Everything You Need?
The Nissan Xterra slogan “Everything you need and nothing you don’t” has always made me wonder… What exactly do I need? I’d like to think that I could probably survive without many frills, but it almost begs the question… “What about some of the things I really want?” Is the Xterra a knock down, drag out, take no prisoners SUV that needs no further trimmings, which might detract from its purpose driven nature, or is it a bare bones box on wheels relying on it’s motto as an excuse to cut costs? AutoPacific
and Vehicle Voice
staff wanted to know the answer. We may have all agreed that the Xterra fulfilled all of our SUV requirments but with so many options out there would we want one?
During the last week of March 2007, 1,254 VehicleVoice panelists responded to an Internet survey concerning their opinion of major automakers in the USA. VehicleVoice asked these questions because the opinion of buyers and their attitudes towards various aspects of a manufacturer’s image are critically important. Managing image and opinion plus understanding what is driving that opinion can influence whether a person will positively consider or reject a brand next time they are in the market.
The key question in the VehicleVoice survey was whether the respondent’s opinion of a manufacturer had changed since this time last year. If their opinion had changed, the panel member was given the chance to explain why their opinion had changed. We received over 5,000 comments concerning these manufacturers. Some were as short one word. Some were as long as a page of 10-point type. Folks really had a lot to say and their comments were fascinating.
Discussion for each of the brands is below the fold.
NISMO Creates Ultimate Enthusiast Z
Among the special editions and sporting models being introduced this week at the 2007 New York auto show is an addition to Nissan’s 2007 350Z lineup, the NISMO 350Z. Though the 350Z doesn’t yet move to the 330HP 3.7L V6 being introduced in the Infiniti G37 at the same auto show, the NISMO package includes updates to the suspension to improve handling as well as the look-at-me bodykit. According to Nissan’s vice president and general manager Bill Bosley, “The NISMO 350Z is geared towards enthusiasts who want the ultimate 350Z straight from the factory performance experts. They also want a Z that makes a statement and is a testament to their love of driving.” The NISMO 350Z certainly looks the part.
NISMO started in 1984 in Japan, offering high-performance aftermarket parts and accessories for the Nissan lineup, but this is the first factory-offered NISMO for the Z lineup. (NISMO parts are available through several aftermarket parts suppliers, as a quick Internet search will tell you.) This is only the second NISMO-branded product for the U.S. market (after the 2005 NISMO Frontier off-roader). The NISMO package gets aerodynamics meant to resemble Super GT championship Z racers, including a huge chin spoiler on an aggressive front fascia, side skirts, an extended rear fascia with underbody diffuser, and (of course) a large rear wing. This model also sports as standard HID headlights and LED taillights.
Nissan‘s 2007 North American International Auto Show concept, the Bevel, offered a well-thought-out interior intended to appeal to 45-to-60-year-old guys looking to be the neighborhood hero, who have the tools on hand to get you into your unlocked house, or who may step in to help get home that unexpected large purchase, or who have a doggie kennel for saving lost dogs.
Or, more realistically, a vehicle for guys whose leisure activities tend toward working with their hands or outside, or whose primary job requires a vehicle that holds more stuff than people. These buyers travel solo most often, but can use a tailgate that lifts high enough to provide cover in the rain, unique storage areas in an easy-to-clean cargo zone, or a pair of 110v power-tool-recharging outlets. Instead of roof racks, six “pucks” popped up to reveal tie-down hooks, creating a system would carry a load of up to 250 pounds. To assuage the contradictory appeal of V6 torque and green powerplants, the Bevel was designed to accommodate a V6-hybrid powertrain that Nissan has under development.
According to Nissan, there are men in the empty-nest age group that need a multi-purpose vehicle configured for cargo and work rather than people hauling. SUVs and minivans are all geared toward moving people. The research may be onto something. But these buyers could just as easily convert a Scion xB; they exist, but the slice is so narrow they may exist in the thousands rather than tens of thousands. It might be tough to justify a whole new vehicle around this group. But should Nissan bring the next home-market Cube to the States as is often rumored, incorporating some of these interior solutions as options could enhance overall marketability of the box.
In any event, we can’t imagine many who would want the utility badly enough to be wrapped in Bevel’s sheetmetal. As clever as the interior might be, the exterior is not. The Ford Airstream concept offered asymmetric doors and windows, too, but Ford’s arrangement was pleasing to the eye. Bevel’s unusual cargo hatch made for a sharp look to the rear three-quarter, but in profile and front views it just didn’t work. Bevel’s nose and tail look too abruptly chopped off. The nicest thing that has been said so far about the Bevel’s grille shape is that it looks like a dustbuster snout.
My family is sort of schizophrenic when it comes to vehicles. Among others, our garage includes a MINI Cooper S and a Ford Expedition. As the primary driver of the Cooper, you can easily guess how I feel about the Expedition. While I sometimes appreciate it’s utility, vehicles this big should be used for hauling vegetables, not people. When I drive it, I often gaze in wonder at its expanse of empty seats, ready to reduce my passenger miles per gallon. Yet I understand that I am clearly (still) in the minority. The US has a lot of full size SUVs with happy drivers on the road.
…Of course I’m excited about the assignment of covering the 2008 refresh of the gargantuan QX56 for VehicleVoice.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just released their first crash ratings for Economy Compact Cars. They call them “minicars”. The IIHS often releases results like this to pressure car makers to achieve higher safety results than are required by the Federal Government (NHTSA). Being part of the insurance industry, the IIHS charter is to provide information that consumers can use to select a safer car or light truck – and hence a car that might generate lower personal injury claims in an accident.
Force Still Equals Mass X Acceleration… F=MA
The first thing you learn in Physics 101 is F=MA. Basically, this equation means that something bigger is going to win if it hits something smaller. People have historically bought Lincoln Town Cars partly because they were so big that they were guaranteed a “win” in an accident. The same thinking goes with Large Sport Utility Vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban.
A very small car is going to lose in an accident with a much larger vehicle. There will be much more physical damage to the small car than to the big one. And all things being equal, people riding in the small car are more at risk. The IIHS and Federal Government have noted that as fuel economy goes up (through vehicles getting lighter and smaller), damage and injuries also go up. In this case, bigger and heavier is better. But with skyrocketing gas prices folks rightly want more fuel efficient cars and trucks.
With that in mind, Economy Compacts have been introduced… Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa are the three that were launched in 2006 as 2007 model year cars. Only the larger Versa aced the crash tests… Versa includes side curtain air bags as standard equipment. Yaris, where side curtain air bags are optional, fails if it is not equipped with these safety enhancements.
The IIHS press release is included below the fold if you want to read the whole thing. But just remember, when it comes to safety, and all other things are equal, the bigger vehicle will win. F will always equal MA.
WardsAuto.com has announced its 10 Best Engines for 2007. Let’s see how VehicleVoice agrees with the Wards’ results… they are presented in alphabetical order:
Audi AG 2.0L turbocharged DOHC I4 – Audi A3 – We agree wholeheartedly with this engine selection, but Ward’s gives it short shrift by identifying only the Audi A3 as having this engine. It is also found in the Audi A4, Volkswagen Eos, Volkswagen GTi, Volkswagen Jetta and even the Volkswagen Passat. A real nice driving 4-cylinder turbo that is the workhorse of the spirited Volkswagen/Audi lineups.
BMW AG 3.0L DOHC I6 – BMW Z4 3.0si – BMW in-line sixes are always works of art. Smooth, effortless, always feel that they are putting out more horsepower than their ratings. Ward’s has selected the higher horsepower version found in the Z4 3.0si – it puts out 255-horsepower and has 220 pound-feet of torque. This engine is also found in the BMW 530 sedan.
BMW AG 3.0L turbocharged DOHC I6 – BMW 335i – We don’t really go with turbocharged engines much. There is usually no replacement for displacement. But the 3.0L Turbo in the 335i is a sweet piece. Turns the 335i into a Q-ship with near M3-levels of performance.
DaimlerChrysler AG 3.0L DOHC V6 turbodiesel -Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec/Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD – We appreciate the sentiment, but until a diesel can be sold in all 50 states, we won’t agree that it is one of the best engines. Diesels deserve a significant place in the USA automotive landscape, but regulations, technology, fuel costs, fuel availability have all conspired against widespread diesel acceptance.
DaimlerChrysler AG 5.7L OHV Hemi V8 – Chrysler 300C – Chrysler Group has built a franchise around the HEMI. The low cost, Mexican-produced, overhead valve, high output engine almost singlehandedly resurrected Chrysler from its early 21st Century doldrums. Don’t forget the HEMI can be found in all large, rear wheel drive Chrysler, Dodge products as well as the two largest Jeep entries.
Ford Motor Co. Duratec 35 3.5L DOHC V6 – Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX – Ward’s specifies the Ford/Lincoln Crossover Sport Utility Vehicles as the vehicles where the new Duratec 35 is found, but don’t forget the Lincoln MKZ (Zephyr) and the Mazda CX-9. While this higher output V6 is sorely needed by Ford and will eventually find its way through the Ford lineup, somehow the horses feel weaker than its 263-horsepower output suggests. We’ll reserve judgment on this one.
Ford Motor Co. 4.6L SOHC V8 – Mustang GT/Mustang Shelby GT – The 4.6L is the workhorse V8 for Ford’s rear wheel drive platforms. A very reliable, bulletproof powerplant, the 4.6L has proven to be very flexible up and down the horsepower scales. Driving the higher horsepower versions in the Mustang is a delight.
Mazda Motor Corp. 2.3L DISI turbocharged DOHC I4 – MazdaSpeed3 – A very willing and berserk powerplant in the MazdaSpeed3, the 2.3L Turbo provides more than enough power to generate nutso torque-steer in the MazdaSpeed3. Torque steer has always been a bugaboo in high output front wheel drive Mazdas and the combination of power and chassis dynamics in the MazdaSpeed3 may have set a new high (or low).
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. 3.5L DOHC V6 -Infiniti G35 – We assume that Ward’s is referring to the higher output VQ found only in the Infiniti vehicles for 2007/2008. A significant upgrade from previous VQ V6s, the Infiniti has been finessed to new levels of power, smoothness and “engine music”. Still a bit of a lump in the fuel efficiency category, however. And the VQ’s refinement has pretty much been sub-par compared to the Audi, BMW and Lexus (Toyota) sixes against which it competes.
Toyota Motor Corp. 3.5L DOHC V6 -Lexus IS 350 – Another Japanese V6 putting out over 300-horsepower from 3.5-liters. Sweet, quick revving, quick. But unlike the Nissan VQ in the Infiniti, the Lexus 3.5L seems to lack the passion that really stirs the senses. Maybe it is the “engine music” thing. But it’s far more likely the effect of the Toyota engine’s astonishing refinement.
Nissan launched its latest Sentra SE-R at the 2006 LA Auto Show Number II. The SE-R model is the higher performance version of Nissan’s bread-and-butter compact sedan. The SE-R will be in Nissan showrooms in March 2007 – as a 2007 model year product.
Think of SE-R as a Q-Ship. Subtle design cues on the exterior with an upgraded interior in terms of seat trim and instrument panel gauges. But, with the mild cosmetics, the story is under the skin.
SE-R is available in two states of tune – the plain-jane SE-R and the SE-R Spec V. The Spec V is the really high performance version putting out 200-horsepower. Nissan is touting 200-horsepower for less than $20,000. For those of us who actually select vehicles by horsepower per dollar (I select mine by horsepower by dollar of lease payment), the Spec V is a pretty good bargain.
The introduction of a new coupe is usually a controversial affair. We struggled whether to include the new 2008 Altima Coupe in the VehicleVoice “What Were They Thinking?” category and here is why…
1. Coupes are a struggling bodystyle.
Coupe sales have been deteriorating for years and only when there are really significant new entries does the sales in the segment spike. Mustang is the big dog and even though the Altima Coupe is officially a “Premium Mid-Size Coupe” sales will not be robust.
2. Altima Coupe is a me too.
Maybe Nissan has extra investment dollars in the kitty that they can spin off a highly differentiated bodystyle off the Altima. No big deal. Not too expensive. But the Altima Coupe follows the Honda Accord Coupe and the Toyota Camry Solara Coupe and Convertible. In the future we can also expect a coupe from the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan.
So, not much original thinking here.
3. Coupes are package-challenged sedans.
Once upon a time General Motors decided that a coupe should have a shorter wheelbase than a sedan. Looks sportier, you see. (Note the Pontiac G6 sedan and coupe have identical wheelbases). So, the Altima Coupe has worse ingress/egress, worse visibility and worse headroom. What’s good about that. Well, I guess you can argue that it looks sexier.
4. Coupes are ego cars for management.
Think about it. Auto designers always are the most proud of the coupes and sporty cars they have designed than of great sedans. More sex appeal. “Let’s design a car that a young guy would really like to buy. He doesn’t care if he can get into it, or out of it, or can see out of it. He just cares about style.” Car company management lusts to have the development of a successful coupe on their resume.
With that anti-coupe flailing around, assuming that a coupe is OK, the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is a worthy competitor. The style behind the B-Pillar is what counts and Altima’s stylists have done an outstanding job. The resulting style has familiar Nissan coupe cues found on the Z-Car and the Infiniti G35. If they had to do it, this is a good job.
Since we have identified the vehicles that have the longest days supply, we have been asked to show which vehicles have the shortest days supply. Which vehicles are so hot they just blow off the dealer’s lot? As with the slower moving vehicles where we arbitrarily cut off the days supply at 150 days, here we are using 50 days as the cut off point. The details are shown “below the fold”