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Nissan (known as Datsun in the U.S. until 1986), had fallen into near-disgrace by the late nineties. An uninspiring lineup, lacking in quality compared to Honda and Toyota, had the brand teetering on the edge, desperate for new product. But the third of the Japanese Big Three has enjoyed a tremendous
turnaround in recent years, thanks to CEO Carlos Ghosn. After merging with French manufacturer Renault, Nissan turned around its lineup, offering exciting new products like a new version of the legendary Z sports car, which had been on a short hiatus, and the new Altima. With their regained success, Nissan has introduced the first widely accessible (and widely praised) 100% EV, the Leaf, and brought one of the most legendary sports cars to the US after decades of exclusivity to foreign markets.
But Nissan isn't all sportscars and innovations. They also go deeply budget, and though these cars are affordable, they all have weaknesses. The newest addition to the Nissan lineup is the hatchback Versa Note, which has received mixed reviews, to put it charitably. Previous generation Versas shared a common platform and aesthetics, while the new Versa Sedan (starting at $11,990) and Versa Note (starting at $13,990) are now two separate entities. The Cube, with its box body and asymmetrical wrap-around window, is a less-successful version of the Kia Soul. The Sentra remains a budget option, like it has for many years, offering navigation, leather upholstery, and decidedly mediocre driving dynamics. The slightly more upscale Altima has sold well in its newest iteration, with smooth sweeping character lines that define its profile and a minimalist interior cabin design. The Altima Coupe is still available though it remains on the old platform and will end production after this model year. Nissan's "four-door sports car", the Maxima, trudges on with i's 3.5-liter V6 but is overdue for a refresh in the face of some stiff market competition.
With a $28,800 starting price (before federal tax savings) and range of just under 100 miles, the 100% electric Leaf is a truly viable option for those seeking to leave gas pumps behind. It's a remarkable, important, and innovative car that, along with the Chevy Volt and the Tesla Model S, helped define the vital rebirth of the electric-car business.
Sports cars have been an extremely important part of Nissan's heritage, and the Z car lives on in the 370Z with a 3.7-liter V6 making 332 horsepower in coupe and convertible bodies, while a 350 horsepower version is available in the performance spec Nismo Z. The GT-R's legend only grows as its perfect marriage of the unstoppable twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 and ATTESA E-TS All-Wheel Drive system continue to dominate super cars five times the price on and off the track.
The SUV segment is topped by Nissan's quirkiest car (which is saying a lot given that it also makes the Cube). The Nissan Juke is powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine making 188 horsepower. But because it's a relatively light crossover, it's fun to toss around in FWD or AWD variations. The Rogue offers subtler styling, and a fair amount more cabin space for friends and cargo. Since its introduction in 2003, the Murano Crossover has been one of Nissan's more successful models, offering the safety, security and space of an SUV with the refinement and fun of a car. The two-door four-seat convertible Murano CrossCabriolet has not seen the same sales success, but offers maybe the nicest interior of any Nissan product, Infiniti included.
Nissan is a sales back-bencher when it comes to heavy-duty cars, but they still have some solid offerings. With a cult following almost as strong as the GT-R's in off-road circles, the Xterra has continually been a favorite among weekend warriors looking for an extremely capable trailblazer they can also use every day. The Pathfinder held a similar reputation until Nissan ditched the truck-like body-on-frame construction for the softer unibody style platform that most contemporary SUVs use. In its ninth year without significant change, the Armada still offers plenty of space and rugged ability from its 5.6-liter V8.
After the questionably designed Quest of the previous generation, Nissan went to their JDM model Elgrand van for style and build quality. Weighty steering and the same V6 from the Maxima give the Quest a sportier feel than most other minivans on the market, while cushy second row captains chairs and easy folding seats still cover minivan duty with aplomb. See more... See Less