Going on sale in July 2012, the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market. Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.
It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class. The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.
First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling. The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous. Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.
Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling. That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car. Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold. The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way. Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall. The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest. Nissan calls it “Altimaness”.
Crossovers are all the rage these days. What’s not to like? Car-like handling, decent fuel economy, room for the kids? One trend I’ve noticed in crossovers is the move towards limited visibility. Beltlines have gotten so high that kids have trouble seeing out of the windows and backing up requires an extensive use of all three mirrors and a NASA satellite to see what lurks behind you. And if you don’t have a back-up camera you can pretty much count on hitting something at some point in time. Well, how refreshing the 2011 QX56 was to drive. The QX56 isn’t a car-based crossover. It is Infiniti’s truck-based answer to the Escalade. Based on the Nissan Patrol, which has been a huge sales hit in the Middle East because of its rugged construction and reliability, the QX56 can shuttle you around in the same comforts as a cash-stuffed Saudi oil mogul. With 20 MPG on the highway, you won’t need to personally know a sheik either.
The King is DEAD, long live the King. Very appropriate for the all new Infiniti QX56 being launched in the USA later this year. But first, we have to set the stage for the review itself – not the vehicle. Infiniti hosted small groups of journalists at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville. The hotel itself was worth the trip. Quirky, quaint with 42 plastic red penguins to entertain the guests. Penguins with bibs at dinner. Penguins with a shower cap in the tub. The “museum” part of the hotel’s title relates to the art on display – all by artists alive today and produced during the 21st Century. When an artist dies, their works are removed to a private gallery in the owners’ quarters on the 4th floor of the hotel. Oh, yeah, THE BOOK – found in the bar with a plain cover is worth the price of a martini.
The great drive in the QX56 through bourbon country and horse country from Louisville to Frankfort (Kentucky’s capital) was picturesque and the roads were great. Not much traffic. Rolling hills. Perfect for the large sport ute. Major surprise, however, was that the historic mile-after-mile of white fences Kentucky horse country is known for has transformed into creosote black fences… lower cost and longer life. The drive through northern Kentucky is highly recommended. Hopefully you have more than a stock rentacar. Don’t forget to stop at Choctaw Jim’s general store in Campbellsburg. They make a mean peanut and jelly sandwich with peanut butter bread. Yum. The only blemish is that the authentic American Indian artifacts mostly are made in China.
Intiniti QX56 Formidable Competitor in Premium Luxury SUV Class Now, about the second generation Infiniti QX56. As you probably know, the first generation QX is based on the Titan pickup and assembled at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi assembly plant. The new QX is based on the Japanese market Nissan Patrol and produced in Japan.
Coupe SUV Refined
2009 Infiniti FX35
2009 Infiniti FX50
The next new Infiniti arrives in June 2008, in the form of an updated FX, and facing new competition from the only other coupe-SUV in the BMW X6. The new FX offers more power from a refined 302HP 3.5L V6 or an all-new 390HP 5.0L V8, with all-wheel drive still optional. There is a new standard seven-speed automatic transmission, new electronic aids for crash avoidance and easier city driving, and even self-healing paint. Infiniti gave the FX a worldwide introduction at the Geneva motor show, launching the brand in Europe at the same time, the U.S. introduction is at the 2008 New York Auto Show.
The FX keeps its unique overall shape, with short overhangs and coupe-style roofline, but a slightly longer wheelbase makes for a longer hood and better-proportioned stance. Everything about the FX has been tucked and reshaped. The reshaped integrated rear spoiler and tailgate surround are bodycolor, though the tailgate opening looks as though it is smaller this time. There are still dual exhaust pipes, but the shape of the lower rear fascia is smoother. The new LED taillights carry a more distinct, decorative shape than the prior car.
2009 Infiniti FX50
According to AutoPacific’s annual survey of new car and light truck acquirers, the BMW 3-Series, Acura MDX, Lexus RX, Honda Accord, and Infiniti QX56 attract the most tech savvy buyers. Tech savvy consumers made up approximately 5% of the new car buying population in 2007, up from just 2% in 2006. As Gen Y matures and enters the new vehicle market in greater numbers, AutoPacific expects these numbers to continue their growth. Tech savvy car buyers were defined utilizing a collection of data filters from AutoPacific’s Research Suite® database.
SUVs are on their way out and Crossover SUVs are on their way up. Those in the market for a versatile vehicle with seating for four full size adults and cargo, the ride quality of a car and the image of an SUV have flocked to Crossover SUVs. It’s not a new concept but the idea really didn’t catch on until Lexus came out with their RX 300 in 1998. XUVs as they’ve come to be called are typically built off of a unitized car platform and owners really appreciate the benefits. They tend to cost less than SUVs, get better fuel economy and handle better.
The Infiniti G35 sedan is all new for the 2007 model year with the coupe being carried over from the previous generation. Think of the G35 as a German sport sedan from Japan. Good size, great handling, outstanding powertrain, the G35 wins against all competition in its class. This sedan/coupe duo scored particularly well for handling, exterior styling, wheel and tire size and appearance, and interior lighting. Only cargo space was rated below the segment average.
Seattle is known for rain and coffee, but the city gets its share of beautiful days complemented by a scenic backdrop of mountains, trees, and water. Infiniti picked this town for a media introduction of the latest G37 coupe. We were lucky enough to miss a ten-day rain trend and drove Infiniti’s new G37 coupe through a perfect day of high 70s, clear skies, and dry roads. We reported on the Coupe Concept from the 2006 North American International Auto Show that gave us our first hint of the new generation and the formal production reveal at the 2007 New York Auto Show; now we bring you our first driving impressions.
The G37 takes the same second-generation FM rear-drive platform of the G35 sedan and that the next-generation Nissan Z and GTR will take. This is a bit backward compared with the first-generation launch schedule, when the boy-racer 350Z launched a couple of months before the G Coupe. The G coupe also introduces a new-generation of VQ engine. Larger displacement, larger bore, and variable valve timing and lift are among key elements for wringing 330HP from a 3.7L DOHC 24v V6 that betters its predecessor’s fuel economy for a 18/24 city/highway rating.
The engine drives the rear wheels through an all-new five speed automatic or a revised six-speed manual transmission. Bringing 30HP more to the table, the new engine moves the G37 along with strength and grace. Despite an industry trend of more gears for automatics, Infiniti stays with five gears. The first three gears have wide ratios for maximum acceleration and response and fourth and fifth are dialed in for overall fuel economy.
The result is a very nice coupe, particularly the Sport ordered with its $1300 four-wheel active steering system. This is not at all the same as a four-wheel-drive system, which uses engine braking, traction control, ABS, and brakes to ensure traction in inclement weather or inconsistent surfaces. The sedan is offered with optional all-wheel drive, but not the coupe, and the M sedan offers rear-wheel active steering. The coupe’s four-wheel-active steer improves handling, balance, and stability but does not address the issue of torque and which wheel gets more or less at any given point like AWD systems. Does 4WAS, in Infiniti speak, work? Is it worth the cost? After twenty miles of curves, we say yes and yes. The system is subtle and responsive. Diving into corners and twists can be done with a supreme confidence, and with it you could gain speeding tickets quickly.