Designing Advice, Saturn Blues, Nissan Versa vs Nissan Versa and Ranger Smith Need a Ride [Ask Nathan]

Nathan and The Fast Lane Car team are here to answer your (reasonable) questions. Interesting and/or entertaining emails will be posted to this column. If it's relevant in the automotive universe, there's a chance we may know something about it. The author's email address and name will be omitted - leaving your initials or nickname, your preference.
Nathan and The Fast Lane Car team are here to answer your (reasonable) questions. Interesting and/or entertaining emails will be posted to this column. If it’s relevant in the automotive universe, there’s a chance we may know something about it. The author’s email address and name will be omitted – leaving your initials or nickname, your preference.

From day one, The Fast Lane Car has made it our policy to answer as many questions and comments as we can. We get thousands of emails and comments and feel that, as part of a tight-knit automotive community, having an open dialogue with you keeps things fresh and exciting.


In this edition of Ask Nathan:

  • I want to become an automotive designer.
  • Do you miss Saturn?
  • Which Nissan Versa should I get?
  • Forester from NE: “I need to replace my AWD vehicle.”
Automotive Design Mogul Ralph Gilles and the 2013 SRT Viper GTS
SRT Brand and Motorsports President and CEO Ralph Gilles kisses his pride and joy, the 2013 SRT Viper GTS, at the New York International Auto Show reveal, April 4, 2012. Well-dressed, well-designed.

The first question comes from a fan who’s interested in becoming an automotive design engineer.

Q:Hi guys I’m 15 years old and I was wondering if you could tell me what it takes to become a design engineer.when I’m older I want to become a car designer,making my own fun,practical,Eco friendly, and cool cars while focusing on not what the car does but how it feels doing it. I think this dream is a little complicated to achieve, maybe I could work alongside with one of the automotive giants out there or just work alone.could you please reply back with your opinion on what I should do..

A: I’m happy to see your interest in automotive design. The first thing you need to do is study, study, study. Even if you can draw, you need to hone all of your skills while you’re in high school. The only way you can work under “automotive giants” is to be exceptional in school.

You’ll need to start performing right now. Even in your young teens, people look at your accomplishments. I recommend competing in design competitions aimed at high school students. Show you can design a variety of things while gaining experience and extracurricular credit. Check out to obtain inspiration.

There are about a dozen schools in the United States that offer Automotive Design.

“Some automobile design programs may include topics in materials and processes, computer-aided design and drafting, science, mathematics, automotive design and descriptive geometry. Specific automotive design courses cover areas such as technical creativity, design for manufacturing and assembly, vehicle packaging, design terminology and vehicle electronic systems.” – –

Automotive design is a small, competitive racket that only a handful of people master.

I wish you luck.


saturn-sc 1990

This next one comes from a viewer who misses General Motor’s old Saturn brand.

Q: Hi Nathan,

Do you miss Saturn? I do. I had three of them and I loved each one. I had a SL1 that lasted over 150,000 miles before I traded it in on a sweet 1997 SC2. My current Saturn is a 2003 LW200 and it’s time for it to retire. I wish Saturn were still around today. Even though I don’t think much of the big wagon, the smaller, earlier Saturns were simple and reliable.

What should I get to replace the LW200?

P.B. Lakewood

A: I can dig it my friend.

I had two Saturn and one of my family members had one that was in a bad accident; it protected her nicely. I had an earlier SC2 and it was a great little car. I did some mods and it was surprisingly quick in the canyons. I liked the whole Saturn vibe and thought it was a great PR model for GM… that was before the dark times… before the Saturn Ion Sedan.

Saturn had the potential to be the “go-to” automaker for young drivers who needed something inexpensive, reliable and fun. General Motors never made the sizeable investments needed to keep Saturn competitive and their products languished in a world of mediocrity. Sadly, the brand lost its way and Saturn went away in 2010. Pity.

Fortunately, automakers like Hyundai, Fiat, Scion and KIA have some good products that seem to share that original Saturn magic. If you want to stick with General Motors products, the Spark, Sonic and Trax may interest you.

Buck up my friend, we all have the fond memories of those cool Saturn owner gatherings in Spring Hill, Tennessee (they really did meet up annually).

Those dent-resistant panels (on the early models) were awesome!



Nissan Note DIG S 1

This viewer is debating over a 2015 Nissan Versa Sedan vs a Nissan Versa Hatchback!

Q: Hi Nathan,

I know you’re not wild about the 2015 Nissan Versa, but I also know you think it’s a good bargain. I am trying to choose between the Nissan Versa SL Sedan loaded or a Nissan Versa Note SV with a few items for about $18,000. They both have the same engines and transmissions, but the Nissan Versa Sedan has a ton of upgrades, including nice wheels.

Which one would you get?


A: Good question, but I think you’re already leaning towards the Nissan Versa Sedan; and why not? It’s huge inside, has a big trunk and lots of upgrades. You’re right about the wheels looking good too (I looked them up). I think this is the car you want when you look at it logically.

I would get the base model Nissan Versa Note personally. I prefer the esthetics of the Versa Note over the Nissan Versa Sedan. I like manual transmissions and simple setups. I would get the base model and select the $800 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheel package. This would bring the price down to $16,000-ish.

My opinion verses your needs makes this conversation somewhat illogical.

Do you need a hatchback for maximum utility or a long sedan with a comfortable rear seat? Do looks matter to you? These are things you’ll need to work out for yourself before buying. My personal opinion is not as important as what you truly need and what will make you happy in the long run.

Thanks for the email!


2015, jeep, renegade
2015 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

This last question comes from a Ranger in New England regarding his ride.

Q: Hi Nathan,

I’m a forester in New England.

I drive 30K miles for work each year and may travel over 300 miles to get to a logging site. I don’t do enough rock crawling to warrant a jeep wrangler (plus their fuel economy stinks). I was doing my job with a Chevy Colorado that the company provided but the truck program was eliminated and I have been using a 15 year old Sbaru Forester the last 6-month with little issues ( had to replace a bearing, tires and a windshield but that’s it).

Bottom-line is because of its age I take it where it probably shouldn’t go knowing that it may die somewhere. I’m looking for its replacement. It has to have a combine 23 mpg and at least 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

I’m looking to stay around $25K or below. Factory skid plates would be nice but if I went with the Subaru I could put on the plates. What are you thoughts on these vehicles or could you suggest another make and model to consider.


G. N.E.

A: Ah, the old “I’m a Forester in New England” conundrum. There are very few choices out there.

You can stick with a newer version of what you have now and get aftermarket skid-plates. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is surprisingly good, but the tires need to be upgraded, it’s not very fast and it only has 8.5-inches of ground clearance. The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk is very impressive, but the base price may exceed your price bracket by a hair.

There is another choice that I recently suggested to a government employee who had similar needs. Have a look at the current model Toyota Tacoma 4X4 with the 2.7-liter, four-cylinder and five-speed manual transmission. It’s not quite as frugal with combined mpg and it’s right up there with the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, but it’s ridiculously reliable. Toyota is starting to deal as they are getting rid of the current batch of Tacomas as the all-new Tacoma is coming soon.

Perhaps you could get a good deal?

Thanks for the question!


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Nathan Adlen Bio Picture Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. His words, good humor and videos are enjoyed worldwide.