Hello again, dear CEP blog readers. It is I, he who has been shoved down the list multiple weeks in a row: Tristan. I do not, however, begrudge being given the old boot to the back of the line, as it has given me something very worthwhile to write about for all of you. I have a new toy. However, first, a little preamble.
Much like Nick, I have tales to tell of my new car buying experience. Unlike Nick, I have not had the opportunity to have a car all the way through a bunch of important times in my life. I had a different car in high school than I had in college, heck. I even had a different car at the END of college than I did when I started college. The revolving door of vehicles continued through until I got my Jeep. You’ve all heard me expound upon how I loved that thing to death. It took me on my first solo, vacation road trip, it gave me my first experience off-roading (Pre-emptive author’s note, before Andrew can throw in an EDITOR’S NOTE: OBX STICKERS ALL OVER MY JEEP) (EDITOR'S NOTE: OBX STICKERS ALL OVER MY...Wait....), and it made me realize the car really needed some work done. So my dad and I did it. I say it like it wasn’t hard. It sucked. Would I even really prefer to ever do it again? No. However, getting my hands dirty and putting some sweat equity into the car really helped me form a bond with it. Even when all was perceived lost and it seemed to be actually dying, did I let it go? No. It stayed in my garage until I could take a second look at it and has found new life as a family fleet vehicle for knock around jobs of all sorts and stuff at which my dad’s S-Class would turn up it’s fancy, be-headlight-wipered nose. That feeling is probably the closest I’ve ever felt to what Nick feels about the old T-McB. I was lucky. I got to keep the car I loved, AND buy two other’s since then. However, that means I did not have an overly strong attachment to my just-previous car: the Outback. It was a fine choice for when we thought the Jeep was dead. However, after the Jeep’s Phoenix-esque rise from the ashes, it was no longer needed. It was time to find something more fun to drive…
This brings us to the new “toy”. I have acquired a brand spankin’ new 2019 WRX. Because the stingy German runs strong in my family, it is a base model. Power nothin’ but windows, locks, and CarPlay. It’s silver. It’s unobtrusive. And I love it. 258hp and 250-ish ft-lbs of torque will do that for you. It is most definitely fun. I don’t think most people would argue that a WRX ISN’T fun. I’ve been driving for almost half my life, and in that time it has become… blasé. Routine. I purchased a motorcycle to try to bring that spark of motorized fun back. And that works, it really does! But we, as you know by our endless ranting about Road America, do not live where it is warm all year round. So, the motorcycle was only a part-time fix. I have, however, found the antidote: the WRX is a manual.
There have been many articles and blogs about manual transmissions. I won’t try to teach you anything (and be grateful I don’t, you’d suck), I won’t wax poetic about the glories of “rowing your own”. I won’t tell you how much of a loser you are if you’ve never driven one. I won’t EVEN pretend that this is my entire opinion on the subject. I’ve only had it a week. However, what I will do is tell you this: like any good toy when you were a kid, the WRX is a throwback for me. It is a toy, but it is also a… learning experience just like the blocks, coloring books, and Math Blaster games of my youth. It brings you back to the basics of driving. Bad habits you develop driving an auto NEED to disappear. However, in this and many other ways, driving a manual is a double-edged sword. You start noticing the bad habits of others, as well as yourself, and you can’t correct anyone else’s. For every triumph as you master a new skill on the skill tree (+1 MT), you make a confidence-crushing mistake. Matched to some moments of pure joy when you execute the perfect shift, is the occasional rocking embarrassment that is a missed shift. To get slightly dopey for a second, it is a perfect microcosm of life. The ups and the downs, but I digress. The point I’m trying to make is that having the manual makes the very act of commuting interesting again. “Interesting?”, I don’t quite hear you say. Yes. I chose that word deliberately. The fake Chinese proverb of “May you always live in interesting times” is meant to be a blessing and curse. That sums up my experience with the car so far. It is stressful sometimes, it is pure bliss others. What it always is? Interesting. And a learning experience. These last six days have been some of my most stressful days of driving since I got my license in high school. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Now, bring on the entire fastwrx.com catalogue and stay tuned for more updates from the land of the manual transmission!
Hello CEP listeners, it’s been awhile! How have you all been? Between traveling, guest bloggers and Andrew’s Nissan triple play, I hope I haven’t forgotten how to write one of these things. There’s been a lot going on since I last blogged, but aside from our interview with the fantastic Josh Bilicki (check it out here!), the biggest news in my life has been my new vehicle: the Chevrolet Colorado Z71.
First, I want to say thanks to everyone who participated in the poll that decided my vehicle purchase. My co-hosts thought I was a bit nuts for letting the people determine what my next truck would be, but you all came through! This vehicle is everything I thought it would be and more. It comes with a 3.6L V6 that pushes out a shade over 300hp, can tow up to 3,500lbs, gets 26 miles per gallon on the highway, and the Z71 package means that it’s always in “sport mode.” To show you all how old school I am (and how long it’s been since I’ve purchased a new car), I was surprised to see that it wasn’t equipped with a CD player. Now I have to download stuff onto another device!? Is that what you kids are doing? Woah! Not to worry though, the Colorado has Sirius XM, so I am set for tunes. The color, you ask? In case you didn’t see the pictures we posted on social, allow me to enlighten you. The truck is a beautiful, deep cocoa brown with a hint of silver in it. The factory calls it “Brownstone”. When you get it out in the sun, it is deep and rich. In the darkness, it’s just about black so it looks menacing, especially with the aggressive Colorado headlights creeping up in your mirror. When I first signed the paperwork, I figured this was going to be one of the more unique colors on the road. Then I got it out on the road, and it wasn’t. Turns out, every 4th car on the streets of southern Wisconsin is either Brownstone or something dangerously close to it. But that’s alright, this thing (although surprisingly hard to keep clean) is awesome! So, what’s the point of this blog then? If everything is magnificent and I’m just thanking the listeners for their astute voting abilities, why bother writing this? Just say thanks on the air, right? Well, there is one GLARING issue…I miss my Trail Blazer. Like, I REALLY miss my Trail Blazer.
That’s right, the Trail Mc Blazer. The ol’ “T Mc-B". My 2007 Chevrolet Trail Blazer LS V6, Silver with gray cloth interior, a 4.2L V6 engine, a CD player (Google it, kids) and over 150,000 miles on it. I’m pretty sure the dealer did me a HUGE favor when they gave me $1,500 for the trade-in. My new Colorado gets better gas mileage with more horsepower and has all the high-tech newness you’d come to expect with something made in 2015 or later. But here’s the thing: my Colorado is a new truck. A TRUCK. A material thing. My Trail Blazer was a part of my life. In the age of young adulthood where there are constant life changes, my Trail Blazer was one of the only constants.
During the time I had the Trailblazer, I: Graduated college, worked as a maintenance technician at a senior living facility, got a job at Milwaukee Tool in field sales, moved to Michigan, got promoted, moved across Michigan, got promoted again, moved back to Wisconsin, bought a home, went on plenty of first and maybe second dates, fell in and out of touch with new and old friends, became an uncle to 3 super kids, stood up in or ushered at 6 weddings, and started a kickass podcast with 2 of my best friends. I can’t help but smile when I think about every time I washed and vacuumed that SUV to get ready for a date, or the race tracks and road trips it’s been a part of. The T Mc-B was our workhorse vehicle when Tristan, Andrew and I went to IMSA races in Canada, Virginia and Ohio. Hell, the idea of this very podcast was born in MY Trail Blazer during the 14 hour trek home from Virginia International Raceway last summer. Any time this vehicle needed work, which was a lot towards the end, it gave my dad and I an opportunity to spend some extra time together and B.S. about life. Now he’s all “Take advantage of the warranty! Go to the dealer!” I can’t spend quality time with my father while some ASE- certified rando is changing my oil! (Editor's Note: And the paint color! I've never seen paint like it: Not quite grey, not quite silver, not quite matte, not quite metal fleck, seriously impressive.)
If you aren’t a car person, you might not understand how important cars can be to people. The Trail Blazer was almost like an extension of me, like an extra limb. It fit me BETTER than a glove. I’ve had the Colorado for over a month now and I still accelerate like I’m in the Trail Blazer. Because of the difference in displacement, gear ratios and engine mapping, the Colorado sometimes struggles to find the right gear when moving from a dead stop, because I'm not driving it like a Colorado, I'm driving it like a Trailblazer. Maybe it’s the bowtie on the steering wheel? Look, in my head, I know it was right to move to a better mode of transportation. It was logical. The Trail Blazer was just going to keep nickel-and-dime-ing me to death at this stage of its life, and I had already put WAY more cash into it than I was ever going to get out of it. But that's not all there is to it. Sometimes the head and the heart don’t align. Or is it the heart and the wallet? I promise if you encounter me on the roads I’ll be a courteous driver, but please don’t mind me looking in my rearview mirror a little bit extra nowadays.
I wrote the first two parts of this letter at the same time, several weeks ago at this point, and now that I've had some time away, I'm wondering: Am I being too hard on Nissan? Am I expecting too much? Maybe this last part will bring a little more clarity.
Let's start with Godzilla. In the mostly-impossible case that you've never encountered popular culture before, Godzilla is a Japanese monster created in the 50s. A prehistoric dinosaur-like monster who is accidentally awakened by humanity (usually as a result of something related to nuclear weapons) and sets about wrecking shop in various impressive ways. Indeed, the American release of the first-ever Godzilla movie was subtitled The King of the Monsters, a nickname that helped to elevate Godzilla into the pop culture Thermosphere. It was this "King of the Monsters" nickname that Nissan won for themselves when they introduced the Skyline GT-R to the racing world in 1990. A note about naming here: Nissan has used a few different combinations of Skyline and GT-R in various versions of this same car, some of which took the title of Godzilla, some of which didn't. This would normally lead to confusion. However, REAL FANS refer to these cars by their chassis designations, which usually appear in the form of R##, with the first Skyline GT-R being called the R32. I'm going to use these designations for clarity. Also, here's a picture of the R32:
Check out this timeline: The road version of the R32 was originally released in Japan in 1989, and the Nismo version followed soon after, with both models ranging between $30,000 and $35,000 American. Due to the homologation regulations of FIA's Group A, building a road-going Nismo version of the R32 allowed Nissan to get specific pieces of the car's highly specialized all-wheel drive system (which would shift all power to the rear wheels on corner exists) race-approved, along with the four-wheel steering and complex twin-turbo engine. Starting in 1990, the on-track results instantaneously canonized the R32: It won all 29 races in Japanese Group A. It won at the 24 Hours of Spa. It won at the Nurbergring. It dominated the Australian race circuit, winning the Bathurst 1000 in back-to-back years. In fact, the R32 was so dominant in racing the world over that the FIA did away with Group A entirely in 1993. Nobody outright says the R32 was responsible, but nobody was worried about competitive balance in Group A before the R32 appeared on track, so...
What you'll notice is that I didn't name a single American race in that list. That's because the R32 was never raced or even released in America. No derivatives of the R32 were ever brought to America either, and due to the 25 year import law, only now can you see R32 Skylines driving on American roads. I've finally seen one in the wild, and it is a sight to behold. Of course, it's hard to tell now what is hyped and what is reality, but I can tell you that this car looks big on the road. It looks imposing. It looks every inch a Godzilla. Hell the R32 I saw was literally broken down on the side of the road, and I was still blown away at how good it looked. Words cannot describe the pure lust this car generates the world over. Heck, there's a company out there that uses their status as the first company to legally import an R32 to the US successfully as their primary selling point.
The next generation R33 Skyline was born into big expectations, and it mostly met them. It continued to be a solid race performer, but people don't lust after the R33 they way they do with the R32 and R34. Again the car was stuffed full of technology and performance, and again it was a very good car, but it was not quite the same. That didn't matter. The hype train was already in full effect, and a slight downturn in race results would not dampen car culture's flaming desire for Godzilla, which was - by the way - now also fueled by the Buy-To-Win R33s in Gran Turismo. A fun fact, that terrible Godzilla movie with Matthew Broderick in it came out in 1998, the last year of the R33's production. Coincidence!? Yes!
For Nissan and for car culture, it all came together in the R34. This is the Skyline that I already posted a picture of in the Sentra edition of this blog, but it's worth posting a second picture here:
YEP. THAT car. If you were alive in 2003 then you already know what it is. It's Brian O' Conner's car from the opening scene of 2 Fast 2 Furious. It's a car so played out it's actually cool again. It's the R34, and it could just be the most Hypebeast car in all of existence. Again, this car was never released in America. Again, this car was a popular culture icon. Just read this weird, dripping wiki article! They're listing the brand name performance mods on a fictional R34! There was a short film made about this car's origins, and it appears on-screen in 2 Fast 2 Furious for less than the duration of the entire short film. It's been 19 years since this car came out, and it's still the gold standard of performance in every video game it's featured in, and it's featured in damn near every single one. Do you get it yet? Do you understand the impact these cars have had on car culture at large? Tuners, race fans, even oldheads, everybody either loves or hates this specific car. The R34 represents pretty much everything to everyone: affordable performance, a dream car, the ultimate modded ride, the hated ricer that won't stop winning, and all of those things are also chasing the dragon, because you still can't legally import one of these cars. With the R34, Godzilla was bigger, badder, and back, but this time he came for the streets.
And now, the twist.
The R34 GT-R Skyline went out of production in 2002, again never having touched American shores. Actually, I have to take part of that back, because we're at the downward spiral part of this story, and I have to tell it right. Having taken 11 years to understand what they had created, in 2001 Nissan finally deigned to notice that Americans were lusting after the R32 and indeed the Skyline name. Quickly, using no more than 1/6 of a percent of their brains they jumped into action, and promptly took a giant, watery, cornfed shit all over the bed. America got a Skyline. Oh, did we ever get a Skyline. While the R34 was still in international production, here's what the US got:
No! Wait! It gets even better!
That's right, laugh it up you Datsun-ass jerks. While the rest of the world was rejoicing in one of the most iconic cars of all time, the US got...whatever THOSE things are. Originally called the Skyline, this car would eventually be known as The Official Car Of Going In Blackface To Halloween Parties, or the Infinity G-Series. If you've made it through the previous two blogs, then you recognize what's happening here. You know that this is what Nissan does, only this time they saved Americans the trouble and just never bothered to release the good car here before backhanding us with the bad one. Oh how I wish that was the end of the story.
The R34 has a true successor. It's still around today. It even came to America this time. Nissan realized how badly they botched the Skyline thing, and so for the R35, they ditched that name and just decided to go with GT-R. Witness now the newest iteration of Godzilla:
And what a monster it is. This car was originally released in 2007, and instantly because both a sensation and a legend in its own time. Why? Because the car cost around $68,000 - exactly the same cost in 2007 dollars as the previous R32, 33, and 34 when adjusted for inflation - and it was faster around a track and off the line than many cars costing more than two or three times that price. The R35 wasn't just a budget supercar, it was a budget hypercar. Built in hermetically sealed factories, each R35 is meticulously hand built. Even though they make just one engine for the car, they quote a range of horsepower. Not because any package has more, but because each engine made has slight variations in the horsepower due to slight flaws in the manufacturing process. Each R35 is custom tuned around these manufacturing flaws. This car truly is the wet dream of people with JDM tattoos. Not only that, but it has usable back seats. You could use the R35 as your daily driver, and then take it to the track and destroy a man in a Ferrari. Basically everything Corvette owners pretend they can do with their cars, you can actually do with an R35. Even if the R32 hadn't earned the Godzilla moniker for this line of cars, I believe the R35 would have won it handily, it is that impressive on its own. And yet this is the twist portion, so nothing that's good can stay that way.
First, the reality of the R35: Nobody daily drives this car. Nobody takes it out in the winter. Nobody takes this car to the track unless they're going to watch racing. Listen, I get it! This car is an achievable masterpiece, and therefore when people buy it, they make sure to park it in their garage and cover it with a dust cloth, hoping it will appreciate in value. Nobody buys this car to use this car. They buy it very specifically to NOT use it. And by the way, R35s aren't going to appreciate in value for a while. Why? The R35 is still on sale today. Here's the second part: Let's do a quick check in on the current MSRP: $99,990. Hmm. In 11 years, the MSRP of this car has increased a mortifying 47%! That number pushes the boundaries of belief, and there can only be one explanation for this staggering increase: Nissan was using the R35 as a loss leader.
Of course, loss leaders aren't inherently bad. Pricing very nice things down so lots of people will buy them is a common tactic employed by companies to pull people into a brand. You know, the tool is on sale for $75, but the blades are $50. You take a loss on an item that has narrow margins to begin with so you can make more on something with wider margins. Is this an evil practice? Hell no! That's capitalism, baby! But it's wrong for Nissan to use the R35 as a loss leader, because it's incredibly deceptive. Nissan has NOTHING AT ALL towards which they can drive people who are interested in the R35. By telling people about the manufacturing process, by building this car to break records at the Nurbergring, by creating the GT Academy to get actual gamers behind the wheel of a R35 race car, Nissan was very carefully crafting an image not only for this model, but for their entire brand. And what was behind it? Nothing. It's all misdirection. The mass market cars that Nissan was making while they built themselves up as a performance-oriented budget superstar were the cars I covered in the last two blogs: They crapped out anemic, pathetic Sentras. They introduced a trendsetting hot crossover that the entire segment is STILL chasing and then they killed it off instead of redesigning it. They killed the Xterra. They false-started an Infinity performance brand - TWO times. They brought out the 370Z, an even uglier and more asinine version of the also-ran 350Z. They named a truck after this emoji: xD. They abjectly failed to strike any kind of deal with Renault to brand-engineer or even co-develop any kind of performance vehicles across the world.
Tell me, does that brand, the brand that made all of those missteps, the brand that killed off any merest hint of budget performance in their entire lineup, does that brand deserve your loyalty? No, they do not. Are they ever coming to save you, the car fan, from tedium? No. They are not. Does Nissan have anything at all to offer people who like cars? Not anymore. To answer my own question from the opening, No, I'm not being too hard on Nissan, they've done this to themselves. Even more meaningfully, they've done this to their own customers, and they aren't going back. Nissan isn't worth waiting for. As time goes on, they only do less for people who like cars. And I'm done with it. I'm done with Nissan, and you should be too. And it's sad, you know? Because I'll always love the old Godzillas, I'll always want a Sentra Spec V, and I'll always wish that everything coming out of Nissan was better. Well, let me rephrase that: I'll always wish that everything coming out of Nissan was as good as their history shows they can be. Thanks for reading. Next week, you'll hear from somebody else, which I'm sure will be a welcome change.
A month or two ago I stumbled across a quote in some article that was talking about car design, I think I found it on Automotive News. Sadly, the article and the overall topic are now completely lost to me, but it was generally about the current state of car design. The quote was about SUV styling, and how the 5th generation Jeep Cherokee started a styling trend that the rest of the market was forced to react to. The quote stuck out to me in an otherwise completely forgettable article because it was incredibly wrong.
I'm no fan of the SUV or the CUV. But mine is not a baseless dislike arranged around an ideology about what a car should or should not be, oh no. My dislike of SUVs is based around the fact that I hate to drive them, even though I do so with some regularity. Nevertheless, you just have to try new stuff, don't you? It was this mentality that lead me to go to the Nissan dealership and test drive a Nissan Juke when I was car shopping. You remember the Juke, right? That little Nissan that was a pit of despair in the looks department? Yeah, you do. Here's a picture:
Are we all on the same page? Okay, good. The kindest thing you can say about the looks of the Juke is that they are distinct. I don't think I've ever come across a positive review of the looks of the poor thing, though it was and indeed still is absolutely a volume seller for Nissan. It's their second-highest selling car in Europe behind the Qashqai, and it averaged about 20,000 units a year in the US during its run here (though the Juke has been discontinued in the US, it is still in production internationally).
The Juke was a good car! Or at least better than average. As a small SUV it was ahead of its time in offering a turbocharged engine with some notion of performance (200 HP in the Nismo Juke) AND AWD AND a high-tech interior with all the fixins. You could even get a manual Juke, though you couldn't get a manual and AWD together. Like with the Sentra Spec V, in the Juke Nissan had truly built a car for car people, but the Juke was for the car people who don't quite know that they like cars. After my test drive, I can honestly say that I stepped out of the Nismo Juke surprised with exactly how much I liked the thing. Wallowing in the corners aside, it felt good to drive. The cockpit was well-laid out and very intuitive. The space inside was fine, and I actually liked the slightly raised, stadium-style rear seating. The trunk space was nice. And as I beheld the car after driving it, I began to think that maybe it didn't look so bad either. Those looks, those boomeranging looks, are the Juke's legacy. And no matter what your personal feeling are about the way the Juke looks, it no longer matters. That look is what inspired the supposedly trend-setting Jeep Cherokee, that look is what made the Hyundai Kona, the Toyota C-HR, the Chevy Blazer, and the Hyundai Santa Fe possible. And those are just the SUVs with looks that follow the Juke.
In attempting to write about the styling of the Juke, I ran across an issue: I don't know the right words for this. I could kind of stumble around and try and describe things, but I knew there had to be some actual vocabulary for the way the lights are arranged, the way the body panels are shaped, that kind of stuff. So I did what anybody would do, and turned to Wikipedia. There, in a paragraph mostly devoid of citations, I found some useful design terms that I'm going to use to illustrate. But first, here is an image orgy featuring all the SUVs which have followed the design trail blazed by the Juke (Toyota C-HR, Jeep Cherokee, Chevy Blazer, Hyundai Santa Fe, Hyundai Kona):
The first and most obvious design influence of the Juke is the stacked light array. On all of these models save the C-HR, the main headlights are located farther down the front fascia of the car than the marker lights, which are near the top of the hood line. On the C-HR, the front of the car makes it appear that the headlights should be located further down the front, but instead they are placed directly on the hood line. On vehicles with stacked headlights, the fog lights, if present, are typically located even lower down the front, near the very bottom of the front of the car. The second major design element from the Juke is the "coke-bottle styling", meaning the car has, or appears to have, a coke-bottle shape that narrows in the middle. This design element is least prominent in the Jeep Cherokee, but very noticeable on the Blazer, Santa Fe, and the Kona. Third, there's the coupe-style rear styling, most prominent on the Kona, the Blazer, and the C-HR, where the rear door handles are tucked up near the belt line of the car, higher than the front door handles. On the C-HR, exactly like on the Juke, the handles are placed to the rear of the door, tucked right up next to the window (now that's actually a Hyundai Veloster trick BUT ANYWAYS). Of course, there's more that goes into design than just three elements, but it cannot be denied that these three elements comprise the primary design direction of these five cars, just as they did when they all appeared on the Juke. These elements establish the overall shape of everything but the rear of the car. And all of those elements first came together in the Nissan Juke. Hell, if you squint hard enough, it's pretty clear that Hyundai wholesale ripped off the entire design of the Juke for the Kona and then translated that design into majuscule for the Santa Fe. Though knowing Hyundai's modus operandi, they probably just hired the Juke's designers. Hey, it's cheaper than a lawsuit.
So, really, how can you hate the Juke? It is, if nothing else, an important car because it dictated the design direction of the best-selling automotive segment for coming up on a decade. And it's not that brands are taking the Juke's styling without reason: Brands that want their new SUV to sell are copying the Juke's looks. Chevy wanted to build huge hype for their mid-size SUV, so they brought back an old name, and mixed a lot of Juke with a touch of Camaro. Hey, don't look now, but Chevy also used some of these design elements on the new Traverse. Hyundai wanted to enter the small SUV market with a bang, and the Kona has been selling so well they copy-pasted the exact same design onto their large SUV. Toyota wanted their small SUV to have some flair. Jeep wanted their Cherokee redesign to be memorable, and it was, even though the Cherokee has been recently redesigned again. All of those manufacturers have to thank the Juke, no matter how grudgingly.
But of course, this isn't a love letter to Nissan. This is part II of the Dear John letter. The Juke is dead in America, and therefore this must be a remembrance of it. By 2015, consumer interest in the Juke was starting to wane. It wasn't selling like it used to. Granted, it had never really been updated, never been redesigned, but Nissan did the full-on Ford and decided to kill the car off completely in America. Here's the pathetic also-ran they decided to replace the Juke with:
That is the Nissan Kicks. It has a dumb name. It looks very pedestrian. It is slow. You can't get it with a manual. You can't get it with AWD. It is not turbocharged. It is the automotive sequel equivalent of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, making you need to ask first "But why?", and then "But why did you do such a bad job?" See, there's a pattern forming here: Nissan is capable of making truly great cars, truly special cars, and yet in recent years they have shrunk away from daring and made boredom and tedium their bread and butter, which is pathetic. The end result of this strategy is perfectly evident in this personal anecdote: When my wife and I were shopping for a new car for her, we decided to stop at the Nissan dealer, because neither of us really knew much about the cars that Nissan made. I think we ended up test driving a Nissan Sentra, the top-of-the-line model at the time (this was before the Turbo and the Nismo), and it was...fine, but it wasn't really memorable for any reason, not even while we were actually driving it. I asked the salesman why we should think about buying a Nissan, because not one of our family members or friends had ever owned one, and his answer was "Well, Japanese reliability of course, you can't beat that." I reminded him that Toyota and Honda are also from Japan, and I swear that his actual response - as a person who has the JOB of selling Nissan vehicles - was "Yeah, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, you can't really go wrong with any of them." That was what he said. The salesperson had NOTHING to say about Nissan as a brand. Could the guy have been off that day? Sure. Could it have been an issue of dealer culture? Maybe! But I'll tell you that 2 years later when I went to a Nissan dealer to drive the Sentra Turbo, it wasn't any better. There wasn't any passion, nor even any salespersonship on the floor. Everyone we talked to just kind of shuffled around like it didn't matter if we bought a Nissan or bought something else. It was bizarre. Looking at Nissan's lineup, is it really that much of a stretch to say that they've given up? I don't think it is. Again Nissan took away something good and replaced it with something bad. Again Nissan cut out car people from their lineup. Again there's no reason for it. Nissan as a brand just doesn't seem to care all that much right now, so why would the salespeople care?
Part III of the Dear John is coming up for my next blog, and this time, we're going to talk about Nissan's Godzilla, and why that nickname is far more accurate than Nissan wants it to be. I swear I could make these blogs go on for another 3 or 4 weeks. We could talk Xterra, we could talk Infinity in general, we could talk about the cancelled Eau Rouge performance model, we could talk about the constant missed chances to rebadge Renaults and bring them stateside, there's lots of stuff left. But I won't do that. We'll talk about the GT-R and then we'll be done. The hell, Nissan doesn't talk this much about Nissan, they can only get so much for free.
There has always been a secret love ferreted away in a deep, dark place in my heart. That love is for Nissan, or as they prefer to be called these days, "Ummmm, no, not Honda or Toyota, the other Japanese one. No, not Subaru..." Nissan Motor Company, who are not the owners of the website www.nissan.com (extremely Cam'ron face), make cars - yes, still. Currently, they're pretty well faded into the white noise of the car industry; It seems you either buy Nissan and ONLY Nissan, or you notice them once every 18 months. But here's the thing about Nissan: throughout their history, Nissan has made some of the best and most iconic cars in the history of the industry, across all price ranges, across many vehicle types, and while they have mostly played the dark hose role in American car culture, the name Nissan at least used to hold some weight. It used to be that Nissan showered car culture all over the world with little playful twists on cars for car people. They had love for the people who love cars, and so Nissan themselves became lovable. But that's not the way it is anymore. In the last few years Nissan has utterly abandoned people who love cars, and so I'm breaking up with them, probably forever. These next few blogs will be my somewhat long Dear John letter to Nissan, where I'll explain to them why we're breaking up. Typing that out a second time, I now realize that a Dear John is a pretty outdated reference...I mean, this is basically Drake's In My Feelings but for cars. Damn, should have called it that.
I learned about Nissan the same way every real 90s kid did: Gran Turismo. Please press the pink button to seal your Rose-Tint apparatus in place and prepare for the Orbitz enema, because you already know how this part goes. Car people need no reminding of the absolute heat Nissan crammed into that one game: Silvia, 240SX, Skyline, Pulsar, GT-R, 300ZX, all names which hold legend status. Obviously Nissan was selling actual cars in America in the 90s, including the 240SX, but I can't remember ever seeing one until the early 2000s, when the late 90s Sentras, Maximas, and Altimas had trickled down to older brothers and sisters, and tuner culture was absolutely dominant. Maybe it was my lateness in coming to cars as a hobby, but by the time I really began to notice Nissans on the street, the 350z was already out, so that would mean it was the early 2000s, let's say 2001...yeah, that timeline syncs up just about perfectly.
Here's where I'm going to name-drop a car I didn't know about when it was new on lots, and I'm very tempted to lie about it here and say that I liked this car before it was cool, but it still isn't a cool car now, and the truth is I only found out about this car four or five years ago when a friend of mine bought one. I'm talking about the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V. Aside from having a really appalling name, and coming from a notoriously boring if reliable nameplate, the Spec V is a pretty special car. Here's a picture:
Okay, okay, there's nothing terribly appealing about that, you're probably thinking. But now let's put the Sentra next to the 2001 Nissan Skyline, after which the Spec V was designed:
Nobody is going to confuse one for the other obviously, but there are some excellent visual symmetries between the two. It takes some stones to make your cheapest car look like your most exotic and expensive one. The Sentra wasn't all looks, either. The Spec V came from the factory with 175 HP and 185 ft/lbs, channeled to the road through a six-speed manual and a limited-slip differential. It did 0-60 in just a titch over 7 seconds, and indeed the only car in the segment that was faster was the Dodge Neon SRT-4. The Spec V still holds one major advantage over the SRT-4, however: any Spec V that wasn't crashed is still running today.
By the way, let's take a second here and look at Car and Driver's 2003 affordable performance roundup. All of these cars could be yours for $20,000:
If that isn't a murderer's row of companies that used to make dope cars. Remember when Ford made cars? Remember when Dodge tried to make cars? Remember when Mazda made fast cars? Remember when Nissan made cool cars? Also, are you coming around on the looks of the Spec V yet? the early 2000s were a gross time in car design.
The Spec V was lightly refreshed in 2004, and then followed along with the 2007 refresh of the Sentra, to become the baby racer version of Nissan's new top-tier supercar, the R35 GT-R.
Come on! I mean, come on! You have to love a company that pulls the designs for its affordable performance car directly from its own halo car. Who else does this? Audi might be the only other company, and unlike Nissan, Audi has a single design language that applies throughout their whole range. This newer generation of Spec V jumped up to 200 HP, 4 wheel disc brakes, the limited-slip diff came back again, and so did a whole host of suspension upgrades and tunes. In short, Nissan was making the Spec V line specifically for people like me: Car people who don't want or need anything more than a really good driving experience in a car that truly fits their every day life without compromise.
The Spec V was discontinued in 2012 and unfortunately its like has never been seen again, not from Nissan and not from any other car maker either. Ugh okay, fine, I'll talk about the Sentra Turbo and Sentra Nismo models Nissan pinched off last year. We CEP lads saw the Sentra Nismo at the Chicago Auto Show last year, and Nick and I both instantly fell in love. I was in transports of ecstasy because at that very moment I was in the market for a car, specifically a car that fit my everyday life and would offer some performance and a good driving experience. This would be a new challenger! The Sentra Nismo seemed like a throwback to the Spec V, even though it didn't use the name. I mean, yeah, it was super ugly on the outside, but the interior was premium, and fit like a glove. There was a manual shifter in the middle, a limited slip diff in the front, and a 1.6L turbocharged engine under the hood, conspiring together to make...Pre-Production Model Performance Figures Not Available. Shit. I asked the Nissan rep if we could get more information, and she told me that both the Sentra Turbo and Nismo would be released in May of 2017, and expected on lots in June, but she didn't know any of the numbers on the car. Not price, not performance, nothing.
I should have known then, but I didn't. I thought "Nismo is Nissan's performance house. If there's anybody in the whole world to trust with making a hot Sentra, it's gotta be them." But nah. They phoned it in on both hot Sentras. Actually, they had somebody else phone it in for them. First, and very different to every other Nismo car that Nissan has ever made, the Nismo Sentra doesn't get a performance increase over the Turbo Sentra. It's just a cosmetic upgrade. Second, both hot Sentras have a pathetic 188 HP. Third, the Turbo Sentra has the most unintuitive and dissatisfying shifter I've ever encountered. Worse than a manual golf cart, worse than shaking hands with a recalcitrant parakeet, worse than trying to race with a Tiptronic. To top all of THAT off, you can't realistically touch a Nismo Sentra for less than $26,000. That's $1000 more than a Civic Si, a car that will bounce the Sentra in every imaginable category! Both hot Sentras were dead in the water before they even had a chance. I was brokenhearted about it, to be completely honest. I think that without really realizing it, I had built up a mythology for Nissan in my head. I thought that they would come with a strong offering that would slot them right back in to the hot hatch wars of the 2010s right next to the Gamma Hyundai twins, the Kia Forte SX, and the Civic Si. I thought that Nissan was coming to save me. But...they didn't. Instead, they broke my heart. And the new Sentra isn't the only way.
There are two more parts to this letter coming up, so be sure to tune in next time when this extended Dear John letter carries on. The next topic up for discussion: The Nissan Juke.