The Nissan Altima offers an interesting alternative to those looking for a compact sedan. It's just slightly off the mainstream in several areas - styling, ride and handling, interior layout - and these traits give it an appealing character that makes it stand out from the crowd.
The Altima was introduced in 1993, and because it has been setting a strong sales record all along, a natural conclusion is that Nissan must be doing something right. We think what appeals to buyers is the well-appointed interior, distinctive styling and exceptional roadability, all available at a reasonably affordable price and with commendably good fuel economy.
The Altima is available in four trim levels: XE, GXE, sportier SE and top-of-the-line GLE. The price differential from the base XE to a fully equipped GLE will be more than $5000, so there's a lot of room in the Altima line to suit a wide range of budgets. Final assembly of all Altimas takes place at Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation in Smyrna, Tennessee.
The Altima has a striking exterior, with some of the heavily rounded-off look and detailing of the Infiniti J30 (Infiniti is Nissan's luxury line, and the Altima and J30 were both styled at Nissan Design International in California). This drop-shouldered look, the unified and rounded shape of the side window openings, and details such as the elliptical door handles (all signatures borrowed from Infiniti) give the Altima a certain elegance and distinction that sets it apart from the majority of compact sedans.
Depending on your viewpoint, under the hood is one of the Altima's best or worst features: a 2.4-liter, 16-valve
4-cylinder engine. It's rated at 150 hp, offers good low-speed torque for respectably responsive acceleration and scores well on the fuel economy scale. But it lacks the smoothness, verve and performance of a V6 and detracts from the Altima's luxury feel.
With the XE, GXE and SE models, a 5-speed manual transmission is standard. A 4-speed electronically controlled automatic is optional on those three models and standard on the GLE. Brakes are discs in front and drums in the rear, but
4-wheel discs with anti-lock braking (ABS) are available as an option. If you must consider only one option, we heartily endorse ABS as one of the most worthwhile of safety features.
Standard safety features include dual airbags, 3-point belts at all outboard seating positions, and childproof rear door locks. Other standard items include power steering, halogen headlamps, tinted glass with a dark upper windshield band, and dual power mirrors.
Changes for 1995 are minor. Outside are a new grille, taillamps, badging and five new exterior colors. Inside are new seat and door-trim cloth on the SE and GLE, a new center console armrest and the inclusion of a leather-wrapped steering wheel with the GLE leather package.
The Altima's interior has the same sort of distinction as the exterior, with a look of elegance and luxury. The instrument panel has a graceful, sweeping curvature. On all but the XE there's wood-pattern trim, and if you opt for the leather in the SE or GLE, you'll find it's tastefully crafted in that expensive-looking wrinkled style that's become so popular these days on luxury cars.
Ergonomics are also about as good as they get - everything you need to operate is both easy to see and easy to use.
Standard interior features on all trim levels include a tilt steering wheel, rear defroster, cupholders, lockable glove box, dual visor vanity mirrors, cut-pile carpeting, adjustable headrests, and remote releases for the trunk, hood and fuel filler door.
On the GXE, SE and GLE, the standard equipment list includes power windows and door locks, center console and rear-seat center armrest with trunk pass-through.
There is also a variety of sound systems, including an AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD players and Dolby sound. Automatic temperature-control air conditioning is an option on the high-line GLE only.
Probably the weakest aspect of the Altima's interior is that it's not overly large. The EPA rates it as a compact, while competitors such as the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 626 and Buick Regal are rated in the midsize category. This means acceptable space for four adults, but five (depending on their size) may be a pinch.
Over-the-road behavior is one of the Altima's strongest suits. Nissan's engineers worked hard at giving the car excellent handling traits in a way that could be appreciated by most drivers (instead of just racers and sports-car enthusiasts), and that work paid off.
At the same time, the Altima delivers a well-controlled, comfortable ride that is apparent on long highway cruises or over rough, secondary roads.
One of the primary targets of the engineers was steering feel, and in this category the Altima scores well. You'll notice, for example, while driving briskly along a curving mountain road that the steering sends accurate messages from the front tires to you, giving a feeling of confidence and security. On the other hand, it also provides excellent power assist in low-speed, tight maneuvering, such as what you'd encounter in crowded parking lots, where steering ease is so desirable.
On rough roads the suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps that are either big or harsh or both, aided by a structure that feels tight, solid and rigid. The Altima has what its engineers call "Super Toe Control" rear suspension, meaning a system that maintains a more optimum alignment of the rear tires during driving maneuvers. All in all, the Altima offers one of the better driving experiences in the midrange sedan class.
We would like more power, though. The 4-cylinder engine is willing but just can't match the smoother, more powerful V6 engines that are becoming increasingly popular with sedan owners.
Compared with a modern V6, the Altima's 4-cylinder is noisier, rougher and less sprightly. Much of the time, as when cruising easily around town, the driver might not notice. But step down on the gas pedal, as when accelerating hard to merge on the freeway, and the 4-cylinder will make itself heard and felt.
With good V6 engines available from a wide range of nameplates - including the new Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique and the Chrysler Cirrus/ Dodge Stratus - the Altima seems behind the competition on this score.
The 4-cylinder engine may have some fuel economy benefits when compared with the V6 offerings, but we'd gladly pay the difference.
Nissan says the Altima offers "affordable luxury," and we think that would be a fair way to put it. The Altima enjoys a price advantage over much of its likely competition, particularly when you consider the level of luxury features and appointments.
In addition, it provides a superior driving experience when compared with many other sedans in its general size and price category, and it displays the kind of ride and handling behavior that most drivers can probably recognize and appreciate.
There are certainly lots of good sedans worthy of your purchasing dollar. What the Altima offers is an alternative to the majority, a unique blend of characteristics that large numbers of buyers have found appealing. It stands out from the crowd, not like a sore thumb, but with a level of style, flair, luxury and flavor missing from many models.
Build and price your dream Nissan Altima in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2013 Nissan Altima$16,590 | 10,105 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$11,998 | 44,145 mi
2012 NISSAN ALTIMA$13,984 | 48,454 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$13,986 | 55,872 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$14,895 | 30,229 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$15,400 | 24,711 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$15,947 | 45,940 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$16,867 | 45,439 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$17,987 | 79,406 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$17,994 | 16,515 mi
2012 Nissan Altima$17,996 | 39,410 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$11,995 | 62,957 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$15,768 | 40,220 mi
2011 NISSAN ALTIMA HYBRID$15,799 | 42,921 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$15,996 | 46,204 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$16,897 | 25,495 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$16,995 | 35,076 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$16,995 | 32,014 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$16,995 | 31,328 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$16,996 | 30,868 mi
2011 Nissan Altima$22,799 | 3,266 mi
2010 Nissan Altima$14,994 | 80,220 mi
2010 Nissan Altima$15,996 | 69,031 mi
2010 Nissan Altima$16,300 | 28,357 mi
2010 Nissan Altima$17,372 | 72,922 mi
2010 Nissan Altima$18,990 | 46,393 mi
2009 Nissan Altima$12,899 | 76,993 mi
2008 NISSAN ALTIMA$12,995 | 113,960 mi