Monthly Archives: March 2014

Nissan Sentra Was Amazing!

Image  Took a trip to the Las Vegas area this past weekend, and since the weather was said to be turning hotter and neither one of our cars has a working A/C system, it was time to rent a car.  Being on short notice, I needed a place that would allow us to pick up the vehicle on Sunday morning and return it Tuesday morning to coincide with my days off.  I found that Dollar Rent-A-car was open Saturday and Sunday in Anaheim, which is my home base. Next question: what size car was available? turns out a compact could be rented on such short notice, so I opted for a Nissan Sentra.

The car, a 2012 with just a notch over 40,000 miles on it, was nearly perfect. It had some power options usually found in rental fleet cars, like windows, mirrors, and door locks, and most delightful for my wife, an Arctic-like A/C system. In spite of the near 90 degree desert heat, we never turned it up more than about a quarter of the maximum cool setting. The options worked splendidly, a rarity for rentals at the two-year level.

The seats weren’t the best I ever encountered, but they were adequate, although I would never undertake a trip to, say, Texas in the Sentra. The radio was crisp, clear, and sounded great, featuring the song/station/artist info dial rapidly becoming standard in many new cars and steering wheel controls. Cruise control was accessed by buttons on the right side of the steering wheel. There were plenty of storage pockets and drink holders, and trunk storage was fairly large for such a compact car. The dashboard gauges even featured an outside temperature thermometer.

The Sentra has a 2.0L engine that was always eager to give you an extra burst of power when you needed it. Coupled with the 14.5 gallon fuel tank, it got us to Vegas and back while returning a steady 37.25 miles per gallon, or stated another way, we made the trip to Vegas and beck on only one tank of gas, something I’d never done before. The automatic transmission was flawless and smooth.

My wife fell in love with this car, saying it would be the perfect size for her with the amount of driving she does. She praised the quiet and smooth ride, responsiveness, ease of maneuverability, and logical arrangement of the controls. The only drawback, we both agreed, was the extremely high trunk level coupled with the relatively small rear window, which created a bit of a blind spot when you back up. Overall, I would recommend the Nissan Sentra to anyone looking for inexpensive and totally reliable transportation It was a fuel miser disguised as a small luxury car, with interior trim making it look like a more expensive ride.

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Second Chance at Grand Caravan

ImageMy work place recently took on a second Dodge Grand Caravan while we’re waiting to upgrade another of our delivery vans. Like the second Ford we got, this Dodge also left a bad taste in my mouth. Okay, there are some good things about it, starting with the key fob, which is the actual key and controls the doors. It’s a “European” type fob that goes into a large slot in the dash and uses a built-in battery to let the van know it’s in place and should start. It also locks/unlocks the doors, and this is the cool part: push the right button and the sliding side rear doors unlock and open/close/lock automatically, just like on a Cadillac. Another button causes the large rear hatch to do the same while a built-in lamp in the hatch illuminates the cargo area.

It should also be noted that the 3.6 L V6 is too powerful for its own good. The touchy gas pedal releases too much torque, and the wheels spin (“burn out”, the youngsters say, and they love making the tires squeal) loudly. Last week it rained here and I felt in constant danger as the tires spun constantly when I accelerated, causing the Caravan to slip to the left or right out of my lane. The V6 thinks it’s a hemi V8, seemingly releasing enough torque to launch a 747 off the airstrip.

Other reviewers have praised its gas mileage, but for us it’s extremely poor. Over a three day period we have used $120 worth of gas in this thirsty mechanical creature. By comparison our much larger Chevy vans use about $60 in gas over that same period. This has been reported by everyone who’s driven both vehicles.

The dashboard is fairly simple—except for the climate controls. Why does this Caravan need 14 buttons to set up heat/a/c as you like it? The sound system is decent, however, and includes a CD player and auxiliary input jack. Cruise control is mounted in the steering wheel, but features a strange button marked “step”, and I don’t know what that does. Transmission is controlled by a short shifter built into the dashboard, but the S-shaped pattern’s related markings are smack in the middle of the instrument cluster, about 18 inches away from the shifter and hard to see unless you lean in and look over the steering column.

The back seats fold down below floor level to reveal a cavernous storage area which unfortunately makes for an uneven surface from which metal rings and seat anchors protrude above the floor, potentially causing knee or hand injury as you try to crawl over it. A tiny gas gauge sits at the bottom of the speedometer, and the coolant gauge is similarly located on the bottom of the large tachometer. By the way, the vehicle revs at about 1500 RPMs at 65 MPH, which should translate to better gas mileage, as opposed to our Ford vans, which rev at about 3400 RPMs at 60 MPH.

There’s no way to put it otherwise: The Grand Caravan is a large, comfortable flop that gets lousy gas mileage while posturing with an extra large amount of torque upon acceleration, which makes it a dangerous vehicle to drive, a condition that would be greatly corrected with an all-wheel drive power train. I would not recommend this vehicle, especially not for the soccer moms who will be its intended target. I’m a big fan of Chrysler products, but not this Grand Caravan.

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