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May 252010
 

feature_by_johnchoi2

Introduction

It’s all been said before. Mass media and automotive outlets have eschewed the virtues of the R35 Nissan GT-R. Every superlative has been assigned to the first supercar to arrive from the Land of the Rising Sun in quite a while. Fast. Wicked. Tenacious. Quick. Outlandish. It’s all been said before.

I’m not going to bore you with what the GT-R can do on the track. Let’s face it. Unless you’re pining for a heavy fine and points off your driving record, you’ll never discover the true potential of the GT-R. So the obvious questions beg to be answered: How good is the GT-R under “normal” driving conditions? As good as the GT-R is as a sports car, how civil is it? Well, let’s find out.

First Impressions

In 2008, I was one of the forunate few who got a few days behind the wheels of the first production year GT-R. Having spent some time behind the wheels of all previous generations of Nissan’s halo vehicle – the R32 GT-R, R33 GT-R, R33 GT-R V-Spec, R33 GT-R LM, R34 GT-R V-Spec – the R35 was pure joy.

The 2010 edition isn’t very different from the 2009 model, although launch control has been re-programmed by Nissan to prevent premature transmission failures. The Premium edition model we had was coated in “Super Silver” special metallic paint. Apparently, this is a special paint applied via a multi-step process that provides the ultimate in paint jobs among all color options. With the Premium edition only near-black metallic finish wheels, the car was quite the looker and attracted all sorts of attention from other drivers on the road.

Sure, attention is nice and all but the GT-R tends to attract quite a bit of “negative” as well. All means of cars, from an older M5 to a “fixed” up Honda Civic would rev their engines at stoplights and on the freeway. No thanks, folks. Frankly, the GT-R will blow the doors off your “fast” rides but that doesn’t mean we would be baited into a street race or another. Keep it on the track.

Right. More about the GT-R.

  • Inside, the interior is fairly straightforward and simple; whereas the trend by many makes has been to overwhelm the driver with every button imaginable, the GT-R’s array of controls is much simpler
  • The LCD screen in the center console unifies all entertainment, navigation and vehicle sensor interfaces into one, eliminating the need for multiple screens

  • Speaking of vehicle sensors, the interface allows the driver to customize what he / she sees; considering the complexity and multitude of the systems involved in forward motion for the GT-R, this is a God send
  • Although the navigation screen isn’t as sharp as that we found in the Hyundai Genesis sedan, it’s a great system and very easy to use
  • Bluetooth pairing with a mobile phone was a snap
  • The iPod interface works very well, displaying actual song information including artist, album, etc.; would you believe this isn’t the case in more expensive vehicles, like the Audi R8?
  • The seats are supportive and offer plenty of adjustment; for me personally, however, I found the seating position a bit high for my 6’3″ frame; even though I was able to find a good seating position, head room left a bit to be desired
  • Honestly, the rear seats are only good for stowing a briefcase or a duffel bag; we can’t see full grown adults finding it comfortable for more than a 15-minute somewhere

  • The trunk, by comparison to past GT-Rs, is cavernous – the BNR32 GT-R had a decently-sized trunk but the BCNR33 and BNR34 GT-Rs really had a sorry excuse of a trunk
  • It swallowed up two rolling carry on bags, 2 computer bags, a camera bag and other assorted items with ease
  • We would NOT recommend putting any refrigerated or frozen grocery goods in the trunk for any extended period of time, as the gearbox and other mechanical goodies seems to generate an inordinate amount of heat that warmed the trunk to temps resembling a pizza oven… unless you wanted to warm up a pizza back there

  • The GT-R is a BIG car and you can see its girth in clear detail when parked among other cars
  • Visibility out the back is lacking and it would have been a nice touch if Nissan added a reverse / backup camera to make parking easier

Driving Impressions

As we stated before, the GT-R has been thoroughly vetted on the track so we won’t delve too much into its performance aspects.

  • The GT-R is really easy to drive, with the steering providing very positive feedback
  • Stoplight-to-stoplight drag races are disposed of with ease; even with the revised launch control system settings, the GT-R roars off the line with a level of impatience seen not more than once, maybe twice, in one’s motoring life
  • Even when in the GT-R’s automatic shift mode, it still performs quite like the supercar that it is, aka SCARY QUICK and FAST!
  • Frankly, unless you really want to get into some spirited driving, automatic mode seemed quite adequate for the majority of driving; for long distance highway driving, say, from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back, it’s perfect

  • Sure, it has “comfort” mode available on the suspension setting, it really doesn’t feel any different than when set in “normal” mode; heck, we really couldn’t notice much difference between “comfort” and “R” mode
  • Ride quality, as stiff as the suspension may be, was fairly comfortable; mind you, this isn’t a Lexus LS460, but it’s not bad at all
  • Speaking of suspension, the GT-R has an endless amount of grip; even when we went way too hot into a corner, we didn’t hear a single chirp from the tires
  • Braking was solid, courtesy of the huge Brembo rotors and multi-piston calipers
  • Perhaps it’s related to the pizza oven trunk, but the center transmission / driveshaft tunnel also generates a fair amount of heat; this necessitated the air conditioning on full blast to cool things down for occupants
  • Although the GT-R is fitted with massive tires and 20″ wheels, in-cabin noise level wasn’t bad at all; conversation at normal speaking levels was fine
  • At speed – and we don’t condone speeding *wink* – the GT-R sounds like a Boeing 747 from the inside; not an overpowering noise, but just a hum of the engine and transmission
  • We were able to achieve 21MPG on while cruising along on the freeway; more realistically, however, we achieved 16MPG on mixed driving

Conclusion

Some other reviews we read have said that the GT-R is too removed, too automated… almost soul-less. We say… RUBBISH. There isn’t a single car at the GT-R’s price point that comes even close to its performance. But value isn’t why you buy this car. You buy it because it’s so unique in the way it delivers the goods. About the closest thing to the GT-R is a Porsche. No, not a Boxster nor Cayman. We’re talking about a REAL Porsche. Namely, the 911 Turbo. That’s yet another supercar that could be driven day-in, day-out yet put to the pavement insane performance. It’s no wonder that Nissan used the 911 Turbo as the benchmark when developing the GT-R. Porsche purists might be crying foul at this point, but get over it. Really.

As we discovered during our rather 4 short days with the 2010 Nissan GT-R, there is much to love about the car. Road trips? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. A day at the track? Check. Commuting to work? Check. We don’t know of many cars that can say yes to so many things. So WE say yes. Yes, we absolutely LOVE the GT-R.

P.S. — If you’re serious about getting your hands on a GT-R and modifying it to deliver even MORE stunning performance, check out our R35 GT-R Aftermarket Buyers Guide!

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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May 092010
 

Introduction

The Nissan 370Z really needs no introduction. Selected as our pick for our overall best car of 2009, the new Z represents a phenomenal package that any motoring enthusiast can appreciate. But wait. Could Nissan really take things to yet another level with variants of this FM platform? Would the successful formula that is the Z34 be diluted in any way by offering something for the left and right ends of the spectrum?

Nismo 370Z – The “Left End”

Simply put, the Nismo 370Z is the “normal” 370Z’s evil brother. One quick glance at the exterior accrutrements says this particular 370Z is something a little different…

  • The extended front bumper and deep chin spoiler look very purposeful, perhaps intended to act as a splitter to increase downforce on the front end
  • The rear is much more tasteful than the previous generation Nismo Z – the previous generation’s rear bumper looked like it was trying too hard to mimic the looks of race-prepped Zs found in Japan’s Super GT racing series
  • The rear spoiler is aggressive without looking like a “shopping cart” wing; it does, however, hinder visibility out the rear
  • The forged alloy wheels made by Ray’s Engineering are much more open in design that those found on the “regular,” perhaps emblematic of greater airflow and cooling of the brake system

Frankly, we believe this is the way the Z should come from the factory, Nismo or not. Sure, it has a strong “boy racer” influence in its looks, but you really shouldn’t drive a Z if you don’t understand concepts such as throttle-induced oversteer, opposite lock and trail braking. To not drive this car HARD is a complete and utter injustice.

The interior is a different story. You won’t find anything particularly special. You get a very basic stereo system and not much more. Even the seats are the same as those found in the regular Z, albeit covered in different fabric and “Nismo” sewn into the backrest for good measure. As we’ll discuss in a bit, the Nismo Z needs a different cockpit environment. The handling characteristics of this vehicle require better shoulder and thigh bolstering and firmer seat cushioning to deal with the stiff suspension settings – our rear ends felt as if it was bottoming out.

These niggles aside, the steering wheel position is excellent. Deep footwells also allow the drive to sit comfortable close to the steering wheel while still maintaining enough leg stretch.

Now that you’re inside, what’s next? Push the keyless start button and bring the VQ37VHR engine to a roar. Slipping into first gear is more notchy and mechanical than we’d like. It’s just not as buttery a transmission you’d find inside a Honda. You’re forced to muscle gear shifts a bit and during very spirited driving, missed gears shifts are definitely a possibility. You won’t, however, find any fault with the SynchroRev Match system. It makes any driver a rock start behind the wheel, the ECU automatically blipping the throttle between every downshift. Heel-and-toe downshifting is an art form that takes much practice to master, but the Nissan system eliminates any need for it. We could call it cheating, but it works so well we can’t say anything to detract from it.

The power output, on the other hand, is strong from idle to redline. The VQ simply does not quit in laying down power to the ground. The VQ in the Nismo has a slightly higher rated horsepower rating than the standard Z but this is offset by the added weight of the body kit. No matter. This car is fun to drive. Stoplight to stoplight drag races are disposed of with ease. Is it any wonder that the VQ38DETT found in the GT-R is based on this engine? Absolutely fabulous.

Handling is pure bliss on the Nismo Z. By combining the gummy Bridestone tires, a limited slip diff and properly stiff suspension settings, this rocket holds its line and then some on smooth roads. When the road turns a bit rough, however, you truly realize just how stiff the suspension is. With much more aggressive compression / rebound settings and a very stiff spring, the Nismo Z WILL toss you around when traveling over rough, urban streets. And as mentioned before, better seating accommodations would have come in very handy in this driving situation.

370Z Roadster – The “Right End”

Indeed, if the Nismo 370Z is the tattooed brother, then the Roadster is the pinstripe wearing sibling. The moniker alone implies this car is meant for grand touring. It’s for open top motoring in the country side, with the wind blowing through your hair with an unrushed destination in mind.

On the outside, there’s not a whole lot to distinguish the Roadster from the Coupe until you look at the back half of the car. The antenna mounted smack dab in the middle of the trunk is a dead giveaway that this car is a little different – we think this is a rather poor aesthetic choice. Indeed, looking at the posterior of the Roadster really reminds us how big and wide this car is. While we don’t notice the bulbous rear section on the Nismo and Coupe renditions of the Z – perhaps the lines being broken up by the rear spoilers present on both – the Roadster continued to remind of us of the song “Baby Got Back.”

The fabric convertible top opens and closes in about 25 seconds each way. The operation is a choreography in moving parts, the top and hard tonneau cover adjusting, opening and closing with a degree of precision. Although the action is very smooth – save for the big thunk of the tonneau cover closing or the top sealing itself over the same over when the top is up – we wished it would work a little faster.

Climb inside and you’ll find familiar territory – interior accroutrements are the same as those you find in the coupe.

  • Seating position is fine save for the tallest of drivers; for my 6’3″ frame, the steering wheel was situated directly in front of my chest, mimicking the kind of steering position found in a touring race car
  • With the top up, getting in and out of the car required a bit of contortionist-like moves; getting in required the head going in last, while the opposite was required when exiting the vehicle
  • Speaking of the top, it left very little headroom for yours truly, although I suspect most “normal” sized individuals would have no headroom issues
  • Legroom was still substantial thanks to the deep footwell design found in all Z34 models
  • Our tester was equipped with the 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters; somehow, the automatic seems more appropriate for this model and we’re guessing that it is probably the more popular option

Firing up the engine and flicking the paddles elicits nearly the same level of acceleration found in the Coupe. Throttle response is excellent, thanks to the throttle-by-wire system. Downshifts are fairly smooth courtesy of rev matching on the down cycle, but when engaging 1st from 2nd under aggressive driving, there is a noticeable amount of shudder and engine braking. We don’t see this as a problem for 99% of prospective Roadster buyers out there as we suspect they are more than happy to let the ECU figure out the downshifts in fully automatic mode. We just can’t see the same owners downshifting with aggressive abandon as they enter a 1st gear corner “hot” and punch it at the apex to generate maximum corner exit speed.

Unlike its sister car under the Infiniti brand – which we would describe as “noodly” over railroad tracks and uneven terrain –  the Roadster was firm and displayed none of the cowl shake and noise we’ve noticed in other open top variants. Taking the car to limits of adhesion presented no problems for the Roadster and we were impressed at how hard it would bite the pavement. Tail-out maneuvers were never a surprise, as it was very progressive and didn’t snap out the rear in unpredictable fashion.

Conclusion

With the addition of the Nismo and Roadster models, Nissan has created a powerful trio of sports car options. With a truly ready-to-race Nismo Z, the “civilized” Roadster and the do-everything-well Coupe variant, the 370Z line is a powerful offering like no other on the market today. We can’t think of a common platform line up from any other manufacturer that offers the same level of performance, value and ownership experience that the 370Z brings to the table. It’s truly worth your purchase consideration if you care for a car that inspires you as a driver.

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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forged alloy wheels

Feb 072010
 

The Nissan R35 GT-R, one of our all time favorite performance platforms, is an awesome package right out of the box. But as any die-hard gearhead can attest, there’s never enough power to go around. In that spirit, HKS USA recently introduced a new front mount intercooler system for the Japanese supercar.

Featuring two lightweight, large capacity intercooler cores, polished aluminum piping and a size-matched carbon fiber air duct, this setup will improve overall intercooler air volume capacity and cooling efficiency. In addition, the design of the core has been revamped, leading to minimum pressure loss under high boost levels – who doesn’t want high boost levels?! – and should reduce weight.

Suggest retail price is $4,795.00 and is available through Authorized HKS USA Dealers. And also make sure to check out other GT-R performance parts from HKS and other topline manufacturers.

Sourcebox

HKS USA
13401 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90061
(310) 491-3300

Oct 182009
 

370z_leadin001 
Introduction

Although the very last letter of the alphabet, the letter “Z” is certainly not the last when it comes to automotive performance. The Z car has long held the imagination and fancy of car enthusiasts for countless years. Launched in 1969 as the Datsun 240Z (S30 chassis), it introduced Americans to the notion of the affordable sports car and never looked back.

After the demise of the 300ZX with the venerable VG30DETT turbocharged engine, the Z went away for a while. But things were set in motion to bring the it back thanks to, of all people, a Brazilian-born French-Lebanese CEO of French car company Renault. Yes, Renault (in case you’ve been living under a rock for a while, the French car maker has a cross share-holding alliance with Nissan). The fifth generation Z, dubbed the 350Z, was launched in 2002 to wide acclaim. Just one look at cars on the road will immediately reveal the public’s uptake of the Z.

With the 2009 370Z (the nonclementure referring to the displacement of the 3.7L V6), Nissan aims to up the ante established by the 350Z. Although there are few changes visible at first glance, there’s much to see and explore once in the driver’s seat. Our 370Z with Sport Package is really the enthusiast’s models with no bells and whistles but that suited us just fine. We wanted the unadulterated Z experience and we got it in spades with our “Monterey Blue” tester.

First Impressions

370z_leadin01

The basic body lines of the previous Z carry over to the new version – the sloping roofline, high beltline and basic form – but every dimension under the sheetmetal skin has been revised. Wheelbase, width and track have all been improved for the better. There is also a reduction in overall height by 0.7 inches. Even interior cargo room has been improved, due to the elimination of that hideous integrated rear strut bar seen in the previous model.

The front fasica takes a little bit of getting used to as it immediately reminded us of a catfish. But surely enough, you quickly get used to the unique look of the front end and revel in what Nissan engineers have done for the interior.

  • Whereas the previous generation 350Z’s stock seats left very little head room for 6′ and taller occupants, the 370Z seemed more accomodating to those north of 72-inches

nissan_370z_interior01

  • The interior design and materials really belie the affordability of the 370Z, with fit and finish that is really top notch (Touring model w/ navigation shown above)
  • Whereas the 350Z’s interior felt more plastic, the 370Z steps it up a notch with a softer and more luxurious vibe throughout the cabin – but don’t get us wrong – modernity definitely does not mean the 370Z has gone soft

370z_gauges

  • The upper center column gauges have been redesigned for an integrated look, whereas the 350Z left you feeling as if they were an afterthought
  • The instrument cluster features a large tachometer placed prominently in the middle as all sports cars should have

370Z_Fuel_Gauge

  •  If there’s one complaint we can make about the 370’s interior is the new fuel and water temp gauge – rather than simple and functiona needle indicators, they have been replaced by a row of dots that light up to indicate respective parameters; they’re hard to see in bright sunlight and the only thing detracting from a great instrument cluster

Driving Impressions

As with pretty much all Nissans these days, starting the 370Z requires just a simple push of the start button. Doing so brings the VQ37DE to life – thankfully, Nissan has decided to tone down the rather annoying exhaust note from the previous generation Z. The sound the muscular V6 produces is nothing unlike the infamous RB26DETT in the previous generation Nissan GT-Rs, reminding you of the Nissan’s sporting heritage. It’s a good indication of things to come, especially considering the 332bhp and 270ft-lbs of torque on tap for your right foot.

370z_engine2

Acceleration from a dead stop is impressive. It pulls solidly through every gear, in a relentless pursuit of the 7500RPM rev limit. And having that aforementioned tachometer smack dab in front of you, with a built-in shift light, makes things easier. It’s quite a feat that such a large engine just loves to rev all day long, but it does suffer from some excessive vibration and noise at higher RPMs. This is a characteristic carried over from the 350Z / VQ35DE. We wish that Nissan would do a better job of isolating these two minor details – if they can manage to do so, the VQ would truly become the benchmark in production sports car engines.

What will quickly become a benchmark is the new SynchroRev-equipped 6-speed transmission. The 370Z’s transmission feels much more refined than its predecessor’s. Throw in the new rev-matching technology that basically eliminates any need for heel-tose downshifting, even the most amateur of performance drivers can shift like a professional. The SynchroRev system just does not let ANY downshift perform or sound incorrectly. Even while humming around in a parking lot, the 2nd to 1st downshift was match perfectly, quickly putting the revs right where it needs to be. We fancy ourselves as pretty good drivers, but this system is 100% accurate whereas we would be 70% accurate on a very good day. The 370Z owner is going to be very well served by this awesome technology, even more so if he intends to track his Z on occasion.

The chassis and suspension carry on this fine-tuned level of performance by offering just the right about of stiffness without being too harsh. Blasting down rough city streets without worries of bouncing around and hitting our head on the headliner is a sure sign that Nissan got it right. Point it toward the apex of a corner and the Z telepathically guides you to it, aided by the standard limited slip differential and massive, gummy Bridgestone tires. Although there is some tendency toward throttle-induced oversteer, as most rear wheel drive sports cars tend to have, it’s very controllable and certainly easy to either power through it or pull back the reins. Quite simply, it’s an amazingly fun car to drive.

Braking for the 2009-and-up models are courtesy of the typical sliding caliper set-up or the multi-piston set up found on our base 370Z with the Sport package. From what we could tell, Nissan has potentially lowered costs by moving away from the Brembo-based braking package to an unbranded package made by Akebono, but this certainly has not hurt braking performance.

Conclusion

The Nissan 370Z delivered miles and miles of smiles and thrills for us. It’s such a great package out of the box that we feel it’s the closest thing anyone can come to the GT-R without paying GT-R prices. Sure, it may be impractical for some people considering it holds only 2 people, but the 370Z isn’t a car for someone who’s looking for practicality. It’s truly a car for those looking for performance, fun and an outlandishly high satisfaction of ownership. At a tad over $32,000 for our Z with the Sport package, it’s a steal and offers everything a car lover wants. And there’s such a huge level of aftermarket suppot, upping the ante in performance is easily within reach.

Buy a Nissan Cube for your commute. Own a 370Z for everything else.

Now… how can we get one from Nissan for a long term test…?

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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Sep 132009
 

feature_by_johnchoi

versa01

Introduction

With so much talk about the environment, the recent “cash for clunkers” program and the health of the car industry in general, the products themselves get lost in the brouhaha. The focus on function and overall value for money is getting lost in the flood of talk about prices and rebates. With that being said, some cars are worth a deeper look for their intended purposes. The Nissan Versa happens to be such a vehicle.

Let’s just get this out of the way. The Versa isn’t going to win any beauty contests and it isn’t going to set hearts aflutter with excitement. Rest assured, however, that Nissan offers other models which will do exactly that – the 370Z and GT-R, to name a couple. But what may be lacking in the excitement department is made up for in the utility department, with a deceptively spacious cabin and a hard-working 1.8L 4-cylinder engine that delivers good fuel economy.

Positives

versa_at_speed

  • The CVT (constantly variable transmission) works well and always seems to be in the right gear at the right time
  • Although the 4-banger produces only 122bhp & 127lb-ft of torque, it FELT faster on freeway on-ramps and getting away from stoplights than vehicles with more power

versa02

  • The interior is spacious, able to hold four 6′ adults with ease
  • Options added to our tester included XM satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free calling and keyless entry / ignition; all added up to a level of civility that we normally expect from higher priced vehicles
  • Crash safety is addressed through airbags all around, including side curtain airbags for rear passengers
  • Standard tire pressure monitoring system takes all the guesswork out of wondering if the tires are up to proper pressure
  • EPA fuel economy is stated at 27mpg city / 33mgh highway, we achieved a solid 29mpg with lots of stop-and-go city driving thrown in for good measure

Negatives

  • Under full throttle, the engine and tranny seemed to groan & strain, with an accompanying level of noise; the Honda Fit’s engine / tranny combination feels smoother and quieter in comparison
  • Our SL trim level tester starts off at $16,333 and comes in at $19,110 as equipped, including destination & handling charges, which is higher than what we’d normally pay for a vehicle in this class
  • Fit and finish compared to the Honda counterpart doesn’t seem up to par
  • Yes, there is a trunk / cargo area but it’s not really big enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries
  • There’s decent on-center feel in the steering but overall steering feel is a bit lazy

Overall, we feel the Nissan Versa makes a good commuter or a first time car. We must point out, however, the premium one must pay for the SL trim seems high, especially when comparing it to a comparably equipped Honda Fit – and at $18,000, the Honda comes equipped with a navigation system. If you opt to take a look at the Versa, we recommend the S trim level. Sure, it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of its more expensive brother – the 15″ alloy wheels, for example – but it comes with the same 1.8L engine, same 6 airbag safety system and a 6-speed manual transmission (the 4-speed automatic is optional) for $13,110. If you want an even  more economical alternative, then the Versa sedan is worth a look (starts at $9,910), although we feel the price premium for the hatchback is well worth it from an aesthetic standpoint.

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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Aug 032009
 


Not to get left behind in the zero emissions race, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (Japan) today unveiled the Nissan LEAF, “the world’s first affordable, zero-emission car.” Scheduled for launch in late 2010 in Japan, the United States, and Europe, the LEAF, according to Nissan, will present:

  • Zero-emission power train and platform
  • Affordable pricing
  • Distinctive design
  • Real-world range autonomy – 160km (100 miles)
  • Connected Mobility: Advanced intelligent transportation (IT) system

The LEAF is powered by laminated compact lithium-ion batteries, which generate power output of over 90kW, while its electric motor delivers 80kW/280Nm. A combination of the LEAF’s regenerative braking system and innovative lithium-ion battery packs enables the car to deliver a driving range of more than 160km (100 miles) on one full charge*. (*US LA4 mode)

The LEAF can be charged up to 80% of its full capacity in just under 30 minutes with a quick charger. Charging at home through a 200V outlet is estimated to take approximately eight hours.

The real question we have, however, is… although the LEAF and other electric vehicles themselves may not produce any emissions, they still do not solve the emissions that are created by electricity production. Whether it’s coal or nuclear, electricity is still produced for the most part by processes which consumes fossil fuels. Until the production process and the infrastructure to support it switches over to wind, solar and hydroelectric systems, we at RevdCars still feel the notion of an emissions-free electric vehicle is just that… a notion.

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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Jul 262009
 

feature_by_johnchoi

cube_front_quarter_profile1Photos courtesy of Nissan North America

Introduction

In 2004, the Scion xB (or the Toyota bB as it is originally known as in Japan) set a new trend in the automotive marketplace with its quirky design, affordable pricing and a marketing push that specifically targeted younger, first time buyers. Indeed, the first few xB’s that roamed the streets often solicited a universal response: “What the heck is that?” The first generation xB drew quite a crowd, young AND old, to dealerships across the country to take a closer look and, more often than not, take home the Kleenex box on wheels.

Fast forward to the present. The xB has morphed into something much less than its original self, losing that design “edge” and the fuel efficiency of the 1.5L engine, however anemic the power delivery may have been. And with these changes, the obligatory price of entry has gone up as well. The xB was no longer innovative nor affordable, distancing itself from the very qualities that made it so appealing to so many.

Thankfully, a new generation of the Kleenex box is hitting American car dealers and bringing back “the funk” in a major way.

First Impressions

cube_rear4

The Nissan cube (yes, it’s lower case). Striking. Striking in a funky kind of way. The overall design is very organic in form, with no hard angles or solid corners to be found – which is rather the opposite of its namesake. The rear window wraps around to the passenger side, creating an asymmetric visual effect. The front driver and passenger window openings look more like portholes, as if you are looking through openings on a small submarine. The front fascia with its prominent headlights and low rear bumper treatment create an instant reminder of something… although that “something” isn’t apparent at first. Personally speaking, the word “octopus” comes to mind.

  • Step inside and the organic theme continues – everything is characterized by soft lines and rounded corners.
  • Unlike a commercial duty truck that is full of hard surfaces and sharp edges, the cube’s interior is inviting, a place where you COULD spend hours on end during a road trip; the seats, although lacking any significant side bolstering, are supportive and comfortable, and wrapped in good quality fabric.

cube_headliner_ripple_effect

  • Look above and the headliner has a ripple effect, the dome light positioned as the centerpoint. The same treatment is found on the audio speakers and, to a lesser extent, on the HVAC controls, tying everything together.

cube_interior_dash

  • Our evaluation cube came equipped with a bevy of audio options – XM satellite radio, iPOD / USB connectivity, CD changer, AM / FM radio. The optional Rockford Fosgate sound system delivered decent bass with clean mids and highs
  • The cube is also offered in the top-of-the-line “Krom” trim level, with a special front fascia treatment, unique design wheels and a host of other unique equipment – was this trim level name inspired by the character Crom in the movie Tron? Or perhaps by Conan the Barbarian’s god, Crom?
  • There is sufficient room to comfortably seat 4 adults; even with yours truly at the wheel, with the driver’s seat slid all the way back, there was plenty of leg room available in the rear
  • Storage space in the main compartment is everywhere and optional bungee cords, that allow you to literally hang things on the door handles, are available as an option
  • With the windshield having little rake, it feels as if the front end is miles away when sitting in the front and takes a bit of getting used to
  • There is a bit of liftover required to load items into the trunk, with cargo space seemingly at a premium – sure, you can fold down the rear seats to create more space, but if the cube is already loaded with passengers, you’d better pack lightly

Driving Impressions

If you’re expecting GT-R-like performance, look elsewhere. More than a handful of other reviews on this car speak of the cube’s lack of power under the hood. But really, is that even a relevant comment to make? Is the cube buyer looking for sub-4 second 0-60 times? 12-second quarter mile times?

The Nissan cube is intended as a stylish people hauler with a low cost of entry. The 122-hp 4-cylinder is certainly peppy and permits quick getaways from stoplights. Surely, it’s no VQ38DETT found in the GT-R, but power delivery is smooth and linear. The continually variable transmission does a great job of delivering what power the Cube does brings to the table and makes the little wagon feel quite a bit more crisp and powerful than it really is. And when things do get a little dicey, it’s good to know that traction and stability control come as standard equipment on this Nissan.

Handling is definitely aided by the placement of all four wheels at the farthest points of each corner possible. This creates an ideal weight distribution over each wheel, creating handling characteristics that belie the tall design of the Cube. For those aftermarket-inclined, they may opt to upgrade the stock 16-inch wheels and 195-width tires, but the stock set up is more than sufficient for the most of us.

Braking was steady and consistent. Initial bite, even when cold, was good and predictable. Even though the Cube is equipped with drums in the rear, you would never know it unless you took a peek under the wheels.

In terms of fuel efficiency, the cube generated an average of 27.5 miles per gallon based on a 60/40, city to highway split. That’s excellent gas mileage from a vehicle that can transport 4 adults quite comfortably.

Conclusion

New car sales have been flat over the last twelve months due to the economy sinking like the Titanic and people opting to keep their cars longer. As a matter of fact, the ratio of used car sales to new car sales went from 3:1 in 2008 to 5:1 in 2009, according to RL Polk.

Newer model cars just aren’t that exciting any more. Same, mundane designs across the board, uninspiring performance and rising sticker prices plague offerings from many manufacturers. With that being said, it’s good to see Nissan take the leap and bring this quirky, fun car to US shores. It’s certainly worth a look for new car buyers looking for a car with personality, good performance and value for money. We’re betting that the Cube will give Toyota’s Scion offering a run for its money.

Sourcebox

Nissan North America
P.O. Box 685003
Franklin TN 37068-5003
(800) NISSAN-1

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