May 22, 2013
Written by Steven Macoy
Friday, 30 July 2010 14:05
Not so many years ago, the Toyota Camry was the gold standard for midsize sedans and the Nissan Altima was an also-ran. Always a nice-looking car, it was handicapped by bland performance and handling, as well as controls and cabin surfaces that felt cheap.
But performance and overall quality have caught up to the Altima’s appealing lines and curves. Today, it’s arguably the best of the midsize, midpriced family cars, holding off (for now) the surging American and Korean models.Altima buyers can choose among a four-door sedan with a four-cylinder engine, starting at $19,900; a V-6-powered sedan with a base price of $24,520; and a two-door coupe that’s available with either engine as well as a six-speed stick shift or continuously variable automatic. A gasoline-electric hybrid Altima, which we test-drove last year, gets good but not great fuel economy, at a cost of sharply reduced trunk space to accommodate the lithium ion battery, and a higher price.
The six-speed used to be offered on sedans, but all of the four-door models, including the hybrid, now have the CVT. Drivers who want all-wheel rather than front-wheel drive will have to look elsewhere.
Our dark red 2010 Altima 3.5 SR sedan had the award-winning, 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6. Options brought the sticker price to $30,165. They included a Premium Package that added leather upholstery, XM satellite radio, seat heaters and other flourishes; and a Sport Package (rear spoiler, fog lights, xenon headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control and power moon roof).
The V-6 engine and CVT work well together, producing a quiet yet invigorating level of power. Some reviewers say the 175-horsepower, four-cylinder version offers a smoother ride, probably because of its lighter front-end weight and the lack of a sport-tuned suspension, standard in V-6 models.
A member of our family owns an older, high-mileage Altima with the four-cylinder engine. Ride and refinement comparisons don’t wash, but we can assert with confidence that the older Altima has ample power for most drivers. Similarly equipped to our test car, a new four-cylinder model would cost about $2,000 less and average at least three miles per gallon more.
Front seating comfort, visibility and ergonomics are exceptional. The layout, including the gauge array with three interlocking rings, is comfortably conventional.
The back seat is less spacious than some in this segment, as the Altima’s sculpted lines intrude on head room. Compensating for this drawback is a good-sized trunk, with 15.3 cubic feet of capacity. Still, a modern midsize family car ought to be able to transport full-sized adults in reasonable comfort in the back seat, and the Altima doesn’t quite get it done.
Our Altima was rated at 20 mpg city, 27 highway, better than some of its four-cylinder competitors. It gets high marks for reliability and safety, with five-star ratings across the board in government crash tests.
Moderately priced, fuel-efficient, athletic and reliable, the Altima is a responsible choice that also happens to be fun.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 270 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,357 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17x7.5-inch alloy
Tires: P215/55R17 93V all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 20 gallons
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular
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