Car Shopping in Calgary: Nissan Altima vs. Mitsubishi Eclipse

It’s getting close to April, when Ashley’s lease on the Mini Cooper will be up, so we’ve started the process of looking for a new vehicle.Β  Because I received so many helpful comments the last time I posted about shopping for a new car (really not a subject I cover much), I thought I’d try again. This past Saturday we spent a few hours at a local Calgary Nissan dealership, and a local Mitsubishi dealership. We test drove three cars: a 2008 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coupe, a 2008 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT-P, and a 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS.

mitsubishi-eclipse.jpg

We test drove the Eclipse first (pictured above), and it was an interesting experience – I’d never driven a sports car (or a sports-like car for those of you who might not consider the Eclipse a true sports car) before, so I wasn’t used to being to low to the ground and feeling so far back. The car had a good amount of power, and it handled well – I had a hard time adapting to the lack of rear/side visibility. They didn’t have an automatic transmission Eclipse on the lot, so we test drove the Spyder (the convertible) which of course had reduced rear-view window visibility. The interior felt cramped, which is pretty much what I was expecting.

Next we test drove the Lancer, and I was disappointed by it. Although the engine and handling was what I expected for a car at that price point, the interior felt and looked cheaper than I was expecting – fully loaded, it’s in the same price realm as a fully-loaded Mazda 3, so I was expecting something similar. It was taken off the list pretty quickly, which is really unfortunate. I might not have given it a fair shake though – one thing I disliked about all three test drives we did was that the salesperson came with us. In my previous car-shopping experiences, I’ve never had that happen – I’ve given them my driver’s license to copy, I think once a credit card, and they handed me the keys. Having a salesperson in the back of the car makes me feel like Ashley and I can’t talk honestly about what we think of the car. Both salespeople were certainly very nice and easy to talk to, so this is no reflection on them, it’s just a feeling I have.

2008-nissan-altima-coupe-calgary.jpg

Next we went to a Nissan Calgary dealership and test drove the Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coup – what a car! Ashley and I were both quite impressed with the handling, the power (oh what power) and the quality and spaciousness of the interior. Road noise was also very low – it felt a lot like a Saab in terms of road noise and interior spaciousness, but has the exterior look of a sports car. It’s got a lot of nice features, including Bluetooth, an MP3-compatible deck, and an auxiliary line-in on the stereo. Though I can’t for the life of me figure out why they wouldn’t put it inside the main console and provide power as well (USB would be nice). The Mazda 3 designers seem to grasp that people want to carry their MP3 players in the car with them, but they don’t want to have wires dangling about. The Nissan designers don’t seem to grasp that. On the other hand, if I want to burn six CDs worth of MP3s I can carry about 42 albums worth of content in the car, which is pushing 500 songs.

I wasn’t expecting to like the Nissan Altima Coup so much, but it quickly became #1 on our short list. The biggest problem? Swallowing the $36K price tag – which works out to around $39K after all the added charges. I’ve always tried to keep my car purchases under $30K because I don’t attach my self-esteem to the type of car I drive and I think it’s silly to spend so much on a hunk of steel and plastic to get you from point A to point B. But this will be a car we buy and keep for a long time, not lease, so it might make more sense to buy a higher-quality vehicle that we’ll get a lot of use out of. The other problem is that Ashley and I both have a strange need to buy things new, rather than used – which is an expensive habit when you’re talking about cars. Though the fact that this is the first year for the Altima Coup makes it more or less impossible to buy used makes me feel just a bit better. πŸ˜‰

So, any opinions on the Nissan Altima Coup?

  • mrozema

    You said it yourself, its the first generation for the Altima. That doesn’t always mean bad things will happen, but its more prone since the bugs are never worked out the first time through.

    Have you considered the Mazda 3 or Subaru Impreza? They only run about $25K before taxes.

  • Matt,
    Yeah, I’m definitely aware of the issues around first-gen cars, but my understanding (and maybe I’m wrong here) is that the engine in the Altima is the same one that’s been sold in the Altima sedan for a while, and I bet the basic body carriage is the same, so I don’t know if the coup is really a “first gen” car. We’ve thought about the the Mazda 3, but since we already have the Mazda ProtΓ©gΓ© 5, we want something a bit different. But the Mazda 3 is still on the table. We’ve talked about the Subaru, so we might go test drive one. But they don’t have any two-door coup-type models, which is pretty much what we’re focused on.

  • Cold Flame

    I would highly suggest looking at the Toyota Solara if you’re stuck on Coupes. They’re a beautiful car, a joy to ride, and nice to look at. The price point can vary greatly depending on options chosen of course, but it’s certainly worth taking a look at! Can’t hurt anyway. Particularly if you could get a “new 2007” model.

    Again, I’d stay away from the Mitsu’s personally, but that’s my opinion from what I’ve heard over the years. My last car was a Nissan (’92 240SX SE) and it was a fantastic car. Never any troubles over the 7 years and ~130,000km’s I put on it (and I *drove* it… πŸ™‚

    My gut feeling & experience is that you can’t steer wrong when buying most imports, particularly the bigger ones such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan. I drive a Toyota now and love is every bit as much as I loved my Nissan, so… *shrugs* Have you considered the Accord Coupe’s at all as well? Or any of the Acura’s? Heck, even the Civic Coupe is actually a nice car (and I cringe to say that cuz I haven’t liked them in past model years).

    I suppose at the end of the day it all depends how much you want to spend, and what you’re willing to do with/without. Best of luck… Oh, as a thought; you may want to look into buying out your lease just to sell privately. A pain in the butt? Yes… but it can usually result in 2-3k in profit…

  • mrozema

    So, you’re right Jason. The coupe does share engines (there are two to choose from) with the 4-door model.

    Try not to rule out 4-door vehicles. Especially if you plan to keep it for a long time. With the (possible) pitter-patter of little feet comes a lot of headaches when you’ve only got two doors. Sure you’ve got one car with 4, but don’t assume that’s going to always be there.

  • Cold Flame,
    I was hoping you’d show up. πŸ˜‰ I hadn’t looked at the Solara (Toyota’s Web site is awful!) but I’ll definitely consider it. One factor here is that the wife has very strong opinions about the looks of a car – if she doesn’t like the way it looks, it’s off the table immediately in her mind. The Honda Civic isn’t under consideration for that reason – she dislikes the way they look. And I know from experience not to buy my wife something she doesn’t like. πŸ˜‰ The Accord Coup looks pretty nice! I’ll definitely check it out.

    Regarding buying the lease out, I hadn’t really thought about it – what’s the best way to investigate the profit potential? Look at the used car papers/sites and see what a Mini Cooper of the year we have is going for? We’ve only ever sold one used car, and it was a huge pain in the ass. But for $3K in profit, I might be able to put up with it. πŸ˜‰

  • chrisgohlke

    Since you’ve bumped up your pricing, I’d again recommend the G35, it is 39,900 up there (amazing since it is 31,900 here). I recently had ours in for regular service and they gave me a new one as a loaner and it was sweet compared to ours (which is still awesome). Perhaps with some haggling, you could get it down to the same price. Over the long term, it will hold its value better, so look at it as a good investment rather than a status symbol.

  • kimmm

    If you’re going to have this vehicle for a while, and if you’re going to have kids anytime soon, don’t even consider a two door anything. Trust me, I am speaking from experience (Mitchy’s car can barely handle a carseat and it’s a huge pain in the ass to manoeuvre around in the backseat with only two doors.) You never know when the Protege is going to be in for service, or, whatever whatever whatever…it’s just a pain. Really really really. I think you will regret it.

    I highly recommend reading “The Insider’s Guide to Buying A New or Used Car” by Burke Leon, it’s full of info – US-based, but there’s a good deal that I believe is applicable here, and, it appears, can save you a pile of cash.

    I like the frank opinions offered by people on this forum: http://www.carsurvey.org

    Of course, Consumer Reports, Edmunds are also good places to research before buying.

  • Chris,
    The G35 is still a whole class up from the cars we’re looking at – the basic + the touring package (which has Bluetooth and the upgraded stereo, similar to what the Nissan has) comes in at $46,325. So that’s a good $10K above the most expensive car we’re looking at right now. And that’s not even getting a coup, which we both want – that puts us at $49K base for the Infiniti G coup. So while I appreciate your enthusiasm for the Infiniti, it’s more money than I’m willing to spend. πŸ™‚

  • Kim,
    Thanks for the words of wisdom on the issue of four doors. We’ve talked about this and Ashley is convinced that it’s not that big of a deal (I’m agreeing with her), but we’ll continue to discuss it. πŸ™‚ That book sounds interesting, but it looks like it’s out of print – Amazon.ca doesn’t have it, eBay doesn’t have a listing for it…do you own it? I checked the library as well and they only have two copies at branches very far away from us.

  • timh

    I heartily endorse the purchase of the Nissan over the Mitsu. However, not to sound like a broken record, if you are considering the $36K price point, one might consider the RX-8 as an option as well πŸ™‚

  • Tim,
    Thanks for the suggestion – I had a feeling you’d prefer the Nissan. πŸ˜‰ The RX-8 is a hot little car, but my online configuration hit $44.5K – so that’s a significant price jump up from the Nissan. I’m already mildly uncomfortable with the $37K price point, so another $8K makes me even more so. πŸ™

  • timh

    I was just looking at the base price. What do the numbers say about the Accord? Also, IMHO, a much more reliable car and I think they’re one of the sexiest midsized coups on the road!

  • Cold Flame

    Hey Jason,

    Yeah, I still lurk and read your site semi-regularly, so I’m around! =)

    As far as buying out the lease, definitely look at the Auto Trader (http://www.canadatrader.com) and see what comparable year Mini’s with similar km’s go for. Compare with your buyout, and see what you’re left with… It is certainly worth checking into. Otherwise the dealership will likely “buy it out” from BMW Canada and resell it on their lot for probably 5-6k more.

    I have a good feeling that Ashley would probably quite like the look of the Solara. The Accord is also very nice, but it will start to push your price point, as will the Solara.

    One thing to keep in mind, the local prices are generally lower than what the websites offer up. So don’t price yourself out just because of what their Canadian Corporate website tells you. I went to Kramer Mazda to see the RX8’s when they first came out thinking they were about $47-51k fully loaded. The guy at the dealership gave me a VASTLY different number… and this is a few years ago, so long prior to the Canadian dealers starting to reflect the US price points. So, the RX8 might not be out of your range, and neither might be the Infiniti’s… Worth picking up the phone, that’s for sure.

    If I can help any other way, just ask. You’ve got my e-mail too. =)

    Cheers,

    Jeremy

  • Cold Flame

    My comment is awaiting moderation? Interesting… lol

  • Tim,
    The Accord coup is about the same price as the Nissan coup – about $37K + GST and whatnot. I like the way it looks so we’ll definitely take it for a spin…

  • Cold Flame,
    Your comment was held for moderation by WordPress because it contained an URL – I’m pretty harsh about keeping spam off this site. πŸ˜‰ I’ll definitely keep in mind what you said about the price points and not count anything out. I’ve even got a plan brewing in my head to potentially save even more money…we’ll see how it pans out. πŸ˜‰

  • Cold Flame

    Ahh, that would make sense then. I don’t blame you for not wanting spam; it’s an annoyance to say the least!

    I hope that plan involves going to the US and purchasing something with a transferrable (or North American) warranty. Despite their “efforts” to make the price points equal, they’re still way off base.

    Either way, best of luck! =)

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  • kimmm

    You’re convinced a two-door isn’t that big of a deal because you’ve never had to put a kid in one. All I have to say is before you put your cash down, think about car seats, squirmy children and all of the associated stuff that comes along with them, and then think about it again. : )

    I got the book from the library. Call one of the branches that has it and ask them to send it to your local library. It really is a pretty good book containing some money saving tips.

  • chrisgohlke

    I just saw the new altima coupe in person for the first time today. Pics don’t do it justice. Very nice.

  • Yeah, the Altima Coupe is pretty hot! Ashley is convinced that’s our next car…I want to take it for another test drive, this time without the salesman in the back. πŸ˜‰

  • sleeprunner

    Great article!