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I rented an Altima over the weekend. Actually wanted the Ford Fusion but the guy in front of me took that one so I was left with 2 choices: Altima or Sonata. I rented a Sonata a month ago, so the only option really was the Altima. It was the 2.5 with the CVT with manual mode and had 16000 miles already.

Exterior: I'm not a fan of the Altima's looks in general. The front is rather lame, the profile weird- like it tries to look sporty but it can't, below the belt it's sporty but the greenhouse is bulbuous. The rear, just like the previous gen is the only sexy angle of this car.

Interior: All black, except for some fake alu on the steering wheel. Everything was mostly covered in some rat-furish cloth that resembled suede, maybe it was plastic not cloth, hard to tell. Ample use of soft plastics. Cloth inserts in the door were nice. I hate all plastic interior door panels. Seats were uncomfortable lacking spine support and a strange angle for the back. Good lateral support though. It had the keyless fob, well actually there a hidden key in the fob. Start the engine by pressing the brakes and then the start button. Instrument panels lights up nicely: white, orange, and red. Panel is always lit night and day. 2 screens in the panel give info: on the right, miles, trips, and gear. In the center: outside temp (inaccurate btw) or instant mpg gauge, avg mpg, and some programmeble stuff. Radio layout not particularly intuitive, has a lot of buttons for a few functions, and doesn't sound particularly good. HVAC: 2 dials and several buttons. At least they didn't go with the generic 3 dials that everyone is using now. Controls are all hard black plastic. Too much black plastic for my tastes. I didn't care for the start stop button. Makes you loose the sense of starting an engine by cranking it. I did like the fact that you didn't have to press the unlock button on the fob to open the doors. The door handles have some electronic button that will open doors if you have the fob with you.

Driving impressions: This car drives nicely overall. Engine is somewhat rough but doesn't rev quick enough. CVT is surprising when one drives one for the first time. Despite CVT there are some holes in the power. It keeps the RPM around 3000s until you get to your desired speed. For some reason, flooring the accelerator doesn't get a particularly hasty response. Speed builds up over time. Those initial ratios could be shorter. Change it to manual mode and you get 6 gears that shift very quickly, unlike those awefull s..l..o..w manual modes in Chrysler and GM cars. Shifting into higher gear makes the RPM drop around only 900 rpms each time, so it takes a lot of shifting around. I concluded the best was to shift 1-2-4-6, that is, shift twice fast 3/4 and fast again 5/6. Basically driving as if it were a 4 speed. I prefer this transmission over a regular auto, especially because of the quick manual shifting mode. But it's no better than a gold old fashioned manual transmission. Driving dynamics were good, suspension on the harder side for large bumps. The most curious thing is that this car gives you the impression that it's very sporty. You think your going real fast and you look at the gauge and you're only going 40! It gives you confidence to takes curves, but in reality you're still taking them slow. Very odd. Brakes were a mess, probably due to previous abuse, very low and squeeky.

Fuel economy was disappointing: 20.9! I did only fast city driving but still. It's hard for me to get used to these big and heavy 4 cylinder cars that consume almost like 6 cylinders but without the performance.
 

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I rented a Sentra in Oregon recently.

I've become an adherent of the CVT. In the Sentra it just worked like magic. I was in some extremely steep mountain roads, and the thing that blew me away was that the CVT somehow 'sensed' downhill grades and would automatically go into a sort of "Hill Retarder" (for you Turboglide fans) mode without any input from the driver.

Speaking of 'glide, it's more like Powerglide in the quadrant - just D and L. This needs a "Super" mode, ala Hydramatic from days of yore, and it would be perfect.

Best thing about the CVT, or at least Nissan's take on it, was IMMEDIATE response. It may have had the electric throttle settup (which I HATE) but you never sensed any kind of time lag - press down and you get the response - even (or especially) if it's just a subtle change - right now.

One thing I truly loathe about the my Charger SE is the electronic throttle's response.

It's like they took the controls from a driving arcade game, and just applied them to the real world. In the Charger you always get the sense of 'asking' for power. If you are flooring it, you know to expect a spastic kickdown, but it has absolutely no nuance when you're just pressing it 1/4th down.

Also, they need some kind of throttle detent so you can tell when it's going to kick down. I'm the kind of person who does 'brisk' driving pretty much always, and I like to be able to control the power with much more subtlety. The Charger always wants to kick down two gears, I find it irritating.

and I would actually prefer the Sentra to my 250hp Charger with respect to measured and immediate throttle response - that's CVT magic for you.

Bring back the darn throttle cable! For that matter, bring back the Ford automatic that you could lock in the middle range without any fear of up or down shifting - that would be perfect for my driving style.

Altima sounds good. I like the looks alot - rear quarter reminds me a bit of the '68 Charger.

I liked driving the Sentra, but my god, it's one of the ugliest cars on the road. It has the increasingly popular 'squashed van' look. I just couldn't own one.

It seems unnecessarily tall (roof rose six inches above my head and I'm 6ft), and combined with a low roll center, you get that 'head bob' effect, like driving a minivan. It was very roomy and had a quality feel - the kind of car you'd tell a girl to buy but wouldn't touch yourself.
 
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