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Nissan Builds the First $30,000 Altima.
When the Altima first came out in 91 it was pitched as a mid sized but very affordable car. It sold for about $14,000 which was about the same price as the Sentra but the Altima was bigger and had round edges at a time when the Sentra was still very box like. Nissan sells a lot of Altima’s. On my last trip to Florida Hertz was nice enough to put me behind the wheel of a V6 Altima SE. I instantly became a big fan of the Altima as this car with 250 horsepower did not seem underpowered like so many other small Japanese cars. On my previous trip to Florida Hertz put me in a Subaru Outback wagon that even with its 250 horsepower rating did not seem to be able to get out of they way of traffic when I entered the Florida turnpike and I was trying to merge with traffic that was all doing 85 mph. In contrast the perky little Altima was able to hold its own in any traffic that Orlando was able to dish out. The fit and finish was not incredible but I was sold nevertheless on the Altima.
Three month later I found myself in the market for a new car to replace my 16 year old VW GTI which was overheating like hell on wheels thanks to a blown head gasket. I decided that because this car had to be dependable above all else I would start my search looking at Japanese cars. Even though my VW never broke down till just this year, I am not sure of their quality control these days. I set my price range at 25k to 35k and I knew I would find a lot of nice cars in this range. It is too easy to say I was looking for the best car my money could buy. I really wanted a BMW M3 and yet I couldn’t get the dealer to let me buy one for even one penny under $49k for a light blue one.
Before I walked into a single showroom, my having lived with the Altima and the Outback for a week made them both inside favorites to get my money. I quickly eliminated the Subaru when I decided that I didn’t want a wagon. Subaru makes an Outback sedan that I did consider briefly but decided to pass when I considered that sedans were not what the Outback was all about. So my first day car shopping was spent at Toyota, Lexus, and Nissan dealers. I saw the new Altima SE-R and I really liked the look of the car. The one I test drove was black on black with a very current Darth Vader look. This car has ten more horsepower then the SE, larger wheels and special ground effects. The list price was over $29,000 and it seemed high compared to some other cars out there.
I later test drove a Toyota Avalon ($29,000) and a Lexus ES330 ($31,000) both cars just seemed like more car. I know what Nissan was thinking, The Honda Civic has a huge following of tuner guys who trick out their Civics’ to make really cool cars, and Nissan wanted the Altima to become this cool. One reason the Honda civic was so successful was its price. When the Civic was a tuner goldmine its list price was around $15k. The reason why low price is so important is that even though tuner guys don’t mind dropping a couple a hundred a week on their cars, their jobs don’t pay well enough to finance cars that cost much more then $15k. What Nissan needs to do is over special 7 year financing on the SE-R, this with dealers selling the cars around 28k should get the payments under $400 per month. If Nissan can pull this off and make this car desirable to the tuner population the added value to the brand creed would be well worth it. Acura sells every NSX at a loss, but it solidifies Acura’s image as a sporty brand. Nissan makes the Z350 which is a very nice sports car but it by itself can’t elevate Nissan to the ranks of Acura.
Although I really liked the Altima and I think that the SE model with the 3.5 liter engine which I found for as little as 21k gets my best car under $20,000 award, I did not choose the SE-R for my own personal vehicle. It may have been the dealers fault and not Nissans. All in all, I visited over 20 dealers and I noticed that, only the Mercedes Dealer and Lexus dealer knew that when it comes to a person like me, who is not afraid to visit four different dealers of the same brand that when it comes time to buy, all that maters is price. Both of those dealers gave me prices that made me feel like I was stealing the car. The Nissan dealer along with the Volkswagen dealer were too busy trying to sell me on their car rather then realizing I was already sold and all I needed was a price that made me feel like I was a successful shopper. What The SE-R does give you is a sub six second zero to sixty time along with 4 passenger seating delivered in a package that is extremely livable when it comes to day to day drivability. If you were only going to own one car then any Altima with a 3.5 liter engine makes a pretty good choice. The best thing about Altima’s in general is they have excellent resale value. They actually score higher in resale value then the Accord or Camry. It is important to go with the 3.5 liter engine because the 2.5 only produces an 8.2 second zero to sixty time vs. 5.9 for the 3.5.
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