Nissan Altima: Ideal Size and Fun to Drive

By The Car Family

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The Car Family seldom comes across a vehicle that is so utilitarian as the Nissan Altima with the 2.5-liter, 175-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. Not only does it have room for four adults, but consistently gets well over 30 miles per town and over 35 on the highway thanks to the continuous variable automatic transmission. It is a responsive vehicle with a sporty feel, an abundantly sized trunk, and easy to park. Yes, the engine is a growler, but for the list price of about $21,000 US it is a bargain and Nissan dealers and offering some great incentives, too.

We don’t recommend this vehicle with the 3.5 models and the more potent 270-hp 3.5-liter V6 and its six-speed manual transmission is standard as it is just overkill. The larger engine delivers far worse fuel mileage, is very quick, and there really isn’t need for that much speed in a family vehicle. However, if you are into having fun terrorizing owners of much more expensive BMWs and Acuras the 3.5 is the ticket. Literally.

The Altima comes as a coupe and as a sedan hybrid. The hybrid is underrated, but it does not have the fold down rear seat the limits cargo capacity and costs several thousand more than the base Altima. The Nissan hybrid is actually better than the Toyota Camry hybrid for driving pleasure and gets better in town fuel mileage and costs less. Interestingly, the 2.5 engine with the CVT is capable of nearly matching the Nissan hybrid on the highway and we found that if you drive the Altima smoothly it equals the hybrid’s fuel consumption.

Ordering the 3.5 version reduces your gas mileage at least five miles per gallon and requires premium fuel and is costs significantly more. Stick with the 2.5 model, order some options such as the Bose stereo and enjoy having a sporty family sedan.

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Mom’s view: Not the most comfortable seats and there is truly a need for a better way to unlatch the rear seats to fold them down rather than leaning or, if you are short, crawling into the trunk to pull the release cord. Other than that a frisky, frugal, and fun sedan that deserves more praise especially in a competitive market where it has to play against the terrific Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Mitsubishi Galant, and Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura. However, none of these have the combination room, sporty handling, and fuel efficiency of the Altima. Please note that General Motors does not allow us to test any of its vehicles so we are going to reviews we have done of its products two years ago.

Safety wise the superior crash scores of the Altima can be accredited to the occupant safety equipment such as front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags and anti-lock disc brakes. Also available is a navigation system that has a rearview camera, and Nissan has the very best rear view camera.

There are a couple of areas that need to be address with the Nissan and that is the difficulty an adult has in getting in and out of the rear seat. The doors open wide enough, but there isn’t enough room to gracefully get your feet into the vehicle. If you are wearing a dress this is a dreadful situation.

Finally, I must applaud Nissan for having the best cupholders. They are available in three sizes and are easy to reach. As well, Nissan is the only manufacture that has gotten the trunk release correct. When you use the remote to open the trunk the deck lid pops up about six inches making it easy to get your hand under it without getting dirty of having to put down you purchases. Unfortunately, lid hinges intrude into the cargo area and the rear seats don’t fold down completely flat. And, perhaps best of all for those of us who like our backsides warm on the crisp and cool days; the seat warmers work fast and have an even heat pattern without hot spots.

The engine may not be the quietest, but that really isn’t a bother to me. I want performance and exceptional gas mileage and the 2.5 engine delivers both. Overall, a fine value that is easy to park and live with. Best of all the Altima went over 600 miles on one tank of gas thanks to its 20 gallon tank and 30 plus mpg.

Dad’s view: Nissan’s Altima is a strange brew with very sporty handling, sharp steering, and an engine that loudly lets you know it is being pushed. It has some great features such as a fairly tight turning radius and one of the easiest to use dash layouts we’ve seen. There are some fit and finish issues and the ride can be noisy over roughened roads. The brakes are adequate, albeit a bit touchy, but my main concern was the steering, which was sterile in feel. This isn’t a sporty car, but it looks like it is and they might be what matters to some.

The ride is comfortable with a slightly elevated seat height. This does pose a problem, though, as the Altima has a “bump” above the dash that makes it nearly impossible to see stop lights without lowering your head. The controls for the moon roof and map lights are located in this bump so you need to test drive the Altima and see if it is a problem for you as your height would make a difference as well as your seating adjustments. By the way, the seats are very comfortable and the adjustments on the side very simple to use. This is a car with exceptional ergonomics.

As far as the CVT offered on the Altima, it is great except it is a bit slow to “downshift.” If you want terrific fuel mileage the CVT unit is the only one to order. They enable the 2.5 engine to always be on task. If you want to go really fast order the 3.5 engine with nearly 100 more horsepower, but expect a lot of torque steer and you need premium fuel. The smaller engine makes more sense.

After spending a long time in the Altima is was clear that this is a sedan that is underrated and deserving of a wider audience.

Young working woman’s view: Finally got a job and a month later they were sending out layoff notices to a lot of others, but I apparently had the versatility that they needed. The same goes for the Altima 2.5. It has a lot of talents, but isn’t going to overwhelm you with any particular one. The push button start is nice as you can keep the remote in your pocket, and the trunk is large and has a low liftover making it easy to load.

I liked the layout of the Altima, except for the emergency brake that is not mounted near the side of the wheel well, but about six inches closer to the brake pedal. If you are wearing open toed sandals it isn’t difficult to catch one of them as you exit the vehicle.

There was decent visibility in all directions and the steering wheel had a good feel to it. The interior is understated and feels rich and comfortable. The double decker center console has a recharging plug in the lower unit and the glove compartment is also divided into two parts. There is storage on the doors and small seat pockets, too. As for the heater and air-conditioner, the former was slow to respond, but the latter was gold.

Finally, Nissan’s standard warranty is a mundane three-year, 60,000-mile version that simply doesn’t do the Altima justice at a time when people are becoming more focused on reliability and value. Add to that the confuted option packages and you have a vehicle that is interesting, but only if you locate one at the right price. For example, a 2.5 S can be ordered with two Convenience Packages and a SL upgrade. Our 2.5 S listed for $21,540 and had nearly $6000 in options and that didn’t include a navigation unit. They added about $1000 for the Convenience Package with its power driver’s seat and some trim items and ancillary mounted audio controls. The Convenience Plus Package added another $1000 and for that you had a power moonroof and alloy rims. The topper was the SL Package at over $1400 and offered a HomeLink, heated seats, a fancier interior with leather trim pieces, and automatic dimming mirrors. For another $1240 we go the Connection Package with Bluetooth, a Bose audio system, satellite radio, dual zone climate controls, and rear air conditioning vents. You really need to know what you want before shopping for an Altima. I would guess that you could find a well loaded one at the dealership for significantly less than you would pay for a custom ordered package.

I liked the Altima very much. It has a high-quality look and excellent feel. I would buy one before I would buy any of its competitors, but we haven’t driven the Ford Fusion hybrid yet.

Young working male’s view: The deluxe stereo is decent, but not great. It is a difficult to get the sound quality due to the poor antenna location. If you use your iPod or your own music discs it is quite sharp. I also like the way the unit showed what was being played using the satellite radio option. I wouldn’t order the navigation system as Nissan has gotten away from the simple one that made it so great a few years ago with its “bird’s eye view.”

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The Altima is quite handy and feels larger than it is with a high ceiling and expansive front driver and passenger room. The car feels very much like a sports car at times, but has too much lean and an oversensitive steering unit to be taken seriously. I work at http://www.eracks.com making quiet, open source computers and servers at prices that have attracted some of the largest educational and business corporations. So I appreciate quiet ad the Altima just doesn’t have it. The best news is that the optional stereo makes it all good anyway.

Enjoyable, economical, and spacious, the Altima 2.5 is a first-rate choice for a young person or a young family who wants something a bit different, but safe and frugal.

Family conference: A is for Altima, and the 2.5 version is a hit with us. It is not offensive in any way and provides enjoyable basic transportation with a little edge.

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