Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Elusive Modern Manual Transmission Part 2 - Nissan

This is the second installment of my search for a modern manual transmission; for the full journey be sure to start with the first installment.

I'd love to hear your comments, but to avoid spam I do have comment moderation enabled. I promise to review and publish your feedback quickly.


On that first fateful day after the discovery of rust on the A-pillar of the Saturn we decided to drop by a nearby Nissan dealer to see what options were a fit for me. At this point I hadn't really done any research but I did have a general sense of what I was looking for. The experience with this particular Nissan dealer wasn't great so I won't be mentioning names or locations.

We arrived at the dealer at about 6PM on a weeknight in July. The dealership didn't seem very busy but it still took almost 20 minutes for them to identify a salesman who was available to work with me; while I remember his name I'll call him John (Doe) from here on (his name was not John, and I'm sure John is a great salesperson, if he exists). I explained what had happened to my car and what I was looking for to John:
  • four door small to mid-size sedan
  • manual transmission
  • power windows and locks
John and I discussed how timing wasn't a big concern since I worked from home and drive my own car less than 5,000 miles annually (its my wife's car that gets the mileage). We also discussed that I was early in my search and that since I hadn't shopped for a sedan in -- well, pretty much ever -- I did want to make some time to look at other brands as well.

John expressed that my options would be very limited but didn't seem to be completely sure which vehicles offered manual transmissions. He did some digging and found that both the Sentra and the Versa might be options; the 370Z also offers a manual but doesn't fit my requirements.

After a bit of research John identified a used Nissan Versa on their lot for the "sale" price of $9,999. The car was a 09 with about 47,000 miles on it.
Initially I didn't think much of the older Versa and that really didn't resolve itself on closer inspection. The 2009 was really a pretty ugly car that this image doesn't even do justice for. The trunk on these looks like its about two feet taller than it reasonably should be. The front isn't so bad but the car does have a very "economy" look. At this point my thought was "here's a cost effective option on a recent car, this could work". On sitting in the car though their were several issues I couldn't get past:
  • it was really hard to see out the back window and backing up would be difficult
  • the shifter was coated in some mildly sticky substance
  • the plastic coating on the steering wheel was starting to chip off
  • the paint on the stereo surface was chipping off
  • there were several faint but visible stains of unknown origin on the seat surfaces
  • this car had already been detailed by the dealership

At this point this was a 4 year old car with about half of its lifetime mileage on it that wasn't "previously owned", or even "used", this one was "previously neglected". Brand new this car had an MSRP of between 9 and 13k and on light examination was already resembling a blobfish (maybe that's mean to the blobfish). After a few minutes of contemplation I decided I wasn't even interested in driving it. I exited the car, put some hand sanitizer on, and contemplated burning my clothes when we got home.

John identified that there was a new Versa on the lot with a manual transmission with an MSRP around 13k. The 2013 Versa is a much nicer looking car though it does still carry some of that "economy" look of the previous generation. I expressed that I was definitely interested in taking a closer look. John seemed conflicted about searching for the car and started to say we could make an appointment to come back but then decided to walk the lot with us in search of it. We spent about 5 minutes looking before he gave up and decided it must have been sold already. It seems like the new Versa should be an excellent value, offering a lot of car for a low price but I really can't say that here since I didn't actually get a chance to get in-depth on this car.

We went inside the dealership and discussed my search a bit more. We exchanged contact information and John promised to follow up if he found the car or something else meeting my requirements came in. All told we were with John for less than an hour.

Several points of this experience could have been better:
  • After reaching out for a salesperson the receptionist could have directed me to the information wall, a waiting area, or even suggested I look around. The walk-in experience just wasn't as welcoming as it could have been. After a few minutes, I decided to walk the lot a bit and familiarize myself with some of the available vehicles.
  • The used Versa, while it could have been a good option, the price was not even close to fair for the condition of the vehicle.
  • It was never suggested that I could order the specific vehicle I was looking for or that they could search for it for me at other dealers.
  • The inability to locate a vehicle in the inventory in a reliable and timely fashion seemed kind of odd, this was compounded by the fact that the lot was not very big.
  • After it became an issue of searching for the vehicle I was looking for, John seemed less enthusiastic about helping.
  • There was no follow-up call offering additional information or asking if I had any questions.


I think Nissan builds some great cars. The Versa, and Sentra might have been real contenders if I could have actually seen or driven them. The Altima and Maxima were where my initial interest was, but ultimately neither offers a manual option anymore. The experience with one dealer hasn't soured me on the brand but I have since seen some cars I'm more excited about which knocked the Versa and Sentra out of the running.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I had almost the exact same experience looking for a manual transmission at a local Nissan dealership. I was immediately directed to a 4 year old Versa that was only a few thousand less than a brand new one and had that same "beat to hell look". They never offered to even look for a newer version with a manual transmission. After exchanging contact information, I never heard back from the salesperson.

"John" also didn't seem to have a good handle on what cars they had in inventory either, the lot only had maybe 80 cars, his cheat sheet of inventory had wrong prices and cars that didn't exist.

I have a feeling they don't make as much commission or don't want to be bothered with negotiating with another dealership to get the car the customer wants.

In the end I purchased a car much like you can buy things from Walmart - I found the new car I wanted online at a dealer's website, recorded the VIN, walked in, gave the VIN to the first sales person and drove out with the car. I'm not really sure what the sales staff really has to offer other than walking pieces of paper back and forth. My 3 year old can do that trick now so not sure why they make a few hundred dollars per transaction.

I miss Saturn!

BTW - Found the Hyundai Elantra with manual transmission is a very nice, peppy, 6 forward speed, safe car. It's the silver one with the new front end ;)