There I was with 16 car guys. They are the kind of car reviewers who talk about torque (I think that’s how it’s spelled), throwing the car around (that means driving it in a way you hope your kids never do) and weighting the car (seeing how it takes a turn). I am the kind of car reviewer who talks about whether the vehicle gets good gas mileage, has enough room to ensure my kids’ arm hairs don’t touch and allows me to look at least kind of cool when I’m driving it.

 

None of the Nissan sedans I tested recently during an invitation-only event would work for my family of five. But each had several redeeming qualities and the company itself is working hard to win customer confidence and loyalty after teetering on the brink of bankruptcy 10 years ago.

First, the cars:

The 2010 Altima sedan (prices start at $19,900) is a sturdy, reliable and affordable car that would be plenty big enough for a family of four. It flunks the cool test, though. The design is so generic that if you covered the name on the steering wheel it would be impossible to know what car you’re driving. The cool factor comes in the upgraded Altima Coupe, a slightly more expensive choice (starts at $22,400) that is definitely not a family car. I convinced two of the car guys to cram into the back and their arm hairs were definitely touching. There’s also a hybrid version (starts at $26,780), but I didn’t get a chance to test that. Here’s the video of the two guys crammed into the back seat.

The Sentra (starts at $15,420) is the mini Altima. Since the Altima was too small for my family, there’s no way we would fit in the Sentra. The Sentra struck me as more of a first job car–a great gift for the recent college grad. I did like its styling though – practical with sporty cues.

The Versa (starts at $9,995 for the stripped down version) is a small hatchback that would be perfect as the second car you buy for the kids to cycle through as they start to drive. It’s small, but doesn’t feel like a tin can. It comes in a sedan model with a trunk, which some people feel is safer than a hatchback, although studies have shown that is not the case. I would feel fine having my kids drive the hatchback.

Now, the company.

Buying from Nissan means getting more than just a car. Under new management, the company is focused on building customer confidence with affordable quality products. It’s all part of the company’s new motto: Quality You Can Love.

A part of that is this great program for new car buyers that provides a training session from the dealer on how to set up everything in your new car. New cars come with so many bells and whistles these days, it can be overwhelming. You could get your 12-year-old to figure it out, but it’s nice to know for yourself how to do this stuff.

I also like Nissan’s customer follow-up program. Buyers get a call within 24 hours of driving off the lot. If there are problems, the call is escalated and dealt with immediately. Nissan is really hammering its customer service experience. And that’s something anyone can appreciate.

I love that the assembly plant in Nashville is uber green. From its roofing tiles to its focus on employee comfort (gentle noise reduction, views of the outdoors), the plant is focused on making life easier for the plant and its people. A new plant that will produce lithium batteries for Nissan hybrids also will be uber green.

Finally, I have to take back all of the gear-head jokes I made before my trip. Thank goodness the car review guys put those cars through the rigors. I will never test drive a car they way they do but I need to know just how much challenge the car can stand. I will read their car reviews with a new perspective and encourage you to give them a read as well. If you’re like me, you will glaze over the tek talk and go right to summary.

Here’s a list of reviews by the car guys:

Marty Bernstein

Mac Demere

Mac Demere