Not merely content to have four doors and the ability to carry around the brood in relative comfort, the latest crop of family sedans has evolved into cars with more flavor, possessing a little extra somethin' to reward the driver that goes beyond just comfort or functionality.
We've lassoed up all the latest front-wheel-drive family sedans equipped with V6 powerplants in the price range of $24,000 to $30,000. These aren't bare-bones models; they're what you'd get if you had a fairly sizeable chunk of money available to check off pricey options. We tried to get either a Chrysler Sebring or Dodge Stratus into the mix, but neither was available at the time of our test. As is our policy, we don't include any cars that didn't place first in a previous comparison test or that have received a significant redesign, explaining the absence of the Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima or any of the other domestics. To see where these placed, check out our 2000 Family Sedan Comparison Test.
Over the course of a week, we drove these sedans on California's freeways and surface streets to see how they behaved in day-to-day conditions, as well as down twisty two-lane highways to test their handling capabilities. Some of us even took them to the byzantine, frustrating exercise known as the mall parking lot a few weeks before Christmas (oh, the humanity!). We performance-tested them for their acceleration, braking and handling limits. We even stuffed three editors in each backseat to rate them for comfort. We examined the feature content and analyzed the price equation. As with every road test, we subjected each vehicle to a 24-point evaluation process, as well as the "what car would I want in my own garage" query.
Like an overbearing mother-in-law, we'll tell you about what's best for your family. Think of us as a know-it-all backseat driver. This is this, and that is that. I'd hate to tell you I told you so...Let the nagging begin!
Fourth Place - 2002 Hyundai XG350
The Hyundai XG350 is somewhat of an odd man out in this group; while the other three vehicles possess firmly established, mass-appeal nameplates, the XG has only been available in the States since 2000 (previously, it was called the XG300). The others are sold by the fistful; Hyundai has humble aspirations of selling only about 15,000 per annum. That's a rather small niche, considering that almost 400,000 people bought a new Camry in 2001.
Don't write the Hyundai off, however. There are plenty of features to recommend it to the family sedan shopper. Take, for example, the cabin. We were all impressed with the quality of the Hyundai's interior materials; Hyundai went to great lengths to make sure that its customers knew that they weren't purchasing a bargain basement car. We thought items like its chrome doorsill plates, swell-feeling headliner and the supple leather were the best of the bunch. Best of all, it comes standard on the XG350. Even the fake wood doesn't look egregiously bad, as in the Altima. And its outwardly appearance has been vastly improved thanks to the new 16-inch wheels.
We weren't particularly taken with the wavy design on the gauge cluster, but overall, the cabin imparts a sense of traditional luxury. The cupholder cover and sunglasses holder deploy with an impressive damped feel, and abundant storage cubbies and a dual-tiered center console were appreciated.
At 56.9 and 37.2 inches, respectively, rear shoulder and leg space are only 0.6 inches short of the dimensions of the Camry, which has the roomiest accommodations. The rear seats are contoured more for two passengers than three; there is no third headrest, although a three-point seatbelt exists. Toe room is tight, but there are air vents in the back of the console, a cigarette lighter/powerpoint and door bins and map pockets to hold passengers' belongings. The fold-down center armrest opens up to reveal an impressive storage bin and two cupholders. At 14.5 cubic feet, the trunk is the smallest of the group, and gooseneck hinges force you to arrange your parcels carefully so as not to crush any fragile items. The liftover is low and the opening is wide.
Hyundai's primary appeal is that so much comes standard, and at a price that has the others beaten. The closest competitor, the Camry SE V6, equipped with standard cloth trim, is a couple grand more than the XG, and it doesn't have automatic climate control.
Of course, there's the flip side of the equation, which is that some options aren't available, even if you could pay for them. An eight-disc CD changer is an option, but it's not in-dash. Nor are stability control or side curtain airbags available. These are features that were once in the realm of luxury cars but are starting to become commonplace in more mainstream vehicles. While Hyundai's standard features list is impressive, traditional luxury doesn't always jibe with more modern tastes. "Buick-like" was the phrase most often used to describe the XG350.
It turned out to be an apt comparison, given the Hyundai's floaty ride quality. While driving around town and on highways, the suspension provides a soft, damped ride; when taxed, the double wishbone front and multilink rear setup begs for mercy. It crashes over bumps at speed and is completely soggy on canyon runs. The wallowy body and tendency to understeer gives the car a ponderous quality, not surprising since the Hyundai was the heavyweight of the bunch, weighing in at 3,651 pounds. Add to that soft Michelin Energy MVX4 Plus 205/60R16 tires that squeal at the slightest provocation and a steering rack that delivers very little road feel, and you've got a vehicle that sucks the fun out of driving.
The 2002 model year saw an increase in the size of the V6 powerplant from 3.0 to 3.5 liters. While the horsepower increase is up just 2, from 192 to 194, torque is amplified by 37 pound-feet to 216. This helped in the acceleration run, as 0-to-60 mph was achieved in 7.7 seconds, an improvement of 1.3 seconds over the XG300 and good enough for second place in the acceleration category. The quarter-mile was achieved in 15.9 seconds at 87.8 mph. While the engine was smooth and quiet to the point of silence, Hyundai engineers must have gone overboard in emphasizing the increase in torque; all of us noted the touchy nature of the throttle with a surge at tip-in. This isn't necessarily a complaint; it just takes a little getting used to. Still, the XG350 managed to get 21.6 miles to the gallon, the best of the four.
The Hyundai was the only car equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission as well as a sequentially shifting manual mode. The sequential mode is somewhat gimmicky for a non-sport-oriented car, but manual shifts come quickly and smoothly. Good thing, since the regular Drive mode could use some fine-tuning; our drivers felt that the transmission was constantly hunting for the correct gear.
Brake action wasn't as pleasing as some of the others in the group some described it as "spongy" but the actual stopping distance, while the longest of the four, was only 5 feet from the top contender's. Further, the XG350's 127-foot score is well within the acceptable range for a car of this class, and our road test coordinator noted that the ABS system was one of the more refined of the group.
Again, don't discount the XG350 if you're not a driving enthusiast and you don't pay much attention to handling characteristics. The Hyundai provides a well-equipped, thoughtfully designed cabin and a comfortable ride, all at a very attractive price. However, if you're looking for a vehicle with some more pizzazz, then read on.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig Says:
Since it's the top-of-the-line car from such an up-and-coming manufacturer, I expected a lot from the XG. In many ways, I wasn't all that disappointed, but in too many others, it's evident that the XG still lags a few steps behind the competition.
The upgraded engine was surprisingly powerful, but the touchy throttle made it leap at the slightest nudge of the pedal, a trait most drivers in this class won't appreciate. The steering is so dead on center that you practically have to fight against it to make a turn, and the brake pedal requires too much effort. The soft suspension relays virtually no road feel, giving the car an overly heavy feel that's not very comforting.
The XG's cabin is where it was most impressive. Material quality was excellent, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces in just the right places. Although the gauge cluster looked like it was pulled directly out of a lesser model, the rest of the interior exhibited an upscale look that was befitting of the car's price point. There was plenty of room for my tall frame, and the seats remained comfortable even after extended stints behind the wheel.
With its extensive warranty coverage, reasonable price and numerous features, the XG350 will likely appeal to buyers more interested in bang for the buck than all-out performance. But in my book, a solid-handling car is ultimately more enjoyable than seat heaters and a good stereo, so the XG will have to take a backseat to the more competent handlers in this test.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
I just can't get over the name. XG350. What the heck is that? It sounds like a robot from Star Wars, or possibly an Oster blender. I know Hyundai was looking to impart a luxury aura to this car, but going with a nonsensical alphanumeric name doesn't do it any favors.
It's funny, a lot of people I know who are only casually familiar with automobiles commented favorably on the XG. They'd say things like, "Hey, that's a nice white car you've got there." Yes, indeed, it is white, my friend; your powers of observation are acute! Yet nobody ever knew what it was. The styling is familiar, but in a nondescript way.
That said, I think I liked the XG350 more than most. The interior is quite nice, with high-quality materials and, in my opinion, anyway, comfortable front seats. For what I expect most people use their family sedans for relaxed city and highway travel the XG does a fine job. The suspension, a pillow-job worthy of a "rides like a Buick!" cliché, does soak up most road irregularities. And the price is right, too.
The problem, as is usually the case for middling products like this, is that there is simply better hardware to be had. I can think of a few domestic sedans from our 2000 Family Sedan Comparison Test that the Hyundai is better than. But for this test, the XG is bottom of the heap.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Hyundai's flagship XG350 strikes me as an amalgamation of decade-old luxury car clichés, from the flaccid suspension to the glossy fake dashboard paneling to the chrome waterfall grille. These cues are then tacked onto a shape that possesses a vague, Communist-bloc flavor, resulting in a vehicle that reminds one of so many different luxury sedans of yesterday, that to identify it as a new Hyundai on sight is near impossible.
This, of course, could be exactly the result Hyundai stylists are seeking. If everyone thinks "luxury" and nobody thinks "Hyundai," that's gotta be good for sales when the sticker reads "$25,000."
Admittedly, the quality of the cabin materials surpasses those of the Altima. And the ride on the highway and city streets is the smoothest of this bunch. But the car gives up and plays dead when you ask it to exceed 5/10 on the performance scale, unacceptable when the Passat offers nearly as supple a ride but is willing to play when the opportunity presents itself.
Not only does the styling appear dated, the structure of the car itself feels about as stout as a 1990 Chrysler New Yorker. The doors even shudder when slammed, partly because of the frameless windows. Driving the XG350 is much like piloting a used car, except that the Hyundai doesn't exhibit any squeaks and rattles yet.
Finally, the engine delivers power in surges, the transmission is trapped in a perpetual state of confusion, the brakes are rather soggy and the tires squeal more often than the boy who cried wolf.
Faux luxury is exactly that. If you want the real thing, try the Passat.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Hyundai XG350
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Hyundai XG350
Ranking in Stereo Test: Fourth
System Score: 6
Components: Even though this stereo finished dead last in our four-car test, don't count the XG350 out. In fact, the systems in all four cars performed well above expectations. There were actually no losers in this test, only good systems, better ones, and, in the case of the Altima, one terrific one. Hyundai has come a long way in a short time, and if the rest of this car is half as good as the stereo, this is yet one more example of a company making quick inroads.
The audio system in the XG350 consists of a pair of full-range 6-by-9 speakers along the back deck, as well as a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors. The upper portion of the front doors also contains a pair of 1-inch dome tweeters, which disperse quite well into the passenger compartment. There are no speakers in the rear doors.
Electronics include an in-dash head unit with a cassette player, 12 AM/6 FM presets and a built-in single-disc CD player. There are a few other little niceties incorporated into the XG350's head unit that set it apart from the other cars in this test. For one, the volume knob is oversized (great for locating in the dark) and further enhanced by detents all the way around the dial, giving the user a great tactile feel when adjusting the volume. The head unit also boasts little pop-out dials (very similar to those found in GM trucks) for bass/balance and treble/fade. These dials have a center detent in the 12 o'clock position and serve as an excellent alternative to the gee-whiz electronic tone controls most automakers use. Overall, this head unit has a great topography, with solid ergonomics and wide button spacing for most functions.
Unfortunately, as with the Toyota Camry, the XG350 offers no stereo controls on the steering wheel. Also, while the head unit includes some nifty little preset EQ curves (Jazz, Rock, Classic) to customize the sound, we feel it misses the boat by not taking this concept one step further and offering the user a Custom setting (again, GM comes to mind, as the company offers this on many vehicles), so that the operator can dial in her own settings. We marked off for this, and for the radio position, which is just a little too low in the dash.
Performance: This system sounds pretty good. Vocals are warm and clean, horns sound excellent, and most percussion instruments kick drum in particular have an unexpected liveliness and realism. Hyundai has also incorporated a superb volume-limiting circuit in this system, preventing the amplifier from overdriving the speakers and putting them into distortion. Unfortunately, the sound quality during our test was hampered by a loudly buzzing and humming door panel on the driver door, for which we deducted points, and which may (or may not) be a harbinger of other build-quality issues in the XG350. As the old joke goes: "Why is that door panel humming? Because it doesn't know the words."
Best Feature: User-friendly head unit.
Worst Feature: Buzzing door panel.
Conclusion: This was the lowest-scoring sound system in our test, and it still got a 6. Car audio systems have come a long way in the last 10 years, and Hyundai continues to impress us with its improvements in audio and other areas. Aside from the buzzing door panel a major annoyance this is a keeper. Oh, one other thing: You might want to look at the options schedule and consider adding a CD changer. Scott Memmer
Third Place - 2002 Toyota Camry
Before you write in to complain about the Camry's third-place finish, let us just say this: You're going to buy this car anyway. And you'll love it. One of America's best-selling cars, the Camry has earned a reputation for offering a roomy, refined interior; a smooth, compliant ride; and a high level of durability and reliability.
The fifth generation of the Camry sees improvement in just about every area that made it so popular in the first place. But in our opinion, you must not only improve, but innovate; it should offer something that no other competing car has.
We can't argue with the multi-faceted appeal of a Camry. Take passenger cabin comfort, for example. Rear seats are the most commodious, with a generous 57.5 inches of shoulder room and 37.8 inches of leg space. Both numbers are class-leading, trailed closely by the rear seat dimensions of the Nissan Altima. While the Camry's bench seat is flat and could use more thigh support, this is the car most suited for carrying three adults. Thanks to its high roofline, there's an airy feeling to the cabin. The rear door grips cleverly hold juice boxes, and a center armrest hides cupholders.
The front seats caused a bit of a conflict with the drivers. Some proclaimed them perfectly comfortable, while others thought them the worst of the four, saying that they lacked legroom and thigh support. The instrument cluster is laid out in a simple, elegant manner, with no unnecessary frills to mar its symmetry. Cost-cutting was noted in the lack of secondary illumination; in the dark, you'll have to feel around for the window switches. However, storage space is the best in the group, with sunglasses storage, a cloth lined coin tray, a big dash bin, a large dual-tier center console and map pockets. Very thoughtful, those Toyota engineers.
Disappointingly, the interior of our test vehicle was fraught with rattles and squeaks. We believe that this was the same vehicle that we drove for our road test and can only imagine that this problem is isolated to this particular unit. After all, Toyota's calling card is its flawless assembly and the bulletproof reliability that follows.
The Camry's main weakness lies in the fact that Toyota nickel-and-dimes the consumer. Our mid-grade SE model didn't come with remote keyless entry as standard equipment; it was a part of a pricey options package that included a power driver seat and a premium sound system that didn't include a six-disc in-dash changer. The Camry was also the only car in our test without leather inside, although its cloth seats were covered with high-grade material. Soft-touch materials cover most of the dash and doors where you're most likely to rest your hands and arms, and the controls provide a good tactile feel. Our editors were split on the faux metallic trim that comes with the SE model, with some declaring it cheesy and others saying that it adds flair. The three-spoke steering wheel earned praise for its sporty appearance, however. The climate control system is ingeniously simple with three knobs for temperature control, fan speed and mode. The stereo was a bit of a reach for our various-sized editors; this was one car that really needed steering wheel-mounted controls, not to mention a tuning knob.
Driving the Camry, we further understood its appeal; the ride is a smooth, effortless, peaceful one, all exactly pointing to what a consumer would want in a family sedan. The four-speed automatic transmission deserves kudos for its quick and intuitive shifts. We agreed that it was the best unit of the group. It helped out what is a rather average engine, a 3.0-liter V6 making 192 horsepower and 209 pound-feet of torque. With its 8.1-second 0-to-60-mph time, it was the slowest of the group (though by a small margin); we tested presumably the same car earlier this year and got a 7.9-second acceleration time (different testing conditions result in different times). Fuel economy is average, drinking a gallon of gas for each 20.6 miles traveled. However, if you place a premium on overall refinement and quiet smoothness, the Camry's V6 leads the pack. Aside from a small weak spot in the mid-range, it seamlessly accelerates the car.
The SE's sport-tuned suspension helped on its canyon run, maintaining balance and using the tires to its best ability. However, we noticed that over sizeable bumps, it jounced more than a family sedan should. Many consumers may prefer the softer tuning of the LE or the XLE.
Our tester was also equipped with an enhanced safety package, which includes stability control (the only one among the four to offer it as an option) as well as side and head airbags for the front passengers. ABS is standard on Camrys with V6 engines, but you'll have to opt for the safety package to get the Brake Assist-enhanced version. So outfitted, the Camry yielded the shortest braking distance of 122 feet.
The Toyota Camry is as sensible a choice as shopping the sales rack at Loehmann's. The 2002 redesign injects more aesthetic style and design flair into a rather plain product, and the SE trim livens up the driving dynamics even further. The Camry is an excellent vehicle and fulfills its mission of providing an incredibly comfortable, easygoing ride. However, the Camry lacks the sporting attitude of the Altima as well as the graceful, luxurious touch of the Passat, and thus earned its third-place finish in this comparison test that requires a little bit more than the everyday bread and butter. Furthermore, it struggles to keep up with others in terms of standard feature content some relatively basic equipment can only be had if you check off the options boxes that drive up the final cost of the car. If what you want is a reliable, comfortable, roomy transport, and you don't mind paying a little bit extra for goodies to make your life easier, then we would have no hesitation recommending it.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig Says:
The old Camry was always a solid sedan with few faults other than its near total lack of personality. Not much has changed.
Although we tested the "sporty" SE version, the Camry still offers nothing more than basic transportation; although, now it comes dressed in a slightly fancier package. There's a ton of room inside, and I even liked the faux metal trim. The gauge cluster is a little busy, but the stereo and climate controls are a model of simplicity. Material quality is excellent; although, a few annoying rattles suggest our test car's fit and finish was not up to usual Toyota standards.
On the road, the V6 is whisper-quiet, and the transmission delivers perfectly smooth shifts every time. The suspension gives you the impression that it might be up for some fun, but push it even the slightest bit and it reveals its docile nature quickly. The spacious interior makes it a great long range cruiser, although the soft seats give in after a few hours in the saddle.
Despite its less than thrilling disposition, the Camry is still hard not to like. It does everything that a family sedan should. It's sufficiently powerful, quiet on the road and soaks up just about anything you can throw at it with little fanfare. The interior is full of stylish, high-quality materials, and you'll rarely need more room. If someone asked which family four-door they should buy, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Camry for a second.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
In many ways, such as materials used, body variations and feature content, the '97-'01 Toyota Camry was less of a car than the previous generation, the '92-'96 car. Cost consideration was a major factor in the '97 car's design. Normally this has a detrimental effect on sales, yet Toyota sold hundreds of thousands each year. In 1997, it was the best-selling car in America. Same with 1998. Now for 2002, there's another new Camry, and this one is less focused on cost-cutting and more on the driving experience and features. What, does Toyota want to rule the world or something?
This is an easy car to like. It's obvious that Toyota spent a great deal of time figuring out exactly what family sedan buyers need and want. Example? My co-worker Chris Wardlaw pointed out the interior door grips for the rear passengers. Not only do they allow you to pull the door shut (like every other car), they also have a rubber liner and are designed for storage. If you examine their shape, you'll notice that they are perfectly sized for children's juice boxes. So easy, yet so smart. That is the Toyota Camry. As family sedans go, this is one of the best.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
It's hard not to come away from a drive in the huge new Toyota Camry impressed. The car is solid, quiet and refined, exhibiting surprising levels of tossability and sprightliness given its dimensions.
The Camry looks big because it is big. The rear seat is easily the most commodious for three adults, and the trunk is the largest in the class. For ferrying passengers and parcels, it doesn't get much better than the Toyota.
However, I cannot get comfortable in this car. The driver seat doesn't offer a separate cushion tilt adjustment, so when the chair is raised to its highest position, I feel like I'm getting dumped forward toward the dash. Adding to my discomfort is a lack of rearward seat track travel (it's not as though there isn't any room for it to move further back) and a left-foot dead pedal that resides on a different plane than the accelerator.
Compounding the comfort problem in the SE are stereo controls that require a stretch to operate and a steering wheel that offers no redundant controls. At least the Camry is a star ergonomically, offering large, simple, legible dials and buttons to control all the functions. And, notably, it offers stability control, the only vehicle in the group to do so.
My suggestion is to avoid the SE model, which possesses a stiff-riding suspension, and go with the LE or XLE, neither of which are cursed with the SE's lousy fake metallic interior trim. And if you don't require the smooth power offered by the Camry's optional V6, stick with the four-cylinder engine. Not only will you maximize fuel economy, but you'll save a coupla grand. Which, given how pricey a Camry V6 is, gives you a few pennies to spend on the kinds of extras that came on our other family sedans.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Toyota Camry
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Toyota Camry
Ranking in Stereo Test: Third
System Score: 7.0
Components: This JBL sound system is surprisingly impressive for a mid-trim-level price point in America's number one-selling sedan. Although marred by some puzzling design decisions by the Toyota engineers, the stereo itself is ample in its appointments and generous in its sound quality. If only the design team had followed suit in other areas.
The system begins with a pair of full-range JBL 6-by-9 drivers on the rear deck. These are complemented by a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors, rolled off to an excellently positioned pair of upward-firing mid-tweeters in the corners of the dash. We've seen this kind of mid-tweet arrangement in other cars, and it almost always produces great sound, this Camry being no exception. Unlike most factory sound systems, which place the tweeters in the A-pillars or the front doors, the Camry arrangement has the tweets lying flat on the dash (beneath a grille, of course) and firing up into the windshield glass. As a result, you get a "reflective" sound coming off the glass that fills the passenger compartment with a wonderful soundstage.
The head unit, which boasts 18 presets, a cassette player and a single-disc CD, is far more puzzling. It's not exactly Phi Beta Kappa in the ergonomics department. The radio itself is poorly designed, with little spacing between the buttons and a flat topography. What's more, the location of the head unit leaves much to be desired. Not only is it positioned too high in the dash, leaving normal-sized individuals streeeetching to reach it, but, further exacerbating the problem, the Toyota design team has made the odd choice of positioning it in the exact center of the dash. As if this weren't enough, the dash is flat, so the radio is not angled toward the driver. And finally, the coup de grace, the steering wheel offers absolutely no stereo controls (the only car in the test other than the Hyundai XG350 that didn't). We took a quick poll, and every editor involved in this test agreed that the Toyota engineers missed the boat on the radio location. We marked off heavily because of this.
Performance: A shame that the radio is such a tough reach, because this is one fine-sounding system. Although highs are just slightly screechy, the system's overall tonal balance is excellent. My listening notes say, "Very warm and pleasing sound, with a bucketful of bass." On top of that, percussion kicks booty, horns present a lifelike presence, and vocals possess detail and depth. Best of all, the dash-mounted tweets present a superb soundstage, better than any car in the test.
Best Feature: Dash-mounted mid-tweeters present an excellent soundstage.
Worst Feature: Funky head unit design and placement; no steering wheel controls.
Conclusion: This was actually the second-best-sounding system in the test, behind the Altima. However, we knocked off serious points for the poorly placed head unit. If you're considering buying this car, you might look at stepping up to one of the option packages (there are several) that offer a six-disc in-dash changer to replace the single-disc unit. Scott Memmer
Second Place - 2002 Nissan Altima
When Nissan announced the 2002 Altima at the 2001 New York Auto Show, the car's specs had us salivating like a mutt in a butcher shop. After all, family sedans are known to be tame, roomy and comfortable; they aren't expected to be fast. Or furious, for that matter. A whopping 240 horses? There must've been a typo somewhere.
We're happy to report that Nissan didn't make an error. From its 3.5-liter V6 surges forth 240 galloping ponies, good enough to wallop its competitors with a 7.3-second 0-to-60-mph acceleration run. Fuel economy isn't too badly affected by all this power; the Altima's 20.3 miles to the gallon is only slightly behind the numbers for the other vehicles. Power delivery lacks the smoothness and refinement of its competitors, however, with more noise, vibration and harshness invading the cabin than in the other three. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of sound insulation, especially in the wheelwell areas. Road and tire noise were a bit excessive for a vehicle of this class.
Even though we've previously been spoiled with a five-speed manual tranny version, we found the four-speed automatic to be more than adequate, with quick, precise shifts; in fact, we preferred it to the too-light shifting action of the manual. While one editor found it to be "refreshingly devoid of automanual pretensions," another quizzed as to why this sporty car lacked such a common feature. They're still smarting from the ensuing forehead flick fight from that one.
Indeed, the Altima is the most sporting of the group; if you crave the visceral thrills of flying down a curvy road, Nissan will give it to you. At 3,227 pounds, it's the most svelte and the best balanced of the group. Riding the twisty two-lane highway part of our test loop, the Altima was the preferred ride, its taut MacPherson strut and multilink independent suspension allowing the car to remain flat and composed through the hairpin turns with very little body roll. The 3.5 SE model has slightly firmer suspension tuning than the 2.5 versions, which complements its virile powerplant.
Around town, however, the taut chassis may not appeal to all. While it never beats up its occupants, your kids may not appreciate being jarred from their precious naps. Most families will want something more compliant and isolating.
Disappointingly, the 3.5 SE, the top-of-the-line Altima, doesn't come with standard ABS. Considering the fact that this is a basic safety feature, we'd recommend the ABS and airbag package. So equipped, you'll get front side airbags (another basic safety feature that comes standard in all the other cars) and head curtain airbags for the front and rear. For $749, that's a lot of peace of mind. The ABS comes reinforced with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) that senses load variation and BrakeAssist, which optimizes ABS engagement. Braking distance from 60 to 0 mph was 125 feet, on par with the Volkswagen, with good pedal progression but slightly intrusive ABS vibration.
What we found most contentious about the driving experience was the overly light steering that gives little feedback from the road. While this isn't necessarily a liability, given the fact that these are family sedans, it was light to the point of flightiness and was somewhat darty on highways. Most drivers will appreciate the no-effort steering in a parking lot, however.
All of our editors found the driver seat to be comfortable, with both a tilting and telescoping steering wheel and enough seat track travel to satiate even our taller editors. Seat bolstering and thigh support found approval from all; our only complaint is that the headrests don't articulate forward for better head support. Further increasing the Altima's appeal are electroluminescent gauges, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and a six-disc in-dash changer. Stereo controls are thoughtfully laid out, and, on the whole, the sound system was deemed best in the group by our stereo evaluator.
Rear seat accommodations fall a little short of the Camry's, with 56.7 inches of shoulder room and 36.4 inches of leg space. Still, that's a vast improvement over the previous Altima and raised nary a dissenting voice among the three editors squished into the backseat during our evaluations. Two passengers can make use of the fold-down armrest with two cupholders. The hard door panels and lack of door bins and air vents may raise some ire from the kiddies in the back, but at least toe space and thigh support are among the better in the group.
The Altima's Achilles heel is the quality of its interior materials. Rather appalling is the steep price of the Leather and Wood Trim package ($1,549), considering the subpar leather and the blatantly fake wood. Plastics used around the cabin are chintzy and hard, the substance used for the pillars is glossy and cheap, and the center console lid is flimsy. However, they were all fitted with precision, and aside from a few mismatched gaps on the exterior, we couldn't find fault with overall build quality. We found the dual-tiered center console to be useful, and the trunk is spacious with 15.6 cubic feet of capacity, but you may find liftover a bit high and the gooseneck hinges to be outdated.
In the end, we found that the Altima could use a bit more focus as to its identity. Is it a sport sedan, as its engine and chassis would suggest, or is it a family car, as its light steering implies? Is it an economy car, as its interior materials and somewhat meager standard equipment list shout, or a premium sedan, as its price tag implies? We concluded that with a bit of tweaking here and there, it has a whole lot of potential to be a desirable, functional vehicle, as two of our four editors chose it as the sedan that they'd park in their own garage.
In the family sedan marketplace, the new Altima represents a new level of performance. Others will be racing to catch up to this newly established benchmark; we are so pleased with it that we chose it for our Editors' Most Wanted Award, because, as stated, "It's guided by passion, not science," and our love for speedsters often overrules our desire for comfort. If your needs run more toward driving satisfaction than passenger satisfaction, we'd recommend the all-new Altima. However, there is one car that combines both road manners as well as driving satisfaction in a much more affable, polished manner.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig Says:
As an alternative to the typical family sedan, the Altima makes quite a case for itself. The engine rarely fails to deliver up some serious thrust no matter how fast you're going, and the suspension is as good as any high-dollar sport sedan. The steering is a little feeble, but with so much capability everywhere else, it's easy to overlook.
The problem comes when you consider who the average buyer is. Sure, Dad will love making hastily driven grocery runs on the weekends, but as a day-to-day family car, Mom is not likely to savor the taut suspension or rocket-ship acceleration. She'll be more apt to notice the cheap plastic used throughout the interior and the ugly gauges that look like they got lifted out of a Pontiac.
If these are issues of no concern to you, then by all means score yourself an Altima, you won't be disappointed. But if refinement, material quality and ride comfort are your chief concerns, you would be better off with a Camry, a Passat or at least a lesser version of the Altima.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
This is a tough car to decide on. On a personal level, I really like it. I can see myself owning one. I'd get a 3.5 SE with the five-speed, high-intensity discharge lights and the ABS/airbag package. It's a bummer that one has to order the sunroof or the leather package in order to get the premium Bose sound system and six-disc changer. I'm not a fan of sunroofs or fake wood trim. Plus, there's not a whole lot of leather included to begin with.
Yes, the Altima's main problem is its low-grade interior materials. They aren't horrible, mind you, but they are probably the weakest you'll find from a Japanese make. So that's my dilemma. I love the Altima as a sport sedan, but would more average family sedan buyers be put off by the interior, as well as the tauter suspension?
I guess the sales charts will tell. Either way, this is a fine effort from Nissan. It breaks the family sedan mold. No longer is the family sedan supposed to be boring to look at and boring to drive. Here's a car that can run with a BMW 330i while saving you thousands of dollars in the process. If you like to drive but can't afford to have a dedicated sports car, this should be your pick.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Nissan's stellar new Altima is not for everybody. Significantly, its cabin is not as polished as the others in this test, possessing the least insulated interior trimmed in the cheapest materials. From the driver seat of the Altima, take a look around and it's easy to see the cost-cutting that keeps this all-new sedan a rung below the allegedly more upscale Maxima.
But if you like to drive, the 240-horsepower 3.5 SE will make you giggle with delight each time you stab the throttle and twist the wheel. It inspires normally good people to behave badly, slicing and dicing through traffic in a manner that says "sports car" much more than "family sedan." Torque steer is a problem, but the sound of the twin-cam V6 as it rushes to speed is an intoxicant that effectively numbs any minor niggles.
The Altima is quite comfortable, with plenty of room front and rear. In fact, I don't require the use of maximum seat track travel, making this the only sedan in this test about which I can make that statement. The trunk is roomy, too, coming within spitting distance of the Camry in terms of volume.
Finally, the Altima looks sharp. Literally. This is one of the most attractive sedans available today, and the best looking car to emerge from Nissan in more than a decade. It's modern and upscale with just the right amount of pizzazz to give it some spice. Better yet, by choosing the four-cylinder 2.5 S or SL, you can get the same handsome look in a less expensive, softer-riding package.
Despite the rather chintzy cabin, the Altima is the one I'd buy.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Nissan Altima
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Nissan Altima
Ranking in Stereo Test: First
System Score: 9.0
Components: When we first got our hands on the redesigned 2002 Nissan Altima stereo several months back, we couldn't believe our eyes er, ears. We gushed all over ourselves. (And have you ever tried to clean up gush? It's worse than guacamole.) Could our ears have deceived us? Was it really that good? With this comparison test, we'd finally be able to put the Altima stereo head-to-head with three other vehicles in its segment to see (and hear) whether its sound quality was, in fact, that good. And guess what? The Altima won hands down. It really is that good.
This Bose-designed system begins with a nicely appointed head unit in a double-DIN opening. The faceplate has an exceptionally wide topography, with great touchy-feely knobs and buttons, a superb display, and a lack of clutter and busy-ness we typically find in competing vehicles. It also offers a few extra goodies, such as a "Travel" button that selects the 18 strongest stations (12 FM and 6 AM) when you're on the road and a built-in six-disc CD changer.
Speakerwise, the system boasts a pair of 6-by-9s on the rear deck, functioning in the bass mode only in other words, you have dual 6x9 subwoofers on your back deck. These are complemented by a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in rear doors, plus 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors. Completing the speaker array, an excellently positioned pair of 1-inch tweeters grace the A-pillars.
Performance: Knowing that we wanted to compare the Altima's sound quality with the three other cars in this test, we intentionally saved the Altima for last, proceeding first through our usual listening tests with the Camry, Passat and XG350. Having the vehicles side-by-side was a real treat, allowing us to move from one car to the next while our brains still retained the sound from the previous vehicle. In this manner, we evaluated the first three vehicles, then hopped into the Altima. And came away delighted and impressed.
In point of fact, the Altima stereo more than held its own against the three challengers. Aside from being the loudest stereo in the test, it also had the best overall sonic balance. We knocked off some points for excessive bass (something most owners of this vehicle will delight in rather than complain about) and for the brassy tweeters, which exhibited a slight stridency at higher volumes. Other than that, though, this stereo really hums. It's a fine system.
Best Feature: Awesome bass response; sonic warmth and clarity.
Worst Feature: Overbearing tweeters at higher volumes.
Conclusion: If you're looking for a mid-priced sedan with a great stereo, look no further. This may be the best stereo in the segment for under $25,000; if not, it's close. Do yourself a favor and take along a few of your favorite CDs when you drop by your local Nissan dealer. Then sit back, crank the volume, and be prepared to smile Scott Memmer
In the first month that we've had our long-term Nissan Altima, we've noted that the stereo fries out after a couple of hours' use. Please view our long-term report for further details.
First Place - 2002 Volkswagen Passat
Think of the Volkswagen Passat as Law and Order. It lacks the laugh-out-loud conviviality of a sitcom, but it is arguably the most entertaining, intelligent, engrossing hour on television (we're not sure about its spinoffs). No, it won't ever be a Nielsen ratings winner, and yes, it lacks the flash and dazzle of a series that has a former teen idol playing a serious main character. But the Passat's overall polished performance, solid road handling manners and excellent content still managed to make it rise above its competition and reign supreme in the class. It was enough to capture the title of "Best Family Sedan" in 2000, and it managed to do so again for 2002.
The 2001.5 model-year update of the second-generation Passat injected a little more oomph into what was already a crowd pleaser, although many of us still prefer the clean, elegant lines of the previous Passat.
Powering our test model was VW's 2.8-liter V6, capable of 190 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque, the weakest engine of the group. The test vehicle's 0-to-60 mph acceleration sprint was completed in 8.0 seconds, the third best of the group. There's room for improvement here, however, this may be Volkswagen's strategy to separate the V6 from the upcoming W8 powerplant. But every other aspect of the drivetrain pleased. Our test vehicle was equipped with a five-speed manual, the only one in the test. (For the record, we did request an automatic to have equal footing with the other cars in the test, but one was not available. While the auto adds another $1,075 to the price tag, it would not have been enough to alter the finishing order of the test.) The slick-shifting five-speed tranny was one of the best Volkswagen/Audi units we've tested, with a buttery, short throw. One of our editors noted that it could use a bit more positive engagement, and that clutch engagement was a bit high, but all in all, shifting was more of a pleasure than a chore.
The Passat's multilink front and independent torsion-beam rear suspension was also our editors' favorite of the four, managing to soak up road irregularities while providing a smooth ride. On canyon roads, body roll is abundant, yet the Passat manages weight transition better than other softly tuned cars and instills enough confidence for spirited runs. It earned the best score in our 600-foot slalom course, as well.
Steering in the VW also received the highest scores, with perfect weighting and a direct, progressive response. It manages to give feedback from the road, although there is some kickback over bumps. The ABS-equipped brakes were powerful and provided linear response; the Passat's stopping distance of 125 feet tied it with the Altima. There's no stability control system available as of yet, but seeing as how it showed up on the 2002 New Beetle Turbo S, we're willing to bet that it'll show up either as an option or a standard feature within the year.
Like four-year-olds romping across the White House lawn on Easter, we kept discovering surprises on the Passat. Not colored hard-boiled eggs, mind you, but high-class, pleasing features, such as the heated, auto-fold side mirrors, puddle lamps that provide illumination for you to avoid stepping in itinerant cowpies, a rear sunshade, height-adjustable rear seat headrests for all three passengers and articulating headrests for front passengers, a power point in the trunk, a comprehensive trip computer and an adjustable cooling feature for the glovebox. Windows can be opened and shut with the remote control, and the doors unlock automatically when the airbags are deployed. You know, things that aren't the deciding factors on a car, but reward you over time, moving you to say, "Gee, I really did get a lot for my money."
The Passat's strongest suit is its high-class interior materials. From its expensive-feeling headliner, soft-touch dash and matte plastics to its real wood trim, this cabin is that of a luxury car. While the layout of the interior is typically German that is, austere and cold its execution is nearly flawless.
Rear seat accommodations are the least spacious of the four cars. With 54.6 inches of shoulder room and 35.3 inches of leg space, three passengers may find it a little tight, but with two passengers, it should be more than satisfactory, with contoured seats, a rear power point and side curtain airbags. While the Passat's 15.0 cubic feet of cargo space falls short of the Toyota Camry's huge 16.7 cubic feet and Altima's 15.6, it's a well-designed space with strut-type hinges to spare your cargo from damage.
Within the 2002 model year, Volkswagen will shoehorn an eight-cylinder engine into the Passat, further pushing it into luxury car territory. While speculation abounds as to whether the world is ready for a $40,000 Volkswagen, we think that the Passat is already a contender in the entry-level luxury car market.
The Passat provided the most luxurious feel; four full-sized adults will have no trouble finding comfort in the cozy cabin; it has a soft, comfortable ride while providing the driver with enough road-handling manners to invoke enthusiasm. The Passat deservedly wins our vote for the most desirable family sedan.
Road Test Editor Ed Hellwig Says:
This was my favorite car in the test despite its obvious shortcomings. The silky smooth power delivery of the V6 was exhilarating, although, I would probably take mine with the turbo four-cylinder instead. The manual transmission was a little light for my tastes, but its smooth action was hard to fault. The suspension was the best compromise between ride comfort and performance capability.
Inside, the interior was a step above every other car in the test. No big surprise, considering the price tag, but even lesser Passats exhibit a similar level of quality and design. The gauges look like they would be at home in a sedan costing $20,000 more, but the wood isn't all that convincing. It could use more storage space and bigger cupholders, but overall, it's a very upscale environment that makes the other cars in the test look second-rate.
As a family sedan, the Passat might not be the best choice. Interior space is lacking, and the hard leather seats aren't going to impress the kids. The high price of our test car was also tough to ignore, but again, less luxurious versions can be had for considerably less. The Camry might be the more sensible choice, but give me the Passat and I'll deal with the drawbacks.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
The Passat's strength lies in its ability to do nearly everything well. It has a roomy cabin with nice materials. It's comfortable. The ride is acceptable in the city and on the highway. When asked for a more hurried pace, it obliges. And in terms of prestige, the type of prestige that impresses the neighbors, the Passat has it over the other three cars in this test. Being based on the Audi A4 platform can do that. Indeed, only the Passat would be worthy of competing in a near-luxury sedan test.
Yet, somehow, the Passat leaves me a little flat. That I'm not a fan of the 2001.5 styling redo is one thing, but more likely, it's the price tag. I don't think the few extra grand is worth it compared to the Camry. The chrome cargo tie downs, the wooden shift knob, and the sunshade they are all nice, but they aren't what I'm primarily looking for in a family sedan. Things like functionality and storage are more important.
If you choose to buy one, no doubt the Passat will serve you well. In fact, I commend you on your purchase. But for me, the Camry's versatility and the Altima's intoxicating engine are enough to make me want one of those before the VeeDub.
Senior Editor Christian Wardlaw says:
Who wouldn't want a roomy, comfortable, reliable, crashworthy family sedan capable of putting a big, loopy grin on the driver's face both because it's fun to drive and does a fair impression of a luxury car? Volkswagen's Passat is just such a jack-of-all-trades sedan, doing nearly everything well.
Though our loaded GLX V6 test car stickered close to $30,000, the fact is that a well-equipped GLS turbo is equally adept for thousands less. Interestingly, several test drivers preferred the turbocharged four-cylinder engine over the more powerful and refined V6, which tends to feel weak at low revs and exhibits a decidedly non-linear delivery of power. Plus, the turbo gets better fuel economy and isn't affected as much by altitude.
The Passat offers a supple ride yet communicates vast amounts of road feel through the steering and suspension. The trade-off for a smooth ride is excessive body roll in fast turns and Michelin Energy tires that fold over and howl in protest when hustling down a canyon road. Hard-charging drivers might be happier with the Altima 3.5 SE.
There's more than enough room on board the VeeDub for four adults, and the large, cube-shaped trunk can hold plenty of cargo. The cabin is beautifully trimmed, offering leather, real wood and quality switchgear in our GLX tester. There's even a rear sunshade, a feature missing from many cars costing three times as much as the Volkswagen.
If you don't mind rowing your own gears, my recommendation is the Passat GLS with the luxury and leather packages. For about $25,000, you'll have a bona fide luxury sedan for the price of a Toyota Camry V6 with cloth seats.
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Volkswagen Passat
Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Volkswagen Passat
Ranking in Stereo Test: Second
System Score: 8.0
Components: This 2002 Passat sedan appears to have the identical Monsoon stereo system we've been listening to for several years now. This is both good and bad. While we've always enjoyed listening to this system, and still do, we're also cognizant that things are constantly changing in the car business, that improvements come along with every new generation of vehicles. The good news is that this is still a very respectable sound system, one of the better ones available in the family sedan segment. The not-so-good news, at least for VW, is that the market is catching up to them and, in some cases, passing them by. All three of the other cars in this test have shown steady improvement in the audio area, while VW stands pat with its older system.
This Monsoon system begins with 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in all four doors. Each door also contains a tweeter driver in the upper quadrant. Unlike most sedans in this segment, the Passat offers no speakers on the rear deck. This causes a small, although not dramatic, loss of bass response as compared to other vehicles in this test.
Electronically, the system includes a standard VW head unit, which offers a cassette deck, a single-disc CD player and 12 FM/6 AM presets. Surprise and delight features include a rubberized volume knob that gives an exceptional tactile feel, a "mid" tone control for increased sonic flexibility, and steering wheel controls for volume and seek/scan. On the down side, this head unit, which only two years ago struck us as an industry leader, now seems passé and past its prime. To wit: Crowded buttons and "busy" controls distract the user when making minor adjustments such as tone or radio presetting. None of this is helped by the radio being a tad too low in the dash, forcing the operator to take his eyes off the road when fine-tuning.
Performance: In spite of our criticisms above, this is still a very good sounding stereo. Its best attribute is its sonic balance, which rivals the Altima in warmth and accuracy (although it doesn't play nearly as loud). We've commented in past reviews that the Passat stereo "mirrors almost exactly the personality of the vehicle in which it resides," and this strikes us as true today as it was two years ago.
A little dissertation on speakers: One of the main reasons the Passat sounds so good is because of its smaller speakers. You're saying huh? But it's true. The short version is this: A 6-by-9 speaker cone (used in the other three cars in this test) has more mass than a 6.5-inch mid-bass driver. Therefore, when responding to, say, a bass guitar note, the 6.5 cone, by virtue of its lower mass, will respond quicker. That's why a kick drum will sound tighter and more accurate on a smaller speaker. Of course you sacrifice some deep bass response, but there's always a trade-off in designing speakers. And this is why the Passat system sounds so good.
Best Feature: Balanced sound.
Worst Feature: Lack of deep bass response.
Conclusion: We still like this system quite a bit, but the Altima is clearly superior, and some of the design cues on this head unit strike us as aging ungracefully. Scott Memmer
Family sedans used to be boring, a sensible compromise for grown ups who had too much responsibility to get a sporty little coupe. No more.
These four cars all possess a little zing so that you don't miss having luxury brand badging on the hood. They reward the driver and passengers with their special blend of herbs and spices, namely luxury features, a powerful engine or sport sedan-like handling.
The Hyundai XG350 offers compelling evidence to consider a newcomer who tries so hard to please. For a considerably lower price than others, you get a nicely appointed car and a more than adequate engine. It may not appeal to driving enthusiasts, but then most people aren't driving enthusiasts.
The Toyota Camry will offend none and please many; that's how it achieved the top sales crown for so many years in a row. The new Camry improves upon the old, with thoughtful features and amenities in an attractive package.
The Nissan Altima breaks new ground with its nonpareil (in the class) engine and its sporty suspension. This is one fun roller coaster ride, if you're willing to overlook the somewhat down-grade materials that swathe the interior.
And we have our winner, the Volkswagen Passat, a car that can compete in the luxury sedan class with its elegant interior, as well as hold its own against sport sedans in terms of driving demeanor. To us, it combines the best of both worlds in terms of comfort and handling, all in an attractively wrapped package.
So how many of you are going to write in incensed that we didn't include a Honda Accord in the test? Well, the 2003 model year will see a dramatic change to the stalwart, Mazda will introduce the brand new 6, and we'll be sure to take all the latest and greatest family sedans for another challenge.
"My XG has been in the shop for over a week. As you may recall from earlier posts, I wrecked it, did > $9,000 in damage, the airbags did not deploy, Hyundai claims that this is normal, then I drove it again in the rain, whereby the antilock brakes failed, which explains the cause of my wreck in the first place. I parked the car for two weeks waiting on the Thanksgiving holidays to end, then for another week because I considered it dangerous to drive in the rain. The car would slide on wet streets like it was on ice. The dealer kept the car for two days before deciding on day two to rent me another vehicle, a pitiful Geo Prism. The car remained in the shop the rest of the week and remains there right now. The dealership is currently unable to determine the reason that the brakes lock up. They have replaced the master cylinder, which was apparently bleeding through, as the pedal could be pushed hard all the way to the floor, they also claim to have replaced the antilock brake module as well as the traction control module. When I drove the car, all four brakes locked up....By the way, if anyone needs the drivers side weather-stripping replaced (the part on the front of the window surrounding the triangular piece of plastic), apparently the number in the parts book is incorrect as they have ordered the wrong part something like five times. Of course, the two times that they did replace the part they installed it incorrectly and it tore when I lowered the window. They have now installed it a third time yet I have had no chance to drive it. Believe it or not, in the three weeks since I stopped driving the car it has actually slightly decreased in value. What a mess." sobright1, "Hyundai XG350," #845 of 864, December 8, 2001
"When the XG first was reviewed in Australia, it got significant criticism for the very floaty limo-like suspension settings. According to a earlier message here, the North American models got their suspension settings stiffened. I am suprised that it bottomed out for you. I drive aggressively and have never had the problem except once when diving into a parking lot entrance. Might have something to do with the particular vehicle you drove. Apparently the shocks are variable, getting softer at higher speeds. My XG developed a wind noise leak at around 10,000 miles on the front passenger window. I'm going in tomorrow for my 15,000-mile checkup and will have it repaired then. I use the manual shift mode while in heavy rush hour traffic. I think the delay is a characteristic that is shared by other manumatic shifters. Earlier someone was mentioning the same delay in a Lincoln LS. Clearly the manual modes are not a substitute for the control offered by a true manual transmission. As far as transmission reliability, we'll just have to wait and see. Just about every indicator shows that Hyundai quality has improved in its latest generation of vehicles starting with the 1999 Sonata. I know one of the rental car companies uses Sonatas. At 7,000 miles per year you'll be covered under warranty for 10 years on the transmission. I drive about 15,000 miles per year so I'm good for about 6.5 years. I'm just happy to be driving a vehicle that will be under full bumper to bumper warranty while I'm still paying for it:)" newxg, "Hyundai XG350," #718 of 864, September 23, 2001
"I was surprised to read about the test drive of your XG300. I've had mine for about 1 month, and love it! I drive rather assertively (note that I don't admit to aggressively!), and have never bottomed-out in it. Also, try the seats again....there are 2 control switches, the bottom one is rectangular and controls both height and the tilt of the seats. Lifting the front of the switch raises the front, lifting the back raises the rear of the seat. Pull the whole switch upward and the seat rises. Hope this helps you!" robw64, "Hyundai XG350," #719 of 864, Sept 23, 2001
"My wife and I are cross shopping the Altima, Accord, and Camry. Test drove a 2.5S 5 speed today. I really wanted to like this car while my wife did not (Honda diehard), but we both agreed to keep an open mind. Here are my impressions: Engine was what I expected; smooth, powerful and a little noisy
handling and brakes were great (again as I expected)
found the ride and road noise much better than I expected
cheap interior is evident which scares me (squeaks and rattles put me in the looney bin)
a lot of nice features, e.g., power outlet in center console
The big problem was with the ergonomics. We found that to fully depress the clutch, the seat had to be moved up way too much compared to the brake and gas. The clutch had a very long throw and seemed it did not need to be depressed nearly the amount of full travel to disengage it fully. I am 5'10" and my wife is 5'2". I was able to live with it, but my wife has short legs (even for 5'2"), i.e., she 'sits' almost as high as I do. I thought the telescoping steering wheel would be a bonus for this type of scenario, but she found that even with the wheel jammed forward she had to practically have the wheel in her face to deal with the clutch. It seems the ergonomics are aimed at taller people. What's the deal? Is it just this particular car being improperly set up? My wife walked away saying no way to the car, but I do not want to turn my back on this car until I am assured this is the way it is. How do other shorter drivers find this car (especially the manual transmission)?" bfyerxa, "Nissan Altima," #2648 of 2715, January 3, 2002
"I finally got around to test driving the Altima and I must say, I was very impressed. I drove a Mystic Emerald SL, which felt like a V6. I didn't have time to compare it to the V6 Altima SE. After hearing all the negative comments on the interior, I looked it over more carefully than usual. I also put more emphasis on the feel of seats, etc. Honestly, I didn't think that the interior was bad at all. The switches did not feel flimsy or easily breakable or anything like that. I wasn't crazy about the feel of the leather, it did feel hard, but other than that, I don't see what all the fuss is about. I currently drive a 2000 Camry LE V6, so while my standards are pretty high, it's not like I'm driving a Lexus or an Audi or something. So maybe my expectations are not in the stratosphere for a family sedan. The interiors seemed pretty similar, although the control stalks on the Altima were a bit 'stubby,' but they worked well. The 4-cyl Altima felt faster than my V6 Camry and had better handling. However, I do think that my Camry has a slightly smoother and quieter ride, which is what I would have expected. The Altima was pretty quiet and smooth for a 4-cylinder. I really enjoyed driving it and I was very comfortable in the driver's seat.Here are some of my observed pros and cons.
1) Beautiful and sporty styling
2) Impressive power for a 4-cylinder
3) Very good handling (more confidence inspiring on curves than my Camry)
4) Better gas mileage (than my V6)
5) Huge 20 gallon gas tank (for more time between fill ups)
6) Smooth and quiet ride (for a 4-cyl)
7) Auto up and down power windows for both driver and passenger side
8) Roomy trunk and passenger space (lots of rear seat room and head room)
9) Comfortable driving position
10) Tilt and telescopic wheel
11) Radio and in-dash 6CD system (radio lists call letters and type of music for each station)
12) Trip computer and outside temperature gauge (also used word descriptions for weather conditions)
13) Trunk release located on driver's door (I wish the gas door release was also put here)
14) Excellent reliability history for previous gen Altimas
15) 16 inch wheels on SL
16) Beautiful and sporty styling (worth mentioning twice, this is one sharp looking car!!)
1) Hard feeling leather in SL
2) No hydraulic supports for hood (my Camry has this)
3) Gooseneck hinges in trunk (not a huge deal, my Camry also has this, but the Passat has cool hydraulic struts here too)
4) Neon orange-yellow lighting in dashboard (this would take some getting used to, however, you can dim it a little to make it easier on the eyes)
5) Some small fit and finish details, like the way the switch for the gas tank just protrudes from a rough cutout in the floor carpet (my car could use some work in this area also)
These are all of the comments I can think of from my driving experience....
All in all, this was a very good test drive. I didn't want to come back to the dealership. I was very impressed and I couldn't stop staring at the car, it is really, really sharp. I like the fact that it's a beautifully styled car, with a sporty look and feel, but with the practicality of a family sedan. It's like having your cake and ice cream too." SilverCrown, #2616 of 2715, December 28, 2001
"My 94 Altima has 175,000 faithful miles but its time to move on. I took the S standard and automatic for test drives and agree with most of the reviews. Enough power for the automatic 4 to shift smoothly. The standard is a bit rigid getting from gear to gear. My 94SE was like that at the beginning, but the groove wore in. Plenty of room. The S model I looked at was pewter with black leather interior. Yep, the leather was aftermarket and it is sweet. I thought I was all set to buy a SL until I looked at the Nissan factory 'leather.' What the heck is that? Vinyl? Polyrazamataz?. And the fit was poor. Oh well, I'm going to see if my dealer will order me the car and options I want on a S and then go to the aftermarket leather guy to get the real stuff. I'm looking at 1.5% over invoice but there is a $249 conveyance fee which is really just more markup so I'm really looking at close to 3%. Still not bad I think. They also tag on a $300 advertising fee but from my research that seems legit. I'm concerned about the Bose comments. My salesman said he could put me in cars with both sound systems and claims I'd like the standard sound system better. Has anyone compared the two? I crank the tunes from time to time and hate it distorded. I'd hate it worse if it blows fuses." cwbarrett, "Nissan Altima," #2618 of 2716, December 28, 2001
"Our new 2002 Camry is an American manufactured vehicle (purchased), however, our 2000 Camry (lease) is Japanese... intermittent rattle (squeak) from the rear suspension is especially annoying... otherwise, flawlessly made. The 2002 seems really well put together in its first 1,000 miles, although I wonder if the speedometer is a bit optimistic... perhaps its just that the engine is so noticeably stronger that it just gets to higher speeds more quickly with less strain. Quick comparisons to the 2000 LE (equipped similarly except no alloys): Much larger, airy-er feeling interior. The instrument cluster is much classier with its white/blue lighting and orange pointers (as opposed to the swamp green endemic to Camrys and Corollas since around '87), the climate control and radio are just as accessible and logical, the trunk is larger, the maplights up front are a welcome addition, as are map pockets and integrated cupholders in the back. But the biggest difference... the new VVTi 2.4 is awesome. Excellent power for a 4 cylinder.... doesn't have to rev nearly as hard as the old 2.2 to reach speed, which is especially noticeable on the highway when passing: where the 2.2 would have kicked down and topped 5 grand (RPM), the kickdown results in a muted and unstrained surge (just past about 4 grand) with the 2.4. WHAT AN IMPROVEMENT. Further, it felt peppier than the Accord EX I drove and not really different from the seat of the pants when compared to the Altima 2.5...but certainly, we did not drive either of those cars for the amount of time (3 days) that we now have the Camry." alpha01, "Toyota Camry," #2726 of 2746, January 07, 2002
"After checking out new Camry's build quality for about 2 hours in the showroom several weeks ago, I had a chance to drive a SE the other day. Toyota has done an outstanding job of making this new Camry. I was disappointed at 97-01 generation, as they were not built as good as the older 92-96 models. The car felt very solid and roomy. Fit and finish was quite good. The 4 cylinder auto was quiet and smooth even when pushed to 70-75MPH. It did not have get-up-and-go of the V-6, but it was acceptable. My complaints are: Number#1:gauges; The temp and gas gauges are too small and are cramped into tach and speedometer. Toyota could have used slightly more spread-out design. Number #2: the other problem I feel is the shape of the hood, that has that crease/curve that reminds of previous level Altima. Number#3; Spoiler. I much rather pay Toyota not to put it on! It cheapens the car. No four door sedan needs a spoiler. Spoilers look good on BMW M3's and Porsche 911 Turbo's. After driving both Altima 2.5S and this 2.4SE, I should say Camry is a better car than Altima. When considering resale value, Altima will never match Camry's reputation in reliability and resale value, no matter how sporty or aggressive looking Altima is." jodar96, "Toyota Camry," #2596 of 2746, December 10, 2001
"Last Friday we received a 2002 V6 SE with option packages 7, 8, with heated seats. The car is very comfortable and the navigation system is truly functional. We are very amazed with the amount of space in the passenger cabin and trunk. I believe that the car is considered to be midsized but the actual amount of storage area is probably similar to an SUV. The V6 acceleration is adequate but less than that of some more powerful cars something to be expected for this class of automobile. Steering feedback and sensitivity are intuitive and nearly perfect. The brakes are responsive and easy to modulate. The JBL stereo is a little "boomy" in my opinion. However, this was easily corrected by lessening the bass and midrange settings. My only suggestion for improvement is for a slightly smoother shifting automatic transmission (during slow acceleration/deceleration at low speeds, the shifting is slightly abrupt). The service foreman checked the programming of the electronic control module today and confirmed the installation of the latest software version. In my opinion, the car was delivered with zero defects. Most importantly, the car seems to be safe, solid, and well engineered. The NAV system does require time to study and learn its routines. But, I am a safer driver if I can use the voice commands to assist me with navigation rather than constantly scanning for signs, directions, and traffic. Furthermore, the air curtains allow small children to sit in the back seat without worrying about the potential hazards of impact airbags....I love it overall but have one big gripe. Does anybody find the radio position to just be a little too far away from your reach? It seems like I have to strain my shoulder just to touch the dials! OK, I'm a big guy 6'1", 220, and I have the seat position all the way back but I still find it more far away from than normal. I do admit I like to change the channels quite frequently (ala the remote at home!). Maybe I just have to get used to a bigger car. I'm coming out of a 92 Accord EX while the dials sat on top of you seemingly. Just wanted to vent that! Overall, a great car." parump, "Toyota Camry," #2204 of 2746, October 12, 2001
"I test drove an Altima a couple of weeks ago and although I was very impressed with it (the interior wasn't as horrible to me as other people have indicated), I think the Passat still has an edge as far as my preferences go. Although the Altima has a slightly 'sportier' look, the more I compare the two, I lean back toward the Passat as the better choice overall. I posted a long list of "pros" for the Altima, most of which also apply to the Passat's list of good points. Most of my "cons" for the Altima are not issues with the Passat. In my opinion, the only cons for the Passat are: 1) the reliability question (yes, I still have one, but more for the V6, than the 1.8T); 2) the high price of the V6/GLX models; 3) the lack of availability of certain options (like power driver's seat) that are found only in the GLX. The bottom line is, that I have simply fallen in love with the Passat and would probably buy one tomorrow if I could. And although I prefer V6 models in general, I would be willing to consider the 1.8T, given everything I have read. It's more reliable than the V6, gets better gas mileage and is nearly as fast (regarding overall HP, BTW is it 170 or 180 hp?). And it's more affordable with many of the same basic qualities (of the GLX) that make the Passat such a great car. I'd have to get used to the idea of a turbo engine, though, and the adjustments that go along with it. Although there are a couple of things that the GLX has which I would really like to add to the GLS 1.8T if I bought one, they are relatively minor in the whole scope of things. If I could get a 1.8T Tip with a power driver's seat, wood trim and foldaway mirrors, it would be perfect! But I guess I would need to test drive one (I've only driven the GLX model) to get a real feel for ride quality, engine noise, smoothness, etc. before making any decisions. The sad part is that for now, all of this is moot because I have no idea when I would be able to trade in my Camry. I think it's too soon now, without taking a major hit. So, I'll just have to have more patience and keep waiting (sigh). But thinking and dreaming of the Passat is a nice pastime..." silvercrown, "Volkswagen Passat," #2539 of 2554, January 10, 2002
"I have a 2002 1.8 with Tip and can't understand the complaints about turbo lag. The turbo has strong acceleration from just under 2,000 rpm and up. How many of you fully romp on the gas from a standstill at idle anyway? I think there is almost too much power except for passing at freeway speeds. Any more torque and it would jump too much and be difficult to control wheel spin. Of course, I outgrew stoplight racing long ago and wouldn't think of abusing this beautiful car with jack rabbit stops and starts. Again, the Passat has an almost perfect balance of power and handling and is surprisingly quick. No one should be disappointed except maybe boy racers who previously owned a V8 Mustang or Camaro." mbros2k, "Volkswagen Passat," #2518 of 2554, January 07, 2002
"I drove an Accord for five years and, compared to the Passat, the Accord interior puts me to sleep...it is so boring...so generic...so predictable...so uninspiring. The Passat, and all VW's for that matter, are 'driver's cars' and as far as aesthetics go, I'd say it's one of the best-looking cars inside and out. I'll be buying a new car sometime next summer/fall and the Passat is one of the top contenders I'm looking at. I'd be more than happy with the way it looks. My biggest concerns have to do with some of the horror stories I've been hearing (on the net and in person) about the VW dealer networks...yikes! I guess if you can find a good dealer, you're fine, but it seems like they are few and far between." stevem327, "Volkswagen Passat," #2296 of 2554 November 14, 2001
"Two days ago I went to drive the 'more powerful' 1.8T. I thought I was going to be totally impressed, and 'sold' on it, so that when I go to lease one next year, I would get the four and save money. Well, I'm sorry. I hated the four. It was NOISY, and it did quiet down after 30-35mph. But it really makes a roar, and makes the whole experience less satisfying. When I drove the 6 cyl a few months ago, it was VERY QUIET, buttery, quick off the line (of course), and it really made the whole experience much nicer. I also found that when the Turbo kicked in, it was very unpredictable to determine at a stand still. Thoughts anyone? I know I see a LOT of postings with owners of passats w/ 1.8T's. I have to have automatic, I won't buy any more manuals. I've owned many, and they were fun in the past, but I'm ready for an automatic. If you had my 80 mile commute, you'd want an automatic too." bthomassen, "Volkswagen Passat," #2225 of 2596, November 01, 2001