As Michigan has settled in for the winter season, we've yet to seriously test the seasonal mettle of the Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D tires -- recommended by Tire Rack, our official supplier for such things -- that our Four Seasons Nissan Altima has been wearing since November. Drivers of our red Nissan have, however, already gotten plenty of use out of the well-optioned car's heated seats and steering wheel as well as its remote-start feature. These might seem trivial to folks who've never been chilled to the bone by a sharp February Michigan wind, but trust us -- these conveniences can significantly improve a person's commute on a chilly midwinter morning.
Heated seats have been around since 1971 (thank you, Saab), and heated steering wheels have become increasingly common since the late 1990s. Remote start has largely been the domain of American car companies, but apparently it also gets pretty cold in Nissan's new stateside hometown of Nashville, because more and more of the company's products are being offered with it.
Associate web editor Jake Holmes sure appreciates such niceties: "This morning it was 23 degrees when I left home, so I was glad to be able to start the Altima from my bedroom window. The heated seats and heated steering wheel made my cold commute far more bearable, as did the fact that the Altima had been warming up for about four minutes by the time I walked outside for the first time today."
We're pleased that our long-term Altima has the tundra trifecta, although several of us have been disappointed to discover that remote start automatically activates neither the rear defroster nor the heated steering wheel (as do some other carmakers' products).
Speaking of the Altima's electric conveniences, its infotainment system has drawn praise even though its screen is a bit on the small side. "Most menus are short enough that scrolling isn't required, which is a big plus when you're trying to keep your eyes on the road," noted one pilot after driving the car hundreds of miles over a few days. "I also enjoyed the ability to adjust brightness of the screen with a simple button that toggles between a day and a night setting."
Holmes again: "The navigation screen and voice prompts are very clear and simple. The touchscreen infotainment system is straightforward and simple to use, thanks partly to its large fonts and bold colors. I drove three friends around, and they had zero comments about the car other than to note that the navigation system is exceptionally polite (it intones 'Please...' before each spoken direction), and that the instrument-cluster LCD screen usefully shows redundant navigation information."
We've been remarkably displeased, however, with some of the Altima's other high-tech features. Associate web editor Donny Nordlicht pointedly describes what several other test drivers have complained about: "The fact that our $32,000 car comes with things like a backup camera, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot assist is great -- however, they don't work very well. All three systems use the same wide-angle, low-resolution camera mounted above the license plate. Because of the low-res quality of the camera needed for the other systems, the backup camera is almost useless, as you can't see a clear image of what's behind you. Maybe it would help if it showed a black-and-white image, since the color contrast isn't very good. Also, the lane-departure warning tends to go berserk, since the Altima's disconnected steering makes it tricky to keep the car perfectly between the lane lines. Finally, the blind-spot assist is too slow, again due to the camera setup: it watches behind the car instead of next to the car (like fender-mounted radar sensors do). More often than not, the light will come on to say that there's something in the driver's-side blind spot when there is absolutely nothing there."
Perhaps we'll end up enjoying the Altima's warmer comfort features and turning off its weaker driving assistants. We'll keep you informed as winter tightens its grasp on the Midwest.