Road Impressions: Nissan Altima- a very pleasant surprise

Andrew Frankl

Getting out of a Mercedes 500SL into almost any other car must be some sort of a disappointment but to my surprise the new Nissan Altima proved to be anything but.

First of all it is very roomy. It is wider than the previous model, in fact it is two inches wider and three inches longer. It feels like a big car with its large windows and adequate headroom even with the optional sunroof. The colour of the test car-a sort of metallic bronze is probably the sort of colour that will attract SFPD's finest only in extreme circumstances, it would be a lot less obvious at 80 miles per hour on the road to Sacramento than a blood-red Ferrari. Nice, but not in any way ostentatious. Solid, dependable, these are the sort of words that come to mind with this car. It also has a large trunk(boot). The two golf bags were swallowed up with ease and when I went to buy a pair of skis (yes, I know it's only September but have you tried just before Christmas?) with the help of the folding backrests, those too were taken care of with no problem whatsoever. The family all liked it very much, at 70 miles per hour we were carrying on a perfectly quiet conversation as a result of all the sound-proofing that went into the car.

I won't bore you with details of torsional rigidity but I am told by Nissan that that have improved it by some 20%. All in all a very competent car in the 15-20 thousand dollar range depending on the specification as long as you are live in a relatively flat part of United States. When with three people plus golf clubs we attempted to drive up the hills in Berkeley it got somewhat embarrassing. I changed down, put pedal to the metal and heard my passengers cough in a way which suggested that maybe something was lacking... well, it was something that an extra 45 horses could have cured immediately but regrettably these were conspicuous by their absence.

Not to put too fine a point on it the car is lovely but underpowered. The engine sounds very pleasant when not pressed, for normal driving along the highway it's just fine but don't ask for dramatic acceleration and be patient if you are crawling up a long hill. The instrumentation is excellent and all the various knobs and controls are where one expects them in Nissans which is nice because it saves a lot of fumbling and searching, especially in the dark. Also nice is that the car is made in the United States.

Over the years there have been suggestions that only cars made in Japan and Germany were put together properly, well, all I can say is that there were no rattles of any kind that I could detect. It's been ages since I have driven on Firestone tyres and the ones on the car proved to be a pleasant surprise. The company did go through a rough patch but since they've become part of Bridgestone the product has improved beyond recognition.

On TACH's secret test route in the hills of California the grip was excellent and the expected tyre squeal was minimal. They say that competition improves the breed, well it is certainly so in the case of Firestone. (Not to mention proud parent Bridgestone who are currently giving Goodyear a run for their money in Formula One.)

All in all, perfectly competent, much improved car but do ask about a power option-which may be forthcoming - if you are thinking of driving up and down the streets of San Francisco every day to and from work. The test car we had came with various extras such as anti-lock brakes, power sliding roof, floor mats (surely these should be included in the price of every car, even a Yugo!) and 15" aluminum alloy wheels bringing the total to 22 thousand dollars.

The Altima GLE does between 22 and 30 miles per gallon depending on where you live and how you drive. The equipment list makes very impressive reading from leather seats to an eight way adjustable power driver's seat, CFC-free air conditioning and an excellent 100W AM/FM Cassette/CD with six speakers to power door locks, dual illuminated vanity mirrors (very PC ) and a remote keyless entry system to mention but a few. If only Nissans' legendary Mr K. spent less time playing with that Jack Russell and more time looking for the missing ponies he would have an outstanding rather than a good car in the Altima.

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