Author - Byron Hurd
Kia provided the Soul and a free tank of gas for this review. Thanks as always to the Mazda Sportscar Club of Washington for putting on a safe, fun and educational event for local car enthusiasts.
Porsche provided the Cayman, a full tank of gas and the photography for this review.
Such a feelin's comin' over me There is wonder in most everything I see Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes And I won't be surprised if it's a dreamIt’s 9:45 a.m., local time. I’m standing at one of what must be a hundred overlooks in Wildcat Canyon Park, looking down on, well, everything. If you’ve never been to the Bay area (as I had not until this point), there’s no way for me to describe to you the view before me—one that photography has no hope of doing justice. There’s so much going on, yet it’s all encapsulated in a way. One could easily convince a child that the entire world exists within the geography visible from this vantage point. That goes a long way toward explaining the mindset of the average resident, I think. Twenty-four hours ago, I was boarding a plane in Baltimore. In another 24, I should be landing there again. Neither mind nor body has caught up to the change of venue (not to mention the change in time). No point in trying to adjust now, I suppose. “That car is hot,” remarks my co-driver, breaking my reverie. “Hmm?” “It’s hot. Can you smell it?” Indeed, the Golf smells strongly of friction material. Whether it’s from the brakes or the transmission, I can’t quite tell. But my companion has a point. We’ve only done maybe half a mile of non-abusive, uphill canyon driving to this point. There’s no reason for the car to be in any sort of distress. We both chew on the observation for another minute or two, try in vain to snap a smartphone picture that could do the view justice, and then hop back into the car. The new 1.8L Golf TSI may look like a baby GTI on paper. On the road, it’s a different story. Our tester is a four-door “S” model with the sunroof package and six-speed automatic. You have to upgrade to the “SE” trim for 17-inch alloys or “SEL” for 18-inchers. Consequently, our tester is a bit more prone to lean than some of the others may have been. The ride is still quite composed and the handling sharp enough for a little hustling, but the car likes to push and squeal a bit when the corners get tight.
The Altima is not the enthusiast’s choice in this segment. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out the Accord or Mazda 6. As a competitor to the Camry, Sonata and Optima, however, the Nissan makes a very strong case for itself. After a week with this tester, I’d comfortably call it the frontrunner in that group of four. It’s more engaging than any of them without having too sharp of an edge, and you don’t have to compromise on comfort or tech to achieve that balance. That’s a win-win, in my book.As it turns out, the Altima’s hook isn’t any one salient feature. Rather, this is the rare car that does jack-of-all-trades so well that it should be comfortable with that label. Stand-out features tend to be paired with proportional drawbacks in this group, but here you have neither. It’s the sort of car you can recommend to a friend or neighbor without feeling like you’re evangelizing. It’s just a good car.
Thanks to Nissan for loaning us the Altima for this review.