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Car Tech Video: Nissan Altima distinguishes itself with Google search, fuel economy

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Car Tech Video: Nissan Altima distinguishes itself with Google search, fuel economy

8:24 /

While its electronics may lack a signature Nissan look, the Altima offers modern and convenient features, such as Google search for navigation.

-In the past few years, Nissan's product offerings have seemed a little confused. They lack the clear vision that I see from companies like Hyundai or Audi, but it also benefits from Nissan's best technology of continuously variable transmission. Let's get into 2014 Nissan Altima and check the tech. Here in the cabin is what I was talking about, the continuously variable transmission. This is Nissan's kind of secret weapon for getting great fuel economy. Instead of having fixed gears, has a system of pulleys and bands that will constantly match engine speed with the car's speed and accelerator load. Some of them aren't so good from other automakers, but Nissan really has the best in the business. This one really feels engaged when you're driving, and when I pull it into reverse, I get my rearview camera here and it's got trajectory lines, so I can turn the wheel and I can see which way I'll be backing. That's really helpful. Now, this is a 7-inch touchscreen here. This is part of the infotainment unit. You know, Nissan hasn't really had a very consistent vision as far as technology goes and this really kind of looks like almost an off-the-shelf unit from a supplier, but it's not bad and it's got decent functions of the usual things -- navigation, phone, digital audio. The maps look pretty good here. They actually show in perspective and plan view. Right now, I'm looking in plan view, and if I pull out a bit, I can see the-- some traffic information too. So, I can see some live traffic. And the nice thing about this traffic information is it's not just showing on the freeways, so I see some free flow on the freeway nearby here, but it's also showing on the surface streets in downtown San Francisco. So, I've got some red markers here, telling me these roads are pretty congested right now so I can avoid them just by looking at this and steering, you know, away from that. There's no real home screen with this system. There's just a series of plastic buttons on this side here that give me the navigation, the maps, the different audio sources and telephones over here for some reason. Also, there's a button called Apps. We'll check that out in a minute. If I hit this navigation button, I get my destination options here. So, I've got street address, points of interest, the usual things. One thing I'm not really crazy about this system here is that, sometimes, you don't really-- you have to hit the button really precisely in the middle. It doesn't really react that well and can be frustrating if you're driving along and trying to hit something and then it keeps on not quite getting that right. I wish they kind of expand the touch area of these buttons. Now, along with these destination options, the Altima has also got some connected features which is pretty nice. It's got Google online search. To get that, I actually have to have the NissanConnect app installed on my phone, which I do. There's also a version for Android. With the iPhone, I have to have it cabled up here. With the Android, you can probably do that with just Bluetooth. I've got three functions right now. Nissan can probably add some more in the future. But right now, it's got iHeartRadio, also got some Facebook integration, and I've got Google online search. So, really, that Google online search should be part of this navigation interface, but it's not really well integrated, so I have to go to this Apps button. I push that, I get some Sirius Traffic, Sirius Travel Link which has fuel prices, movie time, stuff like that. I'm gonna press the My Apps button and I get another button for online search. Now, I can go in there. There's a lot of button presses, by the way. And it takes a little while to come up 'cause it's got to make a connection through your phone, through the internet. Now, I get these options for just a freeform search, voice search which I will try that out right now. CNET. Just a keyword, just an easy keyword. Now, it's searching and actually found it right away, found it pretty quick. And I can just say, "Start navigation," and here I go. So, that's really convenient to have, but again, not great integration that I have to go through all those button presses and also push the microphone button on the screen here as opposed to the voice command button embedded in the car. There's actually a button here for a more native voice command functions for the car. It also lets me ask for music. Play artist, New Order. -Playing artist, New Order. -Now, because I have my iPhone hooked up to the car here, if I have the USB drive, it should work the same. I can just say an artist's name, play that artist, it comes up right away. So, now, in this iPod screen here, I've actually got, of course, menu options to choose artists, albums on the screen here, you know, or like I showed, voice command. I've got other audio sources here. I've got satellite radio, of course. I've got FM/AM. I don't have HD radio in this car, just regular FM/AM. I've still got a CD player and this is kind of silly. They just have an AUX button, and this will actually cycle through the different digital options I've got here. So, it goes through iPod, Bluetooth audio, and an AUX input as well. All this music plays through, in this car, a Bose audio system. It's a nine-speaker system. We've got a center channel up here but no subwoofer, and that's kind of a shame. A subwoofer would have added some more-- more depth and richness to the music. I find this system produces a pretty distinct sound. I can hear all the instruments and vocals with a-- with a good amount of clarity, but I have noticed a little bit of fuzz in the midranges on the very edge. It's a little disturbing, and the bass isn't particularly strong. Again, subwoofer would have been nice. On this center screen here, in instrument cluster, I can also go through a lot of my information sources, audio sources. I can, of course, see fuel economy, but I can also see phone, navigation, and all that good kind of stuff. Now, the Altima's engine here is kind of boring. It's a 2.5-liter four-cylinder aluminum block, and this one doesn't even use direct injection like a lot of the other automakers have. This just has port injection. It makes 180 horsepower, 182 pound-feet of torque. Those actually are pretty good numbers and pretty comparable to the other direct injection cars. Nissan gets those kinds of numbers because of their variable valve timing. They're pretty good at that kind of stuff. So, this actually ends up being a pretty efficient engine even without some of the modern technologies like direct injections. Fuel economy numbers for the Altima are 27 miles per gallon city, 38 miles per gallon highway. Now, those are really high and that's mostly due to the continuously variable transmission. And if I'm just cruising along here at 25, but I slam the accelerator, it kicks up pretty fast and it really just-- is a very smooth, linear acceleration. That's the beauty of the CVT. It does just a really fine job in most circumstances, about any driving circumstances of matching the engine speed and vehicle speed and what the driver wants. The suspension tuning is kind of funky. I found that, with the Nissan Sentra, too, the dampers are tuned pretty soft and so you feel a bit of sway in the corners. But, to help the hand lane out, they've also got this thing called Active Understeer Control. This is basically what's called corner braking. It applies a little bit of brakes to the inside front wheel and that helps the car come around the corner, a little bit sharper. It's a nice feature to have, and it's such [unk] put it in this midsize sedan. I just feel like Nissan's got different engineers kind of working on different things. The suspension guys wanted a softer ride, so they softened the dampers, but then, the handling guys put in that-- that corner control, that corner braking to make it a little more of a sporty car. It's a-- It's a weird mix. Base price for 2014 Nissan Altima is $22,110. This SL trim is $27,860, but that gets a lot of nice convenience features, USB port, all that good stuff. The navigation system comes in as part of a technology package. That's $1,090. That also includes some of those driver assistance features like lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. Nissan also forces you to take the moonroof option with the technology package. There's no good reason why they do that, but that puts the total price of this 2014 Nissan Altima with destination up at $30,260. There are a lot of good options in the midsize sedan segment, and the Nissan Altima doesn't really measure up price by price compared to some of the other ones from Ford or Chevy or even Toyota. It's got some good features here, but it's not all really consistent and so I really like the offerings from some of the other manufacturers better.

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