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Tue, Sep 16, 2014

AUTO CONNECT: A sampling of the latest Nissans

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2015 Nissan Juke. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
2015 Nissan Murano. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan 370Z convertible. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Altima Commerical vehicle. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nashville's Clare Bowen performs at the Nissan showcase at the Belle Meade Mansion in Nashville. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
A few of Nissan's classic models. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan's new electronic rear view mirror. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan NV200 van. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Frontier Pro 4X. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan GTR Nismo. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Juke. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Maxima Track Taxi. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Micra. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan vehicles line up at the Belle Meade Mansion in Nashville for the event. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Entry way inside the Belle Meade Mansion. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan NV200 Taxi. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan NV350. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Q Diesel. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer
Nissan Z Roadster. Photo courtesy of Nissan/Bill Schaffer

Occasionally, an auto manufacturer will gather a sampling of their current lineup and invite a group of automotive journalists over to get a little refresher in what they have to offer. Nissan did just that last week putting together a group of more than 40 Nissans and even a few Datsun’s for a group of writers, bloggers and videographers to sample. It was kind of like a playdate for adults -- with cars.

The setting was in one of America’s premium neighborhoods, in the very upscale city of Belle Meade, Tenn., just southwest of Nashville. A couple of the notable citizens of Belle Meade include singer Taylor Swift and former Vice President Al Gore. Actually the little place Nissan rented to host this gathering was pretty impressive, too – it’s the house that is used in the hit series Nashville.  During our lunch break they even brought in one of the stars of the TV series, Clare Bowen, to entertain us with a little chit chat and a few songs.

Drive events like this are always a challenge for me – I always want to drive as many vehicles as possible to get as much “play” as I can into the allotted time. I ran out of time at 18 vehicles, but got a good sampling and an opportunity to drive a lot of cars I hadn’t driven in some time or don’t have available to drive except on occasions like this one.

Nissan also brought out some interesting new technologies including a rear view mirror that could toggle between a conventional mirror and an electronic display. It uses a high mounted camera to display in the mirror screen, a wide unobstructed view of the area behind the car. This could be a very big new item for the industry.  

The most fascinating technology in my option was displayed on what Nissan called the World’s Cleanest Car. It was an all-electric Nissan Leaf painted with a special paint developed by UltraTech International, Inc. The paint repels dirt, water, chocolate syrup, oil, or anything else you can imagine. Because everything just rolls or runs off, the Leaf doesn’t need to be washed. It is fascinating to watch as water almost flies off the surface, there is no adhesion at all. The nanotechnology treatment also works on fabrics so the applications for the auto industry could be immense. UltraTech is a Florida based company that specializes in syperhydrophobic and oleophobic coatings that are used to protect industrial equipment and applications. The company currently specializes in oil containment systems, but is expanding the technology into new areas like this Nissan application.

In hindsight, I wish I had tried harder to get into the 1970 Datsun 1600 roadster, 1971 240Z sports car, 1965 Datsun pickup and 1983 Nissan truck. It’s not often I get to drive historical models in pristine condition; everyone who did raved about the experience.

Concentrating first on cars that don’t make the Northwest press fleet regularly, here are a few of my favorites:  

2015 Nissan GT-R Nismo – The Nismo is Nissan’s ultimate sports/performance car. It is also the fastest GT-R ever built. With 600 horsepower from the twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-6 engine with a six-speed double clutch transmission, this car is capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds up to a top speed in the 200 mph neighborhood. It’s not a car I could get a real feel for in the Belle Meade neighborhood, but it was fun just to feel the power at bay. The 2015 limited edition supercar is priced at about $150,000 and is just going on sale now at certified Nissan GT-R dealerships.

2015 Nissan GT-R Black – This slightly less GR-R powerful Black edition (545-hp) is a little more civilized, but still feels very much like a racecar. All GT-R models are all-wheel drive and are beautifully appointed with luxurious interiors and state of the art technologies. The Black GT-R is priced at about $113,000. While that might seem like a lot of money for a car, this is probably one of the best production performance car values sold in the U.S. competing with or beating most of the supercars with exotic names.  

2014 Nissan Juke Nismo RS – With its 197-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission, this turned out to be one of my favorite cars at the event. It’s agile, handles beautifully and is really fun to drive. The styling is unique, and the car is very practical with a five-door configuration. The Juke has an unconventional styling that people seem to love or hate -- I love it. With the Navigation package, the Juke Nismo crossover is priced just over $28,000.

Nissan Altima ROYL – If you watch much TV you’ve probably seen the Nissan commercial that shows a Nissan Altima made up to look like a racecar to take unsuspecting  people on racetrack hot laps. Then when they get done, Nissan strips off the racing façade and they discover it’s a stock Altima. I got to drive the car used in the commercial. When you’ve been around real racecars, you can see that it’s a fake, but nevertheless the car makes quite an impression and even sounds like a race car…it’s amazing what having no muffler and good handling can do to impress.

Nissan Maxima Track Taxi Project Car – Take a stock Nissan Maxima, lower the center of gravity, tune the suspension, give it some ground effects, add a low restriction exhaust system and do some little engine tweaks and you’ve got a car that’s perfect for giving high speed rides on the track. The simulated Maxima Nismo was just such a car, and even with the restrained road conditions, it was easy to feel how well this car could perform. It was a Nissan exercise to make a fun car to take people for rides on a track to demonstrate what might be possible when you start with a good base vehicle.

Nissan Micra 1.6 SR AT – Brought in from Canada, the Micra is not available in the United States, but it should be. This cute little urban five-door hatchback is fun-to-drive and a great bargain. The Micra is a few inches shorter than a Mini Cooper or Nissan Versa Note. The Micra is sold worldwide and would sure make a nice addition to the U.S. market.  

Nissan NV200 Taxi – I don’t ride in a taxi very often, but I got to drive the new Nissan NV200 Taxi. It is all decked out and ready to hit the streets of New York City. The small van makes an excellent taxi with a comfortable and functional driver space and very roomy rear seat for up to three adults in the rear, and a forth up front. Luggage space is excellent and it’s easy to get to. Nissan was recognized as the only available taxi for New York by the Taxi Commission, but then they reversed that decision a few weeks before the cab was scheduled to hit the streets allowing other brands of cars. It has a smaller footprint and is much more efficient than the current taxi fleet. The NV200 Taxi is powered by a 131-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with CVT transmission driving the front wheels. It gets an EPA rating of 23 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
 
Nissan Qashqai Diesel – Thrown into the mix to tantalize diesel engine fans, like myself, the Qashqai crossover is like the Nissan Rogue, but it’s only sold in countries like Japan, Australia and Great Britain. The diesel engine is super smooth, quiet and clean and would make a beautiful addition to existing U.S. models like the Roque.

Frontier Diesel Runner – Another diesel-powered vehicle, although much more rare, was the Frontier Diesel Runner. I think they said there are only two in existence. A Cummins four-cylinder diesel with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission was used to replace the V-6 engine in the Frontier. It’s difficult to tell much from a test mule like this, because no time was spent tuning the acoustics and smoothness. The result is a bit on the noisy side with a little diesel chatter and a slight roughness, but it’s not bad for a prototype. It won’t take much effort to develop this into a great little diesel truck.

Nissan eNV200 – An all-electric delivery van in a city makes a lot of sense, because of they are so efficient and environmentally clean. Nissan’s second all-electric vehicle, following the success of the Leaf, is the e-NV200 commercial van. It went on sale in June offering reduced running costs as a zero-emission alternative for urban cargo delivery and taxi companies. Nissan is also working to build infrastructure to accelerate uptake of EV technology. The company is aiming to triple the number of recharging devices in major U.S. cities over the next 18 months.

Other Nissan’s I drove included the 370Z Convertible, the full-size Titan 4x4 Pro-4X pickup, Altima 2.5 SL, Sentra SL, Versa Note SR, Xterra Pro-4X, and the Frontier Pro-4X with V-6 engine. I also took a spin in the NV3500 V8 SV HR. The big van is available in several configurations, capacities and trim levels which allow commercial shoppers to customize the van for their personal needs. Despite its size, the NV3500 was comfortable and easy to drive.

Nissan also displayed the exciting new generation Murano and the next Juke. When it first debuted in 2003, the Murano became the styling leader of the crossover movement with its exciting new sweeping design. The second generation in 2008 had only modest changes, but the 2015 Murano has a revolutionary new design that should put Nissan back in a position of design leadership among crossovers. They also gave us a look at the freshened 2015 Juke which has had a facelift with new grille, headlights, bumper and grille along with changes to the lower rear end.

I would have loved another day so I could have driven all the other Nissan offerings. Driving more than 150 different vehicles each year, I often forget about some of the ones I’ve driven and that was certainly the case with some of these.
I have to commend Nissan; they certainly throw a good playdate.

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auto digest, belle meade, cars, nissan, schaffer
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