Nissan Altima has always been a strong contender in the midsize sedan market in North America. With Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, it is a reliable Japanese brand, competing also against Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion. Unlike GM, Ford, and FCA, which all focus more and more on SUV’s, Japanese brands not only stay in the sedan segment but also build better cars (and SUV’s) with every generation.
The Altima, in its sixth generation, is Nissan’s first AWD sedan in the North American market. This is an intelligent AWD system that can sense different driving conditions for optimum torque distribution. Normally, it is a front-drive setup, but as the conditions require, up to 50 percent of the torque can be transferred to the rear wheels. It is even more important for Canada, where harsh winter conditions matter and AWD is a strongly demanded feature. Nissan also states that with the Altima, they had the highest investment for a platform over two decades. With an all-new 2.5 liter, direct-injection 4-cylinder engine delivering 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque mated to the Xtronic (CVT) transmission, this is not only a modern car but also can offer a more affordable alternative to an SUV.
I am not a fan a CVT’s and did not like much this type of transmission in my previous test drives. However, this new generation gearbox not only gives a driving pleasure similar to conventional planetary transmissions but also very good on fuel too, as you will read later.
Nature Of Our Trip
I and my business partner had planned a business trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia with a stopover and private visit in Fredericton, New Brunswick. This was probably not the best alternative considering the unpredictable November weather in the Atlantic provinces. However, despite the long-distance, we could not resist the freedom and flexibility a road trip offers.
Our roadmate was a Nissan Altima, provided by Nissan Canada in “Sunset Flair Chromaflair” colour and in the range-topping Platinum version with all-wheel drive.
We left our office on Monday, November 4th afternoon. It was difficult to stay away from the evening rush hour traffic. We spent almost one hour to reach Oshawa, the “eastern gateway” of GTA. In this stop and go traffic, the first obvious advantage was having a car with automatic transmission. In fact, after so many years, I cannot think of any other alternative. And of course, if you flow in the heavy traffic with an average speed of 40 to 50 kilometers per hour, comfortable seats and good sound isolation make a difference too. So we started paying attention to Nissan’s so-called “Zero-Gravity Seats”.
Nissan says that “there’s a whole lot of science behind it. In fact, they’re inspired by the weightlessness of space. In a weightless environment, the human body assumes a neutral spinal posture—a natural position where the least amount of stress is placed on our bones and joints, so we’re less likely to become tired. Nissan engineers used these findings and—over the course of a decade—developed Zero Gravity Seats, fundamentally changing the entire seat design to optimize comfort on longer drives. To reduce muscle fatigue the human body naturally slumps, which then increases spinal bending, puts pressure on the lower back, and leads to even more fatigue. Built with 14 different pressure points to put you in a neutral position, the Zero Gravity Seats’ unique shape and patented structure provide continuous support from your hips all the way up to your shoulders. This natural, ergonomic design helps to maximize blood flow and keep your energy levels up. Before Zero Gravity Seats were put into production, the seat concept went through extensive testing using a driving simulator, real-world long. Distance and
overnight evaluations, as well as biomechanical analysis. Testers included men
and women of different heights and body types. Even medical tests were
taken—like blood samples measuring lactic acidity levels—to confirm a reduction
in muscular strain and fatigue.”
With this bold, long and promising statement in mind, we were excited to have our own experience during this about the 4,000-kilometer-long drive. I revisited this topic at the end of our article.
Driving in Ontario and Quebec
Once we left GTA behind and heading towards Cobourg, the traffic started flowing much more smoothly and soon it was dark.
After a short stop for dinner in Belleville, we set Montreal as our next stop. The Altima easily swallowed kilometers. With two fuel stops and the advantage of having two drivers, we reached the outskirts of Levis and Quebec City (we later decided not to stop in and around Montreal) and had a three-hour sleep break at a parking lot with 820 kilometers behind us. The front seats, in fully-reclined positions were comfortable enough to have a “power-nap”.
The road quality along Highway 401 in Ontario and Autoroute 20 in Quebec were very good. We almost did not see any road repairs or lane reductions and the route was ready for the upcoming winter.
I specifically enjoyed driving the section between Montreal and Riviere de Loup. Under heavy rain and the dark early hours in the morning, the Altima firmly stuck to the road surface and confidently moved forward. I gave credit also to Hankook Kinergy GT all-season tires on 19” alloy wheels. Thanks to its high silica compound these tires had a good grip and traction on the wet surface at speeds between 110 to 120 km/h. Later we were going to love these tires even more as you will read further in this article. The high beam assist was a very functional help in dark and somewhat empty roads. It always switched to the low beam every time a vehicle from the opposite direction entered our vision and I could concentrate more on driving the vehicle.
Driving in New Brunswick.
As the night gives its place to daylight, we had left Riviere de Loup behind and heading towards the provincial border between Quebec and New Brunswick. As a testament to the size of our country, we switched from Eastern to Atlantic time zone and suddenly “lost an hour time”.
Breakfast in Edmundston
Not far from the border, but 1,100 kilometers from
Toronto, the city of Edmundston was our next “natural” stop.
A small Francophone city with a population of about 16,000 people, Edmundston is the centre of the Madawaska Region northwest of the Province.
During the early colonial period, the area was a camping and meeting place of Maliseet (Wolastoqiyik) Nation during seasonal migrations. From the mid to late eighteenth century, one of the largest Maliseet villages had been established at Madawaska and had become a refuge site for other Wabanaki peoples. The Maliseet village was originally located near the falls at the confluence of the Madawaska and Saint John Rivers. Currently, the City of Edmundston surrounds a federal Indian Reserve (St. Basile 10/Madawaska Maliseet First Nation). Originally named Petit-Sault (Little Falls) in reference to the waterfalls located where the Madawaska River merges into the Saint John River, the settlement was renamed Edmundston in 1851 after Sir Edmund Walker Head, who was Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick from 1848 to 1854 and Governor-General of Canada from 1854 to 1861. Originally a small logging settlement, Edmundston’s growth is mostly attributed to the city’s strategic location.
We were hungry and tired. After a quick Google research, we arrived at the Blue Lotus Café in Downtown Edmundston. Opened in July 2007 and thus more than 12 years old, this place serves breakfast and lunch and a popular place among the locals. We had also some nice conversation with the young and friendly couple running this business. The breakfast was delicious, and we were happy with this thoughtful escape from the routineness of a franchised coffee and donut place.
Following a quick discovery, we hit the road for Fredericton, the provincial capital. On Highway 2, aka TransCanada Highway, it was relatively quiet. I had the impression that this highway was built too early and to accommodate the “traffic of the future.” However, the low volume of traffic was also due to the low season.
In Fredericton, our long-time friends Semra and Irfan invited us for lunch at Wolastoq Wharf, a seafood restaurant. In North Devon Region close to St. John River and across the downtown, the restaurant is easy to reach and has parking too. The food was fantastic, the service was very friendly and professional. Once you are in Atlantic Canada, you always give priority to seafood and in this regard, this restaurant was a perfect choice.
Following the lunch, we hit the road again. After another 430 kilometers via Highway 2, 104 & 102, we arrived at our hotel in Halifax.
We drove a total distance of 1,813 kilometers from Toronto to Nova Scotia’s capital. Our average consumption was 7.6 liters, which was very good for a midsize, AWD vehicle. Also, the seats proved to be very comfortable. Nissan’s Zero-Gravity Seats made a difference. However, our advice for the next generation seats would be: “Make them a lit bit wider. You have enough space to put wider cushions.
Halifax, the capital of Canada’s Ocean Playground is a
Nova Scotia’s marquee port-of-call is situated on one of the deepest and largest natural, ice-free harbours in the world. Welcoming guests for more than 260 years, Halifax offers the exciting pulse of Atlantic Canada’s largest city, coupled with the culture and heritage of one of Canada’s most historic communities.
It is a major business centre and known for its maritime history. In the evening, we had a look at downtown from hilltop Citadel, a star-shaped fort completed by the British in the 1850s. Waterfront warehouses known as the Historic Properties remind us to Halifax’s days as a trading hub for privateers, notably during the War of 1812. In the 20 Century, Pier 21 witnessed the arrival of nearly one million immigrants from all over the world between 1928 and 1971.
This historic building now is the Canadian Museum of Immigration and to me personally, it is the number one place to visit in Halifax.
Following a series of business meetings on our second day in Halifax, we had a seafood dinner at the Five Fishermen Restaurant in Downtown. The restaurant is housed in a building that was originally constructed as a schoolhouse in 1817. Across the street is St Paul’s Anglican Church, the oldest building in Halifax, built in 1750, the year after Halifax was founded.
Chef Greg, a native of Toronto, comes from a family that was built around the dinner table. It was a time to unwind, laugh and indulge with great food so it comes as no surprise that he decided to become a chef at the young age of 16. Chef Greg’s lifelong love affair with food began at an early age. Growing up in Toronto he was exposed to different cuisines from around the world. His future was clear at the age of 16 years old when he started following famous Canadian chefs and was attracted to the various cultures in the city.
We ate on the ground floor which was relatively quiet.
Like Halifax, I had visited this place 11 years ago for the first time. The iconic lighthouse and the rocks around it were spectacular. The weather was sunny but quite windy. Since the Swissair 111 disaster in 1998 where 229 souls perished just a few hundred meters off the coast, visiting this place reminds me of this tragedy.
Returning to Halifax, we chose Athens a Greek restaurant for lunch. Specializing in Greek and Italian dishes, this family-run place offers a memorable eating experience at affordable prices.
Murat, our third partner, who had joined us on Wednesday evening by flying from Toronto to Halifax was the first driver of the day as we left Halifax. As we navigated to the 240-kilometer portion between Amherst NS and Fredericton NB, we drove through a snowstorm. This section was another and much tougher test for our Hankook tires. The Altima handled this treacherous section of the route pretty well. Intelligent all-wheel-drive combined with good tires on 19” wheels (even if these are not winter tires) created a safe driving for us. Without Murat as an experienced and cautious driver, this would still be more difficult.
The pro-pilot assist system shut down as expected in this bad weather. While this was no surprise to us it is time to say something about this driving assistance feature.
As with all other manufacturers, Nissan designs these systems very carefully with the safety of the passengers in mind. Nissan states that Pro-pilot assist is NOT a self-driving feature. Even in good weather with no visibility issues, the Pro-Pilot has its limits. You can leave the streering wheel “free” for up to 15 seconds only. Unless you grasp the steering wheel, a visual and then an acoustic warning pops up, then the car brakes. Nothing wrong with that. It is also a good reminder about how far fully autonomous vehicles (AV’s) are from today. Considering the changing weather, a very long transitional period with human drivers and AV’s sharing the road and other safety issues, fully AV’s are decades away.
Upon arrival in Fredericton under snow, we rewarded
ourselves with a lunch at Boston Pizza.
During this long trip, and for the first time in a test drive we tested three different navigation systems: Altima’s standard onboard navigation, Car Play for i-Phone and Android Auto for Samsung.
Twenty years ago when Renault took control of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of both companies by then had said: “From a design point, a Nissan car would be interesting only for those, who see a motor vehicle for the first time.”. Since then, things have changed significantly. Attractive design inside and out is a feature of Nissan cars.
Our top-of-the-range tester in Platinum trim had an MSRP of C$35,098. The only option was the three-coat-paint for C$300. Adding C$ 1,815 freight and PDE, the total price comes C$37,213.
This is a good value for money considering a fully-equipped midsize sedan with AWD. Japanese quality and durability come standard.
Article And Pictures by Varol McKars
For more and most up-to-date information, please visit www.nissan.ca
The car was provided by Nissan Canada
The travel costs were sponsored by:
Academy Travel Services Inc. and Nova Scola Education Consulting Inc.