Monday, June 25, 2012

Nissan Altima

To make another long story short, Amber's car has been in the shop much longer than orignally expected, to the point where we had to return the Kia Optima rental car and get a different one. Hey, if nothing else, at least we get to play the "rental car lottery" once more. More data!

Well, anyway, we ended up with a Nissan Altima, which - again, based on our small sample space - also appears to be a common rental car. (Out of our five rental cars, we've ended up with an Altima twice.)

So...I'm a little biased against Nissan. Once upon a time, my mom's experience with a 1985 Nissan Sentra was, let's call it, unsatisfactory. Yes, that was a long, long time ago (among my earliest memories is when we bought the thing - true story), but it's funny how one negative experience can persist. I'm sure Nissans are a lot better than they were in the 80s, and it's ridiculous to hold the quality of their 1985 models against them today, right? I mean, just look at American cars: they are a lot better now than they were back then.

(Side comment: I think Nissan has had a hard time with the Sentra. The subcompact Versa sells well because it's super cheap, and the Altima appears to be doing okay. But why aren't there many Sentras on the road anymore? Is it because everyone else once had a bad experience with a 1980s Sentra, too? Or, maybe it's just because the compact car genre, which includes the Honda Civic, is too competitive.)

Obviously, I have to compare the Altima with the Kia Optima, and detail every single difference I think of, then the really dumb ones. (Hey, I just realized that "Altima" and "Optima" are both six letter words that start with a vowel and end in '-tima'. Interesting.)

Fuel mileage is important to me, and the Optima wins that competition, by approximately 5 mpg (35 to 30). Over the life of a car - let's call it 150,000 miles - and assuming $3.50/gallon, that's a difference of $2,500. So, yes, a 5 mpg difference is worth talking about. Of course, the tradeoff is that you get more power with the Altima, which is probably why given these two choices, Amber is more likely to choose the Altima, while I am more likely to choose the Optima. Amber also says that you have more vision in the Altima than the Optima, which I hadn't noticed. I actually had a harder time with the Altima at first when waiting at a stop sign.

I never really "pushed" the Optima (e.g. floored it, or took a turn or two quickly). Kias aren't meant to be pushed. And I usually drove the Optima with the "ECO" option on, although I was never really convinced that the "ECO" option actually did anything. The Altima, on the other hand...well, a car with a decent amount of power kind of dares you, right? The Altima's power is nice, and I was very impressed with the acceleration through the gears on the automatic gearbox. Of course, the tradeoff is fuel mileage. Can't have it both ways! I wasn't particularly fond of the steering, though. It seemed like you really had to tug on the wheel to get around a corner.

The 'stat gizmos' (e.g. real time MPG), which I claim are more common on cars with other deficiencies, are pretty much the same on both cars...but I remember thinking that the Optima had something that the Altima did not, although now I forget what that was.

Amber likes the interior of the Altima better because the control panel is less cluttered. But I liked the interior of the Optima better - it just seemed a little more cozy, I don't know. Hard to say why. It could have been just because the Optima was newer (15,000 miles instead of 35,000 miles) and still had that "new car smell", though. (Actually, 15,000 miles is hardly 'new'. I wonder if Enterprise fakes the new car smell in its cars.) And, the Optima could play mp3 CDs; the Altima cannot.

Well, anyway, none of this really matters, because I think Amber and I are both unlikely to purchase either car with my next purchase. However, my opinion of Kia is...let's say, "evolving". I received more than one "I like my Kia!" comment (or something similar) when I posted that Kia Optima blog post a couple of weeks ago, and I recognize their cars are getting better. The Optima was a much better car than the Spectra rental we drove back in 2008. HUGE difference.

My next car purchase (2015?) is likely to be a "crossover" type of vehicle - our current cars already get kind of cramped on road trips, and we don't even have a second kid yet! - and currently, there are three brands I'm thinking about: Honda (it'll be hard to beat the CR-V), Ford (the only American brand I would consider), and...Kia. Did I really just say that? Yes, but the Kia Sorento does seem to get good reviews. Then again, my next car purchase is (hopefully) another three years out, at least, so let's not get ahead of ourselves.


Shannon Brien said...

We will be purchasing car for Baby Brien by the end of August so have been accumulating a lot of data. Our 3 front runners are the Honda CRV, Kia Sportage, or Hyundai Tucson.
The CRV claims an MPG of 31/22 where as the others come in at 32/22. For some reason I feel like the Honda will be "more true" to the number? Fact or just my perception, who knows, but that's where we are at right now.

Jeff said...

I've had two Altimas as rentals in the past year. Drove one to New Orleans and back and the other around town as a scout vehicle for a mobile radar. I am impressed; being a Michogan native, extracting praise from me for foreign cars is a tough task!

amber said...

The thing I like better about the Altima is that the handling feels tighter and more solid. That's how I like to drive. But it's certainly uglier and less fuel efficient than the Optima. The Optima also has more comfortable seats. But the handling just feels loose and wishy washy. That's a technical term, wishy washy.