Review: 2002 NISSAN ALTIMA 3.5 SE
SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide
By Tom Hagin SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 22,349 Price As Tested $ 26,363 Engine Type DOHC 24-valve 3.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI* Engine Size 213 cid/3498 cc Horsepower 240 @ 5800 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 246 @ 4400 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 110.2"/70.4"/191.5" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 3274 pounds Fuel Capacity 20.0 gallons Tires (F/R) P215/55R17 all season H-rated Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content N/A Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 21/26/23 0-60 MPH 7.5 seconds 1/4 (E.T.) 16.0 seconds @ 90.5 mph Top-speed 120 mph * Sequential multi-port fuel injection The old Nissan Altima can definitely be compared to a meek, Mister Peepers high school boy. Serious about its work and beautiful at heart, he was somewhat clumsy at sports and ignored by the top social circles. The 2002 Nissan Altima is that same boy after a summer of pumping iron, getting the right haircut, acquiring a new, confident social attitude and an athletic demeanor. The "new kid" forces the whole school to stand up and take notice. Like that boy, the Altima has changed. Available in Base, S, SL and SE, the 2002 Altima SE just waltzed into the prom, and we're still catching our breath. OUTSIDE - The new look is a dramatic step in an upscale styling direction. Nissan took that step several years ago when it completely redesigned the Maxima, and many of those styling cues went into the design of the new Altima. The shape is both striking and pleasing, and it stands out in the crowd. This particular segment of the car business sells best, and most in the class are bland and boring, with emotion and excitement being left to aftermarket enhancements. But the shovel-nose look of the Altima is exciting, with its steeply raked windshield, Euro-styled roof line and flat-plane tail end. Our top-line V6 model wore six-spoke alloy wheels, 17 inches in size, along with 55-series high performance tires. Jeweled head and tail light lenses, and twin chrome exhaust tips give it a rich look. INSIDE - A seven-inch increase in wheelbase, along with more width and height, have increased interior space 10-percent. The three-pod dashboard has highly legible orange back-lit dials and protrudes from the deep dash-top, where a center console houses easy-to-use audio and climate controls. We'd like to see richer-looking plastics used throughout the cabin, although it's common practice in cars in this market niche. For us, the front bucket seats could use a more lateral support and some extra thigh bolstering, as it's obviously tailored to fit the masses. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and combined with the powered driver's seat, should give nearly any size driver a suitable driving position. Standard Altima SE features include remote keyless entry, variable speed intermittent wipers, air conditioning, cruise control, a lockable, 60/40 split folding rear seat, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, leather wrapped steering wheel, and a mid-line AM/FM/CD stereo. ON THE ROAD - For years, the Altima had been powered only by a four- cylinder engine. The automotive press demanded more power, even if it meant being supplied by an optional package. And while the lower-end Altima models can still be had with four cylinder power, (it's a 180-horse, 2.5-liter unit) Nissan has quieted critics in a big way. For the first time, a 3.5-liter, 240 horsepower V6 is available, which turns Altima into a real street-screamer. It's an all-aluminum unit, using all the power-enhancing technology found in today's best engines. Such design science includes dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and "drive-by wire" throttle control. It can be ordered with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. BEHIND THE WHEEL - To make a strong platform even stronger, Altima now benefits from a one-piece body-side structure framing the doors. This, Nissan says, improves structural rigidity by 70 percent, which is noticed most in its taut and quiet road-going attitude. Extensive use of aluminum in the suspension system has reduced unsprung weight, while a new layout for the rear system has reduced friction and suspension wind-up as well as providing better damping and less ride harshness. Altima's rack-and-pinion steering system is well-weighted and gives the driver a good feel for what the front end is doing. Braking is by four-wheel discs with an available anti-lock braking system (ABS) that's bundled together as a safety package that adds front, side and head curtain airbags. Brake Assist, a system that automatically applies maximum braking pressure in a panic stop, is standard. SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, brake assist and side-impact door beams are standard; traction control (only with an automatic transmission) side-impact and side-curtain airbags are optional. OPTIONS - ABS and Airbags Package, $749; uplevel stereo, $899; power glass sunroof, $849; rear spoiler, $399; floor mats, $70; uplevel headlights, $499.