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New car dilemma

I’ve been taking my time in deciding on a new car to finance and I thought I had it solved until one of my car dealers called me in to test drive a car.

I landed on a 2010 Nissan Altima. I really enjoy the vehicle’s ammenities, the ride, and acceleration. Consumer Reports gives it a 91/100 and the only negatives are resolved with the premium audio package (which I plan to add). Unfortunately my Hyundai dealer suggested I test drive the 2011 Sonata. I found the ammenities, ride, and acceleration to be indistinguishable. Consumer reports gives the Sonata a 89/100 mostly because it is a new model and has no reliability statistics. These two cars are the top in class according to consumer reports.

I’m seeking some guidance on this issue. I believe the Altima has a slight edge on the Sonata when looking at the details, but one of my concerns about the Altima is the CVT. What are is the maintenance, reliability, and durability on a CVT like? Any advice?

How long do you plan to keep this vehicle? Which one will get better MPG?

Both are good choices, Hyundai has a longer warranty on engine and transmission.

If you like the way the CVT feels, I wouldn’t worry too much about its durability. I haven’t heard that CVTs have more problems than regular automatics or manuals.

Both are good choices, take each for a long test drive over the roads you (not the salesman) choose, see which one you like.

The CVT is quite reliable, and carries a 10 year Nissan warranty (I don’t know the mileage limit). Having said that, and the fact that no one, not even Nissan, repairs these units, you are basically buying a 10 year car.

There is a good chance the transmission may fail after 10 years, and you will be stuck with a $3700 bill. That’s the value of the car at that point.

For those reasons, I would choose the Sonata, which has all major components repairable.

If the Altima had a regular type transmission, I would choose it. Both cars are very close, as you point out.

Buy the one that fits you best. One consideration it the model year. Technically, the 2010 Nissan is a year older than the 2011 Hyundai. Not much of an issue now when they both have zero miles, but it will affect the depreciation value if you decide to sell it in five years.


My brother had such a positive experience with his '07 Hyundai Azera that he later added a 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe to his personal fleet. He has nothing but positive things to say about both vehicles.

Hyundai’s cars have become so much better than the cars that they first sold in the US market that there is really no comparison between the two. I believe that you will find that the new 2011 Sonata is a very high-quality automobile, and could likely save you some money as compared to the purchase price of the “older” 2010 Altima. Like you, CVTs give me pause, and if I were you, I would avoid them at this point.

How long is a “long test drive?” Do I request such a test drive from a dealer?

I have heard excellent things about Hyundai. Two of my friends have Hyundai’s and love them. They plan to buy another soon. As I understand the Sonata is up for car of the year due to it’s quality.

The CVT is a huge pause for me…I’m going to parse out the details on that item.


You point out a serious issue with the repair of a CVT. Given that I plan on owning this vehicle for 7-9 years (10-12 if life circumstances require), the CVT bill is a serious concern.

As you indicate given equal transmission, you would chose the Altima (as would I). This is an interesting issue and I plan to do some more research on the CVT and find out the details (as that is where the devil hides). I really appreciate your informed input. Any thing you can add about the CVT is greatly appreciated.

If they want to come with you, tell them you’re going for a nice long drive, and for them to not give any directions unless you ask for them(if you don’t know the area well enough that is). A good 10~20 miles or so should give a decent feel for the car, city streets, highway, and/or back country roads

A new automatic transmission would probably cost just as much as a new CVT tranny. I’m not sure we know which transmission will last the longest or be the least expensive to fix in the long run.

The Hyundai’s conventional auto is just as likely to fail. 18 years ago, my parents bought a brand new Corolla with a 3 speed auto, nothing fancy compared to contemporary 6 speed autos. We followed the fluid change schedule religiously. And yet, the transmission puked on the freeway in 10 years. For something that was supposed to be the most reliable car sold, it didn’t make it pass 110k miles.

If you’re really worried about durability of new transmission styles, get the Sonata with a conventional transmission. You may find the CVT annoying. I’ve tried one in a Sentra and it seemed to inhibit the car because the CVT doesn’t allow the car to rev. I’ve also tried one in a Prius, but that was fine.

We keep our cars up to 20 years, and have never replaced or had a major repair on a transmission. Had a $190 repair on a Ford C-4 in 1978. In other words, a regular automatic will last a lot longer than 10 years with regular maintenance.

For that reason it would not be my choice to go with a CVT. On the other hand, if OP sells the car after maintaining it well before 10 years, the chances are he will have no repairs. There is another post about a CVT where Nissan refused warranty since “there was a hole” in the casing. In other words, damage or neglect will void the warranty on a CVT.

Never give ANY weight to Consumer Reports’ test score, IMO, beyond numbers such as braking, acceleration, lateral gs… use their reliability predictions, which are completely different numbers.

The test scores cover too many variables that are owner-dependent, such as comfort, ride quality, styling, etc. I’ve seen seats they find comfortable that I find tortuous.

A long test drive, IMO, generally mandates that you rent the vehicle. Many dealers will give you an “overnight” test drive, but that’s still limited on mileage. What you want, IMO, is to rent the vehicle (most dealers will rent you a demo vehicle) and drive it several hundred miles if possible. You might find a seat that seems comfortable around town is a major pain in your back on any prolonged drives.

That sort of thing happens all the time, and leads to unhappy owners.

Hmmn, everyone here seems to be stuck on the Nissan CVT transmission, but has completely forgotten about the DFI Engine in the Hyundai Sonata.

I would say that the biggest factor in the two cars would be the longevity and reliability of the Direct Fuel Injection system. These engines are known for major Fuel Dilution of the engine oil after a short number of miles, and that has lead to cylinder wall damage, and crankshaft and connection rod bearing surface damage over the past several years.

Personally, I already own an '07 Altima, but with a 6-speed manual transmission.
I just prefer manuals, period.

I would probably have to choose a Sonata if I had to replace my Altima today, because you can’t get the manual in the Altima anymore. I would just need to test the oil in the Sonata much more frequently than I do in the Altima to watch out for fuel dilution issues trying to crop up on me.


This is what I pictured a “long test drive” as, instead of a 10-20 mile drive. Overnight and extended miles are an ideal way to get acquainted with the nuances of a car.


That is an excellent point, which I had not thought of before. I test drove the Sonata the other day and found it quite comparable. The dealer mentioned the DFI system, but I glazed over that fact. Your point about the DFI and fuel dilution of the engine oil is a real issue. I’m assuming that the repair bill (if needed) for such an event would be much greater than replacing a CVT in 10 years.

Also, I would agree with you about the manual, but due to my job and the fuel economy of many new autos I’m leaving the stick to the wayside.