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Category Archives: Test Drives

What I think: 2013 Nissan Altima

Nissan’s Altima doesn’t have the brand heritage that the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry possess in the family car segment, but Nissan must be doing something right: in 2011, the Altima outsold both of those cars.

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Good news for Nissan, but all three of those cars were redesigned recently: the Camry for 2012, and the Accord and Altima this year. Given the improvements that Honda and Toyota have made to their family sedans, Nissan had some work to do to keep the Altima in the game.

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Looks are important in any car segment, but are not paramount to success for a family car. The 2013 Altima does away with the frumpy look of the outgoing car, replacing it with a design reminiscent of a generation-old Lexus ES. Classy, but unexciting.

On the other hand, the interior design has been dumbed down, in my opinion. It looks fine and works well enough, but has a cookie-cutter look to it, where the old Altima’s interior neatly incorporated stylistic elements borrowed from the sporty 370Z coupe. Sporty isn’t what family sedans are about, so the 2013 Altima edges closer to the automotive equivalent of sensible shoes.

One of the most important parts of any car is a set of sensible seats. Nissan co-developed the Altima’s front chairs with NASA. These “zero gravity” buckets are presumably comfortable for someone, but not me; they hurt my back and made me glad I wasn’t doing any long-distance travel in this car. Balancing out the weirdly-shaped backrest was a soft bottom cushion. (At least one part of my backside was well taken care of.)

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The rear seat cushions are similarly soft, but here, the backrest angle is raked a few degrees too far back. It’s great for napping, but less so for those following mom’s advice to sit up straight.

Headroom is more generous here than in the new Accord, but that car feels roomier overall. The Altima boasts similar trunk space and trumps the Accord by including a split-folding rear seat; in the Accord, you either fold all of it, or pay someone to deliver your Ikea purchase.

I was less impressed with the Altima’s interior quality. To be fair, everything looks good, and the materials mostly feel like they belong in a $30,000 car, but the dash generated a couple of buzzy, creaky noises that didn’t go away once the car was warm. A speaker grille in the top of the dash – front and centre for all to see – was poorly fitted, looking like it had warped slightly over years of exposure to hot sun, but my test car had just 4,000 km on its odometer.

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Nissan’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder is the volume seller in this car, and it boasts a nominal power increase to 180 hp for 2013. It’s not a sweet-sounding motor, so it’s best that the continuously variable transmission (CVT), standard in all Altimas, is good at keeping engine speeds well below the “buzz point.”

Nissan is known for CVTs and says this one has been redesigned with a view to reducing friction and increasing efficiency. The company’s fuel consumption claims are 7.4/5.0 L/100 km (city/highway); those are very impressive numbers that my test car didn’t stand a chance of matching in a week of cold, snowy weather, instead averaging just below 10 L/100 km in city driving.

I’ve long liked Nissan’s CVTs, but have found in the past that they favoured refinement over performance, so the cars felt slower than their power numbers would suggest (even if that was just a seat-of-the-pants perception). This Altima felt more responsive and eager to let the engine spin when acceleration is called for.

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The ride is fabulous, a near-perfect balance of comfort versus body control that trumps the Accord’s too-firm suspension tuning. Steering response is decent, but the electro-hydraulic power assist is a bit over-boosted; that’s a good thing at low speeds (like parking lot crawling), but makes the car feel less poised at highway speeds. Plus, the steering feels a bit “off” in sweeping corners, where Nissan’s Active Understeer Control kicks in to help keep the car on course. The company says it’s “almost undetectable,” but I detected it, and I didn’t like it. It sounds like a feature meant to augment performance at the car’s handling limit, but Nissan says its aim is to help improve steering accuracy in normal driving. Here’s something else I detected: Nissan overthinking the steering system in a family car.

No doubt, the Altima continues to be a good car. Its problem, following this redesign, is that it is neither as cushy as the latest Camry, nor does it boast a personality as sharply defined as the new Accord’s. It tries to strike a balance between the two, and mostly succeeds, but not comprehensively enough to make this a great car.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Nissan, Test Drives, What I Think

 

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What I think: 2013 Honda Accord

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For the first time in a long time, Honda has a hit on its hands with the redesigned 2013 Accord. Click here for my review at Autos by Sympatico. In short, there is very nearly nothing wrong with this car.

 

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What I think: Long-term Toyota Prius C

I, with the help of the Autos.ca team, am conducting a three-month, long-term test of Toyota’s newest — and smallest — hybrid model, the Prius C. Click here to read my Autos.ca Long-Term Introduction of this car.

 

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What I think: Long-term Hyundai Genesis Coupe

I’m in the early weeks of an extended, four-month test of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, a rear-wheel drive car that challenges many of the negative stereotypes that continue to dog this carmaker, in spite of the recent, massive strides in quality they’ve made. Click here to read my Autos.ca Long-Term Introduction.

 

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What I think: 2012 Honda Accord HFP coupe

Honda has worked its HFP (Honda Factory Performance) magic on the Accord coupe, but the spell didn’t quite turn it into the fabulous sporty car they’d like you to think it is. Click here to read my Autos.ca Test Drive.

 

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What I think: 2012 Toyota Prius V

Those who don’t “get” Toyota’s Prius probably never will. For those who do, though, there’s even more to like in the 2012 Prius V, one of two new variants added to this hybrid poster child’s lineup. Read my Quick Spin review at Autos.ca.

 

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What I think: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT and Coupe

In Canada, hatchbacks and Hyundai are hot stuff right now. Hyundai’s problem (a first-world problem if ever we’ve heard one) is that its strong-selling compact Elantra was available only as a sedan, while many of its competitors’ small cars can be had in a variety of body styles.

For 2013, the Korean automaker answers a question that I’m sure some have been asking, by adding a hatchback and coupe to the Elantra line.

True, the Elantra Touring station wagon has been available since 2009, but, as the marketers are so eager to tell us, wagons aren’t cool and no one wants them. The 2013 Elantra GT therefore sacrifices some practicality for a more stylish hatchback body, in the vein of a Mazda3 Sport or Ford Focus five-door, which happen to be the cars Hyundai sees the GT competing most closely with for buyers. We got a chance to drive both coupe and GT models at a recent first drive event in Montreal.

The need for an Elantra coupe was less obvious to us, but Hyundai’s Canadian PR reps say this car presents an opportunity to take a bite out of a market that is largely owned by Honda’s Civic coupe. In the past, General Motors was a major player in small two-doors, until it replaced its Chevrolet Cobalt with the four-door-only Cruze. With that popular player gone, the Elantra two-door will compete with the Civic and its corporate cousin, the Kia Forte Koup.

Like the Elantra sedan, the GT and coupe offer good interior space that’s around average for the class. The GT’s cargo space is less generous than the old Elantra Touring had; the coupe really only sacrifices some rear seat headroom; its trunk space matches the sedan’s, and the rest of the interior is as spacious (if not as easy to get in and out of, thanks to the lack of rear doors) as the sedan’s and GT’s.

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While all three cars share the Elantra name, they are not all the same underneath. The coupe is essentially an Elantra sedan with two fewer doors, but shares a different rear suspension with the GT, a torsion axle setup with a stabilizer bar in place of the sedan’s less-sophisticated (Hyundai’s word) rear suspension. GT models get stiffer rear springs and better shock absorbers, and the coupe’s suspension is tweaked depending on trim level to accommodate the two wheel and tire packages (16 and 17 inches) offered on the two-door. The GT also rides on a unique platform, the car being a near-twin to the Hyundai i30 sold in overseas markets.

All three cars use the 1.8-litre four-cylinder “Nu” engine found in the Elantra sedan, as well as that car’s six-speed manual and automatic transmissions. Its power ratings (148 hp/131 lb-ft of torque) remain the same for all three cars, putting it roughly mid-pack in the numbers game. It’s a good engine, but if you choose to shift for yourself, you’ll be doing a lot of it to keep the motor in its sweet spot.

Hyundai has made much of this engine’s fuel efficiency, and its Natural Resources Canada ratings of 7.3/5.0 L/100 km (with the automatic transmission; the stickshift does slightly better); this engine does without the direct fuel injection technology used by a number of its competitors (and, indeed, other Hyundai models) because, as Hyundai explains, it wasn’t necessary to meet the company’s economy goals. Automatic-equipped cars have an ActiveECO fuel-saving mode, a driver-selectable system that softens throttle response and changes the transmission’s shift pattern to boost efficiency.

The GT also gets what Hyundai calls Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM), which lets the driver choose from three levels of power assist: comfort, normal and sport. This feature is a first both for Hyundai and the compact segment, and was conceived to allow different drivers to tailor the steering to their own preferences. It’s a bit gimmicky, though, and doesn’t actually affect the car’s performance in any meaningful way; the GT’s steering ratio is virtually identical to the sedan’s. The coupe, meanwhile, has slightly quicker steering than its linemates.

That said, the GT gets the nod as the best-handling member of the Elantra family. It feels a bit more substantial over the road than the coupe and sedan, and the rear suspension provides better body motion control, too. The coupe is a decent handler in backroad driving, as long as the asphalt is smooth; broken pavement brings out the same skittish rear-end feel the sedan is guilty of.

Both coupe and GT models come with a comprehensive list of standard kit that includes air conditioning, heated front seats, cruise, trip computer and Bluetooth. The coupe is offered in GLS and SE trims, while the GT can be had in base, GLS and SE configurations. It’s worth noting that in both cases, the SE trim includes the automatic transmission, with cannot be deleted in favour of the manual.

Coupe pricing ranges from $19,949 for the GLS ($21,149 with automatic) to $25,199 in SE form, which includes navigation, premium audio, leather, automatic climate control, among other niceties.

The GT hatch starts at $19,149 in base form and bumps to $21,349 for the GLS model (the automatic is a $1,200 option in base and GLS models). The GT SE is worth $24,349, including leather, automatic climate control and a front windshield de-icer, and can be optioned with a Tech package that adds push-button start, proximity key, navigation and backup camera, for $26,349.

 

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