A Strong Midsize Competitor
When you think of leaders in the midsize car market, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord spring immediately to mind. But do you know who comes in right behind them in sales? The Nissan Altima. Nissan delivered nearly 270,000 Altimas in the U.S last year.
The latest generation Altima, which is now in its third year, is a solid competitor because it matches up favorably with the Accord and Camry in size and equipment, and offers some distinctive features of its own. For example, the Altima’s external dimensions are nearly identical to those of the Camry, and its engines closely match the Accord in size and horsepower. Distinctive features are highlighted by its continuously variable transmission.
Furthermore, the Altima does not have to take a backseat to either of these cars in body styling. This is an attractive car. The Nissan designers gave it a sleek, aerodynamic body, with large, expressive headlights and taillights that make it standout from the crowd. Unfortunately, the interior is more plain-Jane. The dash, in particular, lacks appeal. It’s certainly functional and ergonomically sound, with high-mounted audio and climate controls that are easy to use, but the look is drab. Some distinctive trim would help.
However, it’s hard to fault the Altima on utility. The glove box is huge. The center armrest bin has two tiers, and there is a good size storage compartment right ahead of the gear selector. The trunk is also spacious at 15.3 cu-ft. Passengers have it good too in the Altima. There’s decent head- and legroom, front and rear. And keyless entry and start, a terrific convenience feature, is standard on all but the base model.
Nissan offers the Altima with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with 175 hp, and with a 3.5-liter V-6 that cranks out 270. There is also an Altima Hybrid that uses a detuned version of the four-cylinder, along with an electric motor, to generate 198 hp. The V-6, like the one in my test car was very quiet, yet very responsive. Hit the accelerator and this Altima would scoot to 60 in a little over six seconds.
Teamed with either engine is a six-speed manual gearbox, or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The Accord does not offer this kind of transmission, nor does the Camry, except in its hybrid model. My test car had the CVT, and it was uncannily smooth delivering a seamless flow of power to the front wheels. However, if you like to downshift going into a corner, you will be glad to know that the CVT has a manual shift mode, with six gears.
The Altima is a good handling car, on a par with the best in its class. The steering is sharp, and delivers a decent feel of the road. My 3.5SE test car, with the standard sport suspension, negotiated high-speed turns with confidence and poise. However, the firm suspension and 17-inch wheels made for a stiff, jittery ride on secondary roads. Drivers who prefer more comfort might want to consider one of the other Altima models.
Pricing starts at $20,595 for the base four-cylinder model that provides 23-31 mpg fuel economy. Six-cylinder models begin at $25,875, and deliver 19-27 mpg. The Hybrid goes for $27,345, and gives you 33-35 miles per gallon.
Stiff Ride (SE)