at a premium, I would seriously consider buying a Nissan Juke. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV

    Five-passenger sedan combines style and value

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Nissan Maxima

    I’m not sure that I agree with Nissan’s description of the Maxima as a four-door sports car. Although the Maxima’s standard 3.5-liter V-6 engine packs a powerful punch, the front-wheel drive platform and continuously-variable automatic transmission would not be this writer’s first choice for time on the track. What the Maxima offers buyers is luxury car style combined with sporty performance at a great value.

    This year, Nissan boosts Maxima’s appeal with a SV value package which combines an upscale audio system, satellite radio, heated front seats and mirrors for $1000: $500 less than if a buyer purchased the components separately. Base price for the upscale SV model is $35,080 excluding the $780 delivery charge.

    Other options on the test car include a seven-inch color monitor with rearview camera, iPod and USB connectivity ($700); rear spoiler ($380); high-intensity discharge headlamps ($400); navigation with real-time traffic and weather updates and Bluetooth streaming audio ($1850); floor and trunk mats ($195), bringing the final MSRP to $40,385. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Nissan Quest 3.5 LE

    Room for seven passengers and 200 bagels

    By Nina Russin


    2012 Nissan Quest

    For 51 weeks out of the year, I’m not much of a minivan person. My husband and I don’t have children, and our cat fits into pretty much anything. But for one week, leading up to our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year finals, I am more about minivans than the queen of soccer moms.

    During that week I haul people, signage, traffic barricades, trophies, fruit platters, coffee tureens, and enough bagels to feed a small army. There is no vehicle better fit for this sort of duty than a minivan.

    Minivans tend to have a bad rep, which is a shame. While they aren’t hot rods, minivans have more versatile interiors than most crossovers, and get pretty good gas mileage to boot.

    I like to think of them as pop-up tents on wheels. Who doesn’t love something that folds into a backpack and unfolds into a living room? Minivans can haul an entire household, and unlike pop-up tents, they come pre-wired.

    When I test drove the Nissan Quest this week, I equipped it as I might for a camping expedition, with flats of water bottles, cartons of energy bars, duct tape, tarps, tie downs and first aid supplies. Add a pair of Oakleys and some good reggae, and the Quest becomes a vehicle befitting its name. Read the rest of this entry »