Thirty Years of Progress?


Reviewing your own cars is usually a big no-no. When a person plunks down their own hard-earned cash, it makes things personal. And when things are personal for a reviewer, there are usually just two outcomes. They either love their car with all their heart or they hate it with such a passion that they want it, and all others like it, excised from the planet. Extreme examples, of course, but even when they do their best to moderate their passions, self-reviewers still tend to skew one way or another. That leaves it to the reader to sort fact from fiction. But hey, no problem! Americans are good at spotting spin, right?

I say up front to make it abundantly clear that, should you dare to read further, all thirty years of Nissans being discussed in this article occupy spaces in my own driveway. The fact that I own several, and that I seem to consistently keep adding more, should tell you how I skew.  I like Nissans.  If you want a more unbiased review, maybe I can write to Doug DeMuro and beg him fly out to give them all Doug Scores or something.

The three vehicles in question represent a significant period of time. And while one of these things is clearly not like the others, with a little imagination all three generally fall into the same category. The first is a 1991 Nissan D21 “Hardbody” truck and is an SE V6, four-wheel drive with an automatic transmission; the second is a 2001 Nissan X Terra SE, also a V6, four-wheel drive and also with a conventional automatic transmission; and the third is a 2019 Nissan Rogue Sport SL, AWD, but with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder and a CVT. The Hardbody and the X Terra are traditional body-on-frame off road brutes, while the Rogue is a modern, car-based “cute-ute.”

1991 D21 “Hardbody” SEV6 4X4

There is little question among Nissan enthusiasts that my 1991 Hardbody is “Peak Nissan.” Introduced in 1986, the Hardbody, so named because it features double wall bed construction, was sold in the US for more than 10 years. The smallest, least optioned versions of this design, 4 cylinder two-wheel drivers, were neither fast nor flashy but they were extremely popular runabouts that saw honest service in huge numbers. Top of the line SEV6s 4X4s, like the one I own, were on a different level (even then) and survivors in nice shape are fairly sought after today.

Highly susceptible to rust, most Hardbodies I see these days suffer from corrosion issues.  Unless they are from regions where road salt is not used or have been meticulously kept, most are in deplorable shape. I am fortunate in that the truck I purchased is a west coast, one owner rig that looks to have been both adult owned and garage kept. But even so time has taken a toll. The clear coat is beginning to have issues and the paint, which feels and looks thin, is easily scratched.  Also, most of the plastics, both on the interior and under the hood, have hardened to the point of brittleness.

Like most old trucks, my Hardbody has had some mechanical issues. I have kept up with the repairs and been aggressive about maintenance.  Also, when I have had the chance, I have made improvements. Among the many things I have done is to apply a new rubber seal to the sunroof, installed new shocks, took it to a mechanic to address an annoying oil leak that I thought was a rear main seal replacement (but which turned out to be a bent oil pan flange), replaced the torque converter, did the timing belt, water pump and tensioner, and dealt with an exhaust leak that turned out to be two broken exhaust manifold studs. I also did the wheel bearings, went completely through the brake system and, because I get a little OCD and tend to overdo things, added drilled and slotted front discs.

Despite its advancing years, my Hardbody has never failed to start. A few years ago, it made the trip from Seattle to Northern Virginia without missing a beat and, although it is not my everyday driver today, I often use it around town. In the role of “an old truck,” where it hauls things to the dump and makes the occasional run to Home Depot, it performs superbly.

Inside, the seats sit low but the extended cab makes it roomy enough for my 6’1″ 250 pound frame. I seldom put the kids in the side mounted jump seats but when I have done so they have been OK for short trips. One feature I like is the steering adjustment, which has a two-way lever that offers the ability to fine tune and lock in a preferred position and a quick flip-up capability that gets the wheel up and out of your way in one swift move. I’m unsure if this was problematic had some other issue, but I note that neither of the two “more modern” Nissans, to their detriment, offer this feature.

Driving dynamics are OK so long as you understand that you are driving an old truck. It can be jarring, rough and can seem a little tippy if you decide to whip it around like a sports car. In normal, everyday old-man driving, however, it remains planted on city streets and the bumpiness is just a part of its charm. When you step on the accelerator there is power, but it takes some time to turn that power into speed so it’s not exactly spry but not a rolling road hazard, either.

Because of its age and its status as an ‘80s icon, maybe not on par with Marty McFly’s custom Toyota but close enough for those of us who prefer Sprite over Seven-Up, this is a fun truck to own. It gets smiles and draws the occasional positive comment while, at the same time, remaining a practical choice for the homeowner who doesn’t have to move huge loads. As the oldest of the three vehicles being reviewed and the only “real” truck, it feels the most primitive. Even so, the Hardbody must go down as one of those iconic vehicles that brought Nissan into the modern age. Peak Nissan, indeed.

2001 Nissan X Terra SE

As the Pathfinder was birthed from the Hardbody, the X Terra was birthed from the Hardbody’s replacement, the Frontier. Advertised back in the day with the tagline “Everything you need, nothing you don’t,” the X Terra is a small SUV with room for five. With two distinct generations, a 1999 through 2004 “early” model and a 2005 through 2015 “later” model, the X Terra has, thanks to its body on frame construction and overall decent four-wheel-drive capabilities, found favor with the off roading community.  Models from both generations are still common on the road.

I acquired a 2001 X Terra SE V6 as a vehicle for my soon to be licensed son for two reasons. First, I wanted something that my son and I could work on together. It’s nice to have the occasional father-son moment and, I think, a person tends to take better care of their vehicles when they have some sweat equity. Second, even in this era of over-inflated used car prices the first-generation X Terras are pretty good deals. Unless you are buying from a dealer, seeking a pristine example, or trying to source one of the slightly harder to find Supercharged models, you can find X Terras in the mid-Atlantic region between $2,000 and $4,000 all day long. I paid $2,200 for my son’s. Fairly cheap, but for reasons that will soon become clear I do not consider it to have been “well bought.”

Mechanically the X Terra is driven by a derivative of the same VG30 series V6 that drives the Hardbody. A more modern engine that aids troubleshooting via it OBDII port, this engine feels and sounds different than the one in the truck. According to the internet, the X Terra’s engine has more horses, but my butt-dyno tells me it makes its power in a different way. While the truck gives good low and mid-range, the X Terra needs more revs and the net result is that I need to get on the gas harder and hold it there longer. This is the opposite of my normal driving style and feels odd.  But on the plus side, whenever I put my foot down in the X Terra I am rewarded by the sound of the VG revving as the power comes on. It sounds great, honestly, almost like a Z car minus the spooling turbos.

Fully sorted now, the X Terra was a mess inside and out when we got it. On the short test drive it was obvious that it had been neglected but it seemed to do everything just fine. Once I got it home and was able to take it out for a longer run, however, it became apparent there as an issue with a misfire. A cheap code reader and some internet sleuthing pointed me a couple of different directions. Adding ground wires to the fuel injection system, as recommended by a Nissan TSB, cleared the codes but even so the vehicle remained difficult to start and ran like crap. After tinkering with it and losing patience, I took it into a shop where they gave it a thorough going over and determined it needed a new distributor.  They also measured low fuel pressure and dinged me for a new pump/sending unit. There were other things too, like a leaking power steering hose that had to be repaired, but sometimes, when you have a pending state inspection, you have to pony up.

Shops are always expensive, but I am lucky to have a place close by that I trust. While I ended up paying more for the repairs than I did the actual vehicle, the X Terra now starts and runs like a champ. On my own, I did other things, too, including full brakes (this time without the fancy new rotors), shocks, a set of manual Mile Marker hubs, and the timing belt, tensioner, and water pump. I also put in new headlights, wired a set of LEDs in place of the driving lights, and did countless other small things like replacing all the lug nuts.

My son helped with a lot of that work.  We also completely gutted the interior, pulled and power washed the carpets and took out the seats, removed the skins, and put them through the washing machine. We worked on the dash, which was chipped and discolored around the heater controls, ran down some electrical gremlins, and put in a modern double DIN stereo. I suspect that new speakers will be on the Christmas list this year.

Outside we removed the running boards, which look like heavy steel tubes designed to protect the body from off road impacts but were, in reality, cheapo aluminum pieces that only added style (while restricting actual ground clearance). The vehicle’s plastic cladding had been retouched and was in good shape overall but, like the Hardbody, the paint is thin and prone to easy scratching.  Unlike the garage-kept Hardbody though, much of the clearcoat on the hood has gone missing.

That’s a lot of bad, but now that it’s completely up and running again the X Terra is not a bad little car at all. Smelling all Downy Fresh inside, with its neat stadium style rear seats that allow passengers to look over the driver, and with decent tunes in the dash, the interior is a nice place to be. The interior plastics have remained supple and the console box is tall enough to serve as an actual arm rest. The front seats are low but comfortable and their velour responded will to the washing machine. New rubber floormats will help protect the carpet we worked so hard to get clean.

The steering wheel, which is luxuriously fat because designers in the new millennium have realized that everyone prefers girth, is adjustable but not tiltable and, unlike one of my favorite features in the older truck, does not easily flip up and out of the way. Also, since I am nitpicking, the heater/cooling controls with their neat little retro radio-like knobs border on the ridiculous. Likely they were OK when new, but when called upon to move the 20 year-old cables that open and close the various doors that control air temp and direction, they are pretty pitiful. I should also add that the X Terra feels slightly more cramped inside than the truck, probably because of the thicker door panels.

On the road, the X Terra feels very car-like and has nice road manners. It always feels planted and, while almost the same height as the truck, surefooted. Getting it to go, as I previously noted, requires more aggressive pedal inputs, and while it never feels fast it does alright. Overall, I think it is a fine driving little ute.

Nissan was right to say the X Terra offered everything you needed and nothing you didn’t. That philosophy made the vehicle a budget proposition then and it so remains today.  But, while I like the style and the overall basicness of the X Terra, I don’t think I would choose one for my own daily driver. Maybe that’s because I am getting older and want more spaciousness and comfort in my vehicles.  But that’s just me. For a younger person who is still thin and limber and who wants something stylish to get them from point A to point B, I think the X Terra hits just the right spot.

2019 Nissan Rogue Sport SL

Almost twenty and thirty years newer than the other two vehicles in this “review,” the Nissan Rogue Sport SL is an entirely new generation. It is Captain Picard’s Enterprise NCC1701D compared to Kirk’s stalwart NCC1701 or the odd NCC1701B that Ferris Buhler’s buddy, Cameron, Captained in the very crappy Star Trek 7 “Generations.” Not body-on-frame, not powered by a version on the VG series of V6 engines, and thanks to Nissan’s use of the questionable CVT, not rowing any gears – even automatic ones – the Rogue Sport is a clear break with what came before.

The closest “old” Nissan with which I can compare the Rogue is the Murano, which was sold one market niche above the X Terra beginning in 2003. One of the first Nissan car-based crossovers, the Murano was equipped with a V6 and, unfortunately, featured a CVT that was the subject of a class action lawsuit.

As a close relative to the Murano, the Rogue Sport that graces my garage does so under a cloud of suspicion. Although I worry about its long-term prospects, we got what I think is a lot of car for a good price and decided to take a chance.  We live with the hope that, with regular servicing and judicious use, we can avoid trouble. Also, given how little we drive these days, I figured it will be a long time before we have to deal with anything serious, anyhow.  I may regret that, but I guess we’ll see how that plays out. I’ll keep you posted.

Because we bought the Rogue new, there is no lengthy list of work to report. The purchase process went smoothly enough and we got a fair trade in for my wife’s only sightly used Versa Note – which I liked but which she decided was too small and dangerous. We bought a leftover previous year’s Rogue in early 2020, before the car market went crazy, and I arranged my own financing. The plan is, as it is with every vehicle we buy new, to hang onto this for at least ten years. So long as my wife doesn’t intervene again, I think we can accomplish that.

I very much like Nissan’s current design language. Their vehicles look poised and athletic and seem to be put together with care. The V force grill – I am a sucker for those pithy marketing terms – dominates the front fascia and splits the bumper without looking gawdy and out of place. Well placed accents and lighting give the face of the vehicle a pleasant look, although the daytime running lights give it a permanent set of “angry eyebrows.”

The overall shape of the Rogue Sport is nice and body lines are subdued compared to what is appearing on similarly priced offerings from the Koreans. Black trim along the bottom is a good trick that helps fool the eye into removing some of the body’s thickness. The wheels on this car look wonderful.

Inside, the two-tone interior of our Rogue offers pleasing shapes and thoroughly modern features. A touch screen dominates the center stack and offers several different functions while the smaller screen that splits the analog speedometer and tach inexcusably omits a digital speedometer in favor of other asinine bits of info that I think fail to apprise the driver of anything worthwhile. The heater controls are attractive and, with two dials on the outsides of the controls, look like an old-fashioned radio. But the functions feel odd as the fan speed is raised and lowered by button while the two dials are used for specifying separate temperatures for the left and right sides of the cabin. Perhaps that is a small issue, but it just isn’t instinctive as I tend to leave the temp alone once it is set but often adjust the fan speed.

There are a ton of safety features. Cameras are hidden all over and can be used to compile a top-down view to help you park. The blind spot warning lights are nice as are back up sensors, lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking, but I think the camera that tracks lane positioning intrudes too far down from the top of the windshield, restricting my field of vision and making the cockpit feel cramped.

Adding to that too-tight feeling are large A-pillars, high windowsills, thick doors and a wide center console. Perhaps this design is intended to make the Rogue feel more sporty and if that was the intention it does a good job, but it also makes it feel small inside.  So far, around town, that hasn’t been an issue but I am concerned that on longer trips my ability to shift my feet around would be limited and that I would begin to feel cramped fairly quickly.

Performance wise, the Rogue Sport is a slug. The engine spins up nicely when you push the accelerator, but its output feels anemic. In the Hardbody and the X Terra, there is a correlation between noise and acceleration but in the Rogue, there is none. It just makes noise while the CVT works its mystery and leaves you waiting. You definitely don’t want to pull out in front of someone. Off road – well, I don’t even want to think about off road because this is a vehicle that doesn’t belong up any road that isn’t graded.

In overall quality and value, despite its lack of grunt and the small issues I complained about, I think the Rogue Sport is a good deal.  Unlike the X Terra, the Rogue has everything you need and a bunch more cool stuff, too.  Comparing the Rogue to the older two vehicles shows just how much technology has been added over the years and how that technology has been integrated into so many different areas.

Purchased for and used almost exclusively by my wife, the Rogue is another example of a vehicle that is right for the person who uses it. If I were buying one, ’80s/’90s guy that I am, I’d want something akin to a Sentra SE R version with more power, a manual transmission, and, while we are at it, better sightlines with a little less camera intrusion into the windshield.  Make it so, Nissan.  Make it so.


So much of automotive design is fashion and there is truth, I think, in the idea that nothing looks so dated as the cutting edge of yesterday’s fashion. Both the Hardbody and the first-generation X Terra were good looking vehicles when they were built and while there are some nice design cues present, nothing about either of them was on the cutting edge. If anything, they were conservative and so they remain good looking vehicles today. Whether the Rogue Sport will look as good in twenty or thirty years remains to be seen.  While I like it’s look today, I think that earlier generations of the Rogue fall a bit flat.

Mechanically, both of my older Nissans have held up reasonably well. My truck has had the advantage of being well cared for its entire existence, but I suspect that the X Terra’s life was not always easy.  In any case, I have to give Nissan props for designing vehicles that can be worked on.  Despite the neglect the X Terra suffered it was reasonably easy to put back into shape and, while It did cost money, did call upon many of my mechanical skills, and did consume a lot of time, it was surprisingly DIY.

Whether or not the Rogue will hold up in a similar fashion is the question that everyone who purchases a new Nissan these days must ask. Given others’ experiences with Nissan’s CVTs, there is reason to be concerned, for sure. I will do my best to stay on top of the maintenance in the hope that the one in my garage will serve us long and well.  In years to come, however, I doubt that neglected Rogues will be as easy to work on as the X Terra has proven to be. Maybe that is the nature of modern things, though, increasingly sophisticated but increasingly fragile.

So there you have it. Three Nissans, two not so different and one totally unlike the others, but each of them good enough for a little fun. No “gotcha” moments but an interesting look at how things have changed and maybe some food for thought.  Thanks for reading and y’all make sure to check the torque on those lug nuts, OK?

My thanks to Jack for continuing to provide this forum and for his continuing willingness to accept the articles I sometimes write. Sorry that this one was so long. I look forward to any comments or questions below.

24 Replies to “Thirty Years of Progress?”

  1. MD Streeter

    That Rogue is much better looking than the previous generation of Nissans. Every time I saw one I heard Jeremy Clarkson shout in my head, “My god man, put down the pen!” I have a Mazda CX-5, a pretty old one at this point, and I think it’s still a pretty great design, but whenever I look at it too long I see the black plastic along the bottom and it’s hard not to think of the shape as slightly ridiculous. That said, I’d still buy it again.

    Also, what happened with the Chrysler minivan you took to Japan? I remember reading your epic in getting it through customs and then registering it.

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      I still have it. It turned 10 (I think) this month and still has less than 50K miles on it. One reason I purchased the X Terra is that I didn’t want to share my van. Still has the shakken sticker over the mirror and the Japanese parking permit in the rear window.

      I’m glad I still own it and happy I didn’t have to give it up, but I would never do it again. Every year or so, someone finds those old articles and reaches out for my advice. I usually tell them that it isn’t worth the trouble or, if they decide they simply must do it, to engage a company to get it all done. I’d like to think I am a smart guy, but every so often I do shit that just doesn’t make any sense at all…

  2. Josh Howard

    0: I prefer this long post. You say everything you need to say and it’s perfect.

    1: My ’95 hardbody was still the truck that I judge every vehicle I’ve ever owned against. It was stellar and honest.

    2: The Xterra is so under rated. I’m astounded that Nissan has not rebooted that franchise.

    3: We also got rid of our Note. It was wonderful and honest. But, it got replaced with a ’15 Desert Runner. Equally honest but far, far tougher for the dirt roads and terrible concrete I’m often traversing.

    Thank you so much for continuing here!

    • Fat Baby Driver

      My ’90 Hardbody, The Great Red Dirt Bike Truck, is also the standard for all my vehicles since then. Really enjoyed this writeup.

    • Disinterested-Observer

      Xterra was such a winning idea when it came out. I don’t know what happened, if it was changing regs or bad management but it is a shame it died.

  3. LynnG

    Thomas, one not on your Rogue if you have not already discovered it. I rented a new 2019 Rogue with less then 500 miles back in the summer of 2019 at DCA and drove it to Miami and then to San Antonio and then back to DCA over a 2 week period. When I turned it in the odometer read over 5,000 miles. The issue is the cruse control. When approaching an unloaded aluminum 18 wheeler flat bed the radar would not slow the car down. This happens repeatedly. It was the only vehicle that the radar did not recognize. Each time I had to manually brake and disengage the cruse or the car would have drove itself right into the back of the trailer. Hopefully this issue has been addressed. Other then that it was and economical hauler for a long road trip.

    • Sobro

      That’s a bit worse than the radar cruise in the ’20 Jetta I rented in Vegas. Once it recognized a car in front it would match their speed. So I set the cruise to 78 mph and 20 minutes later I’m doing 67mph. Couldn’t find a kill button for that “feature” either. Maybe it was an icon of a German Greens legislator. I’d still set fire to both “features”.

  4. Collin

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the hardbody’s and the Pathfinders from the early to mid-90’s. Something about the design is timeless and reminds me of my 90’s childhood. No one in my family or anyone I knew had one as far as I can remember but I’ve just always liked how they looked.

    My uncle has a Rogue from the same or previous generation to yours. At family get together a couple of years ago he was praising his Rogue for it’s size, value, and looks but he hated actually driving it. It could barely get out of it’s own way and was utterly boring to drive. His attempts at convincing himself he had made a good purchase were not going well.

  5. JMcG

    I inherited my mother’s ‘09 Versa, which has been perfect for my kids’ first vehicle. Great visibility, stone reliable, easy on gas.
    My first car was a 260z.
    Having said that, current Nissans don’t do much for me- too many idiots in Altimas in my area.
    The XTerra is on my list of cars for the kids. Hard to find one that’s not beat to death.

    Thanks, Thomas

  6. JNels

    Love the reviews, and glad to see you back. I was wondering about what happened to the Hardbody and am glad to hear that you still have. A real v

  7. jc

    “Hardbody” actually came from the movie “Hardbodies”, from 1984, basically the movie version of Baywatch, featuring lots of attractive young women who definitely were NOT overdressed. Probably few remember this little piece of titillation fluff – oops, I mean “this cinematic triumph” – but references to it were EVERYWHERE for about a year and the Nissan Hardbody trucks just piggy-backed right onto that trend in the US.

  8. Ken

    Enjoyed reading this. Thanks for posting! Your review is spot on, especially on the Xterra.

    I grew up on Nissans. In the 90s my folks became disenfranchised with domestics, and “took a chance” on a new ’92 Nissan Stanza – as it offered more “value” (re:cheaper) than the Accord / Camry.

    30 years later, there’s always been some sort of Nissan in my parent’s drive or mine. Sometimes a German, Swedish, or American car sits next to one – but there’s always a Nissan in the background.

    The ’92 Stanza gave way to Altimas, a QX56, and a Rogue for my folks. In 2000 that same Stanza became my 1st car, and lasted 15 years in total, before I bought a 2007 G35 Coupe as a young man with a little bit of money (and sold the still running fine Stanza). The ‘G, while fun, was short lived, and replaced with a (more) practical 2010 Xterra. Bought new, the X is now 12 years old w/170k on it.

    Like the prior Nissans in my life, the Xterra too has been a constant. Where the Stanza was my childhood and adolescence, the X has seen marriage and a family. Sometimes it’s a key character. Enabling camping trips, mountain bike adventures (now with a son), hiking and kayaking. Other times it remains in the background, old reliable, soldiering on with dump runs, Home Depot trips, and snowstorms.

    Like our other Nissans, it’s been easy to work on, reliable, and honest. I flirted with the idea of replacing it. Its “stadium” rear seating is getting a bit crammed for the Paul Bunyan size children we seem to produce. I suspect it’s only a matter of time until my 6-year-old daughter can no longer fit behind me. (My 8-year-old son barely makes it behind my Wife.)

    Still, I can’t bring myself to replace it. Not when it continues to run and drive so well. A least that’s the “logical” reason. Emotionally it’s got a lot of memories and I irrationally consider it more than a machine that provides a means of transportation.

    It’s been well maintained (a habit I picked up young from my father and hope to pass on). “Son – take care of your things, and they’ll take care of you.” Good advice from the old man… also I suppose “buy Nissan” too.

    So, the X remains. Couldn’t justify $40k+ for an Explorer or new Pathfinder (or *gasp* a Minivan) – which are all better suited to what the family’s space and transportation needs are. Still, that’s a lot of coin to replace a functioning rig, for slightly more space and a few mpgs.

    In keeping it longer, this year the X received several grand worth of love (and father / son / grandfather sweat) in a mild refresh. New headlights (old ones clouded over), new bumper and rear hitch (rust spots), tons of maintenance, all new suspension, a CarPlay unit, and a detailing rounded it out. Feels a bit newer. The X also started a POR-15 treatment. No rust issues right now but want to keep it that way.

    The goal is 5 more years / 200k+. At that point, depending on its condition, it may hang around long enough to pass on to my son. Which really would complete the circle.

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      That’s a great post. We probably have too many cars because I just can’t seem to turn loose of anything. We have one family car, our Town & Country, I have the truck and my wife has the Rogue. We got the X Terra at the end of July and now that my son has his permit, anytime he has to go somewhere he is driving his own vehicle – with me in the passenger seat. Now that school is back in session, he will be doing USAF JROTC activities and if it is anything like last year his wheel time will add up quickly.

      Honestly, we only bought my wife a car because our T & C was in a container on its way back from Japan. My wife was griping at me about all the money we were spending to rent something so we did the smart thing and spent even more money on a new Versa Note. In retrospect, it was something we probably should have waited on because your sense of scale is different (in regards to vehicles) when you come home from Japan. When we bought it, the Note seemed like a perfectly reasonably sized car. After we had owned it a few months, however, we realized that more often than not we were the smallest thing on the road. After another year of my wife griping about how she felt like she was going to be squished like a bug, we replaced it with the Rogue.

      Funny thing is that my wife has now decided she likes driving our van the best. It doesn’t help that the Rogue lives in the garage where it is blocked in by the van and is a pain in the ass to get out. Since you are already in the van anyhow, why not use it? Going on two years of ownership and I think our Rogue has about 700 miles on it.

      I think hanging onto your X Terra for your son is a good idea. They really do grow up faster than you can imagine and even though he is still 8 years away from taking it over, your son will be learning to drive before you know it. In the mean time, you have a low-cost family utility rig than can do all sorts of fun things. If you need a larger family car, get one, but I’ll say that my kids (15,13 and 10) almost never want to go anywhere together anymore, anyhow. Most of the time it is just the wife and me and if a kid has to be forcibly dragged along its just a +1 situation. Helps too when they get big enough to sit in front.

      Besides, looks like Nissan is getting their shit back together. The new Frontiers look great and I understand the Pathfinders, which look OK, are no longer CVTs. Give them a couple of years to see if they really have turned the corner. Then see if they have anything you like.

      • MD Streeter

        “…your sense of scale is different (in regards to vehicles) when you come home from Japan.”

        This is exactly true. We had a Mazda Premacy when we lived in Japan and it was more than adequate with the smaller 2L engine and the great fit to the roads upon which we drove. I came away from the experience thinking that the vehicle was the perfect size for any small family up to 3 kids, and we bought another one when we came back, only in its US form as a Mazda5. This one had the larger 2.5L mill but compared to the rest of the cars we encountered in traffic is was small and slow! Parked in my parents’ driveway next to my brother’s F-150 it was positively Liliputian. We replaced it with a V8 powered 4Runner after a couple of years and that’s turned into a much more appropriate vehicle for where we now live.

  9. hank chinaski

    Thanks for writing.
    I’m in the process of trolling CL and FB marketplace for a starter for my youngest.
    What’s the consensus on 2010-14 Sentra/Altima?

    Those old hardbodies were prone to theft. Ask me how I know.

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      Hoping one of the other commenters will have more insight with the specific cars because I don’t have hands-on experience either of them. My main concerns with a used Nissan are two fold. First, the CVTs in these cars is a known issue. A manual transmission might be OK, but I’d avoid any Nissan through those years with a CVT. Second, Nissan has spent the past couple of decades chasing the bottom of the market with special financing and other incentives. In my experience, a lot of people in the sub-prime demo just don’t know how to take care of things. I’d need to know a lot about the owner or have an entire sheaf of maintenance records to feel comfortable.

      I think what you want for a kid’s first car is a one-owner near luxury model. Something owned by an older person who used it enough to put some miles on it but took good care of. Think about the cars well to do people buy that aren’t ostentatious displays of wealth. To me, that would Toyotas and Hondas. A young person might not get excited about something like Toyota Avalon, but they check all the boxes for me – nice, but not a Lexus and, therefore, not something someone looking to show off their wealth would buy, and the ride of choice for an older person. I think a Honda Ridgeline might be in there too, a sensible little truck that most people prone to buying and abusing trucks would never consider but something that a homeowner might get and use for a while before deciding they needed a “real truck” or a “real car” and not something in between. Not sure what the market on either of those is like these days, but I figure that if I think that way others might also, so they could bring all the money.

      • hank chinaski

        Yeah, that was also my impression and CL is peppered with them and Malibus. Toyotas and Hondas are the used car gold standard in this price range with high asking prices for year/miles and very quick turnover. Naturally, they’re all shod in craptastic Chineseium rubber. I’m inclined to get him a beater with a clutch which narrows the field.

        • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

          How about something like a Pontiac Vibe? I understand they are Toyotas under the skin but a lot of people don’t know that about them. I’ve heard some people think they drive like an appliance, but I’ve always thought they look nice for a little wagon.

          • MD Streeter

            As a first car a Vibe would be a great choice. When I was transitioning between high school and college I had a Hyundai Accent and it was a little crude, buzzy, and small, but it was nimble and tough and got the job done. When we moved back here after Japan I worked at a granite countertop company, and when I went out to do templates the company car was a Vibe with AWD and it reminded me a lot of that old Hyundai, except maybe a smidgen cooler so far as compact cars go. Of course driving a car like that at 40ish years old as opposed to 20ish gave me headaches and backaches…

            What about Mazdas? I had an 07 3 for a while that served us reliably for many years (and was superior in every conceivable way versus the company Vibe). It required new rear shocks and I had to have the brakes done on it while we had it, but those are just maintenance items. I replaced it with a CX-5 and will likely replace this with a CX-9. Every Mazda we’ve had has been a delight to drive.

  10. Mike Pappas

    My Son’s 2016 AWD Rouge ate its front and rear differentials at 59K to the tune of about $6K which Nissan refused to cover.

    Additionally the CVT needed a “valve” body and some other Unicorn Magic to the tune of about $1.2K which they did cover. This was part of a settlement to a class action suit brought on by Nissan customers who had been screwed by CVT failures. The CVT now has an 80K warranty as a result.

    These are not reliable vehicles. And Nissan USA could care less about these issues or their customers (until they get sued). YMMV

    I would find a home for yours before it gets really expensive.

    First and last Nissan.

    • Thomas Kreutzer Post author

      It’s always frightening to hear things like that. I used to think that those sorts of things would happen to others but never me. I had to take it in the teeth a couple of times before I learned to listen. I’ll certainly be on the alert for trouble.

      • Ken

        2nd Tom’s comments on near luxury used cars, driven by old ladies. I’d add thinking about domestics, MKZs and Regals.


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