by Mick Skruth
So there I was, standing at the head of the Super Gold Platinum Mega Elite aisle with a range of shiny silver metal glittering its temptation in the golden airport sun. Which whip would I choose today? Would it be the Buick Envision 1SV with the 32J Fleet Special option package? No thanks, I had Chinese for lunch. There’s a good-looking Chevrolet Tahoe with only minimal body damage to my left. Hmm, Chevy did just come out with the new 6.2 liter RST package, even though this cloth-seat V6-powered LT-trim rental is the closest I’ll ever come to driving one. Nah, forget it—the Chevorlet dealership bought ads from me last week.
And then I see it: A 2018 Nissan Altima. Gray paint, gray cloth interior, aerodynamically tuned plastic wheel covers, and the super-rare V34 Dual Zone Climate Control Fleet Only Delete package. Yes, sir, this is the ride for me.
I know what you’re saying: “Mick, why the hell are you reviewing last year’s model? Isn’t there an all-new Altima for 2019? Doesn’t that make your review sort of, you know, useless? And why are you reviewing a clapped-out rental car, anyway?” To which I say: Shut up and don’t ask so many questions, and by the way your IP address has been banned from the comments section.
I will, however, answer your last query, because it’s an important one. Rental car reviews are the only way to get an unbiased review of a car. The typical kiss-ass review written by your typical ass-kissing journalist is the product of a week-long loan of a car from a media fleet. These cars are equipped with the most desirable features and options and are carefully primped and meticulously maintained so that they arrive in brand-new condition, mimicking exactly what a new-car buyer would find in the showroom.
In other words, they are exactly like no car in the world, except for those few that are bought new. And how often does that happen?
A rental car, on the other hand, represents real world vehicle ownership. Here’s a car built in a trim level that no one but fleet customers buy, usually in colors that no one is interested in, often with a cheap-ass engine sold exclusively to fleets. It’s been pissed on, puked in, and thoroughly abused by a thousand mid-level sales managers like myself who drive as if their dream of owning a Porsche really is just one big commission away. Your typical rental whip is a veteran of a thousand stoplight races, a hundred curb scrapes, a half-dozen neutral drops, and zero oil changes.
In other words, they are exactly like the cars most people drive, provided your definition of “most people” is “most people who rent cars and/or buy ex-rental cars.”
Fact is, I can call up the PR department of any OEM I want, any time I feel like it, and ask for a press car. But I don’t, and that’s not because they laugh and hang up on me. I choose to write reviews of rental cars, because I am so much better than the useless hacks who actually write about cars for a living instead of pretending that they write about cars for a living.
Enough preliminaries. It’s time to see what this baby can do.
Before I heel-and-toe my way down Airport Drive, I start with a quick aesthetic assessment as I take careful cell-phone photographs of the door dings, bumper scrapes, and bloodstains. I am appalled by the terrible panel fit. The gaps are uneven and the paint colors don’t match. You’d think Nissan would be smart enough to design a car that could withstand repeated collision repair better than this.
I hop in, give the steering wheel a quick once-over with a Clorox wipe, twist the key, step on the pretend clutch pedal and drop the transmission into Drive. First impression is that the 2.5 liter powertrain is noisy and ridiculously underpowered. The CVT, which is terrible because it’s a CVT, is especially terrible because it is reluctant to grab a lower ratio, especially when you’re stuck behind a slow-moving airport courtesy bus. What a lump of mechanical shit. No wonder this engine/transmission combination has been completely revised for the 2019 model which I probably won’t get to drive until some time in 2021.
With a string of red lights ahead of me, I decide to crank up the stereo, because if there’s one thing I know, besides exactly what you can and cannot do when someone takes out a protection order against you, it’s music. The sound is tinny and distorted. What a lucky thing that Nissan only offers this shitty-ass stereo in the S trim level, which represents just 6% of their market mix and sells primarily to fleets. Most customers will buy their Altimas with the uplevel touch-screen stereo that I will never get to experience because my local Nissan dealer locks the cars in the showroom when he sees me coming. (Fucking assrag. You spooge on the steering wheel of just one GT-R — okay, maybe two — and all of a sudden you’re a goddamned leper.)
The road finally opens up, and a couple of green lights and a 35 MPH speed limit mean I can finally stretch the Altima’s legs. I find it impossible to get the car to rotate, which I blame entirely on incompetent suspension design and not at all on the fact that there are only straight roads between the airport, the BMW dealership I’m pitching today, and the Double Tree Inn (more expensive than Embassy Suites, but the freshly-baked cookies are worth it).
I decide a little more intensive driving is in order, so at lunchtime I make my excuses and head out to find the killer curve I discovered on my last sales call test drive. Ah, here it is, just as I remember it! As I late-apex and trail-brake my way around the turn into the Buffalo Wild Wings parking lot, the speedometer trembling on the cusp of a number that begins with a two, I notice unacceptable levels of understeer. All the while, the Hankook XG4RT Mileage Maker Specials are squealing like last night’s stripper when I showed her my AmEx Corporate Gold card. Just as I surmised: Nissan’s suspension engineers are incompetent dickwads. The SR model offers superior handling with no noticeable degradation of ride quality, or at least that’s what I read on Edmunds.com while I was waiting on line at the rental counter.
Fast-forward: It’s one day, one signed contract, three celebratory miniatures of Jack Daniels and a pay-per-viewing of Honey I Rimmed the Babysitter later. I’m minutes away from handing the key to this roadgoing shitpile back to the National Rent-a-Dick counterboy when I get a call from my boss that the local Nissan dealership is fixing to buy ads from a competitor, and that there’s a $500 bonus and a half a case of Blue Nun if I can get the sale. As I call the airline to change my flight, I have a sudden epiphany that the Nissan Altima offers excellent value and a roomy back seat, though I dare not give this one a test-sit due to a suspicious-looking brown stain that I don’t believe was there when I rented the car. I realize that for all its flaws, and there aren’t many, the Nissan Altima is the perfect car for a growing family seeking reliable, economical transportation, especially when purchased from Fanucci Motors of Bay Ridge, where it’s fun to buy a car and you’re guaranteed to get the best price.