Summing up the 2002 model year in a single headline: Nissan is back and the Koreans are coming.
Japan's Nissan underscored its return to fiscal health by unveiling a batch of new and redesigned products. The Altima mid-sized family sedan so impressed U.S. journalists that they named it the North American car of the year. The company then revived their legendary "Z" sports car, the 350-Z coupe.
Nissan pumped new life into their luxury brand, Infiniti, introducing the G-35 sports sedan and coupe, a pair of handsome and impressive competitors for the class leading BMW 3 series.
South Korea's Hyundai and their subsidiary Kia continue to make inroads into the U.S. market at the low end of the price scale, but also continue to improve the quality of their vehicles. We drove the Hyundai Tiburon sport coupe and found it better in every way than its predecessor: styling, power, ride, handling, assembly quality and the materials used in the interior. And they kept the price down.
Among American cars, Cadillac's CTS sports sedan was a pleasant surprise, giving buyers an alternative in a category dominated by German and Japanese brands. It's the first real "driver's car" from Cadillac in living memory and contributed to a sharp increase in the luxury brand's sales.
Volkswagen added another version of the excellent Passat sedan. This one has an eight cylinder engine, all wheel drive and a price tag of $38,000. It's a very nice package. But can a company that built its reputation on an economy car foundation induce people to pay luxury prices for a "people's car"? It remains to be seen.
We took a family vacation in a Mazda MPV minivan and were very impressed. The MPV rides and handles like a car, has room for seven people, a peppy V6 engine, electrically operated sliding rear doors that are very handy and cruises comfortably over long distances. The third row seats fold flat into the floor, leaving lots of storage room. Nice job, Mazda.
But for us, the car of the year is the Infiniti G-35 coupe. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as the old saying goes, but this beholder thinks the G-35 coupe is the best looking car on the American road. Its 280 horsepower V6 has all the zip one might need and the interior is a model of comfort and convenience. With a base price of just over $31,000, the Infiniti luxury coupe might even be described as a bargain in its class. And it's another example of Nissan's renewed vigor.