2000 Nissan Altima Review


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SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

by Ted Laturnus

The four-door sedan market, although beset on all sides by competitors in the form of mini-vans and sport utes, is still the biggest and most competitive market of them all. Models like the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus continue to sell in the hundreds of thousands every year, and most people, when they go shopping for a new car, still think in terms of the conventional four-door sedan.

So what can a manufacturer do to make their product stand out? How can they lure people into their showrooms? In the case of the Nissan Altima, it’s simple: keep the price down. Hard to believe, but a bare bones Altima XE starts at under $20,000, even if it’s only by two bucks.

Still, you can’t get near an Accord or Toyota Camry for less than $24,000, and, in most departments, the Altima is just as good an automobile.

For example, the Altima comes with a 2.4 litre four cylinder engine that develops 155 horsepower at 5600 rpm. This is the only engine choice, but it is substantially bigger and more powerful than any of the competition, and that includes the Accord, Camry, and Mazda 626. Yes, you can order a V6 with these cars, but that bumps the price tag up by a couple of grand. This is one of the biggest four-bangers on the market, and Nissan also use it in their Frontier pickup. For a powerplant of this size, the Altima’s engine is surprisingly smooth and civilized. Ask any automotive engineer and they’ll tell you that once you get over two litres in size with four cylinder engines, you start encountering vibration and balance problems. That’s why many manufacturers fit counterbalancers. Not so with the Altima. Nissan’s engineers have done an admirable job of squeezing as much power out of this engine as they can, without affecting its driveability.

The result is a car with lively performance and an excellent sense of balance. The Altima is a pleasure to drive (with a couple of caveats that I’ll get to in a moment) and will hold its own with anything else in this segment. Not far from where I live, there’s a freeway on-ramp that loops around, cloverleaf style, in a big lazy 360-degree arc. I regularly use it as a kind of impromptu skid pad, to get a quick picture of how a car behaves. Usually, I can take it at around 80 km/h in most of the sedans I test-drive. The Altima surprised the heck out of me….almost 90 km/h with room to spare.

The Altima can also match the competition in terms of standard equipment. The XE comes with power windows, dual front airbags, full instrumentation, block heater, tilt steering, and adjustable front seat belts. A five-speed manual transmission is standard issue, but a four-speed automatic is available. This is one four cylinder that can actually handle the autobox. If you want extras like air conditioning, central locking, ABS, and so on, you have to step up to the GXE or SE, which has leather interior, power sunroof, four-wheel disc brakes and so on. But by then, you’re up to and over the $28,000 mark. Personally, I think the Altima’s real value lies in its stripper models.

For 2000, Nissan has lengthened the made-in-Tennessee Altima by over two inches. It now has interior dimensions roughly on a par with everyone else. A little larger than the 626 and VW Jetta, a titch smaller than the Camry or Accord. Fuel economy, very important here, is 9.7 L/100 km (29 mpg) in the city and 7 L/100 km (40 mpg) hwy. By way of comparison, the Accord four cylinder is almost identical, the Camry, slightly thirstier.

Now about those driving gripes. Two things. First, I could not drive the Altima without pranging my knee-bone against the centre console. To the point where it got very uncomfortable after awhile. If you’re taller, you probably won’t encounter this problem, but shorter folks should take note. Secondly, Nissan need to work on the shift linkage of the five-speed. Happy as I was with the Altima’s handling and braking, I was unpleasantly surprised at how unresponsive the shifter was on my test car. Imprecise, vague-feeling, stiff, uncooperative. Maybe it’s just a matter of breaking the car in, but if this is the best they can do here, I would suggest looking at the automatic.

Nonetheless, the Altima is one of the best deals going in the mid-size four-door sedan market right now. Maybe that’ll get ‘em into the showrooms.

SPECS -

Price range: $19,998 - $28,598 Drivetrain: 2.4 litre four cylinder engine; five speed manual/four-speed automatic transmission Power: 155 hp @ 5600 rpm Fuel economy: 9.7 L/100 km (29 mpg) city/7 L/100 km (40 mpg) hwy. Brakes: Front disc/rear drum w. optional four-wheel-disc ABS Wheelbase: 2619 mm (103.1 in.) Curb weight: 1304 kilograms (2875 lb.)

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