SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 2.4-liter 16-valve inline 4 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 150 hp @ 5,600 rpm/154 ft-lbs @ 4,400 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic FUEL ECONOMY: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 21.8 mpg test WHEELBASE: 103.1 in.OVERALL LENGTH: 180.5 in. OVERALL HEIGHT: 55.9 in. OVERALL WIDTH: 67.1 in. CURB WEIGHT: 2,972 lbs FUEL CAPACITY: 15.9 gal. LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 14.0 cu. ft. TIRES: P195/65R15 INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, digital clock. EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with in-dash CD, anti-lock braking, dual air bags. STICKER PRICE: $19,508
There are any number of good compact sedans on the road today. You make your choice by price, performance, brand loyalty, or design, and you can still have a pretty wide selection. They're all pretty good. Some have more redeeming social values than others and some have considerably less.
The car this week is the Nissan Altima. I would rank it right in the middle of the wide field of compact sedans. It's made in Tennessee, which, for the pro-Americans is a good point. For the pro-Japanese cars, it's made by Nissan, so you can please a lot of people with this car.
However, like the other major manufacturer who makes cars in Tennessee, it has a slightly buzzy engine. This engine is a 2.4-liter inline four that's rated at 150 horsepower. It drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic gearbox. The engine isn't objectionably noisy. When it's asked to work it lets you know it's working. And it makes you pay for the performance with a little growl.
But it's also capable of keeping up with any other car on the highway up to ticketable speeds. The only area where this four might have a deficiency is in hard acceleration, such as pulling away from stop signs or entering highways from exit ramps. You can learn to deal with this. The car isn't dangerously underpowered, and a few days behind the wheel will educate the owner/driver well enough to learn the technique.
Once the Altima gets going though, it's as capable as any other car of getting you a ticket for over exuberance.
For example, we found that the Altima was comfortable at 65-70 mph on most highways. Obviously the better the road was the higher the speed. Anything above 70 was uncomfortable, though. And 70 mph is good enough for any highway.
The Altima is a five-seater with individual seats up front and a bench in the back. The front seats have a little bit of side support, but not a lot. But the Altima is not one of those great handling cars that you'd want to go tearing around corners in, so excellent side support isn't necessary. On the other hand, there isn't excessive lean from the suspension either, so you'll be able to handle those corners comfortably, as well as most of the roads you'll encounter in the car.
Some of the roads I take in my commute are pretty horrible. There's a rumor they'll be repaved next year, but until that time they're a good test of suspension design in that the car will tell me where every expansion joint is and every uneven road surface is. On most highways the ride in the Altima is comfortable and you'll enjoy the ride in the car.
The rear seat folds down to increase the 14 cubic foot trunk to over 20 cubic feet. You can almost use the Altima as a station wagon in a pinch.
Like many cars this year, the Altima has been restyled to provide a bulkier trunk. The rear of the car is broader and the trunk appears taller and has good capacity. the tallness of the trunk is important because it can now accommodate grocery bags without crushing the eggs or chips you have in the top.
This was a well-equipped Altima. We had cruise control with switches on the steering wheel, an AM/FM stereo sound system with a cassette and in-dash CD, power accessories, and tasteful wood trim on the dash and console. The HVAC system was excellent. At this time of year all we get to check is the heating side, and the Altima's windshield defrosted quickly and my toes defrosted quickly as well.
The Nissan Altima isn't going to knock your socks off. It's a very capable automobile that will do anything anyone asks of it. The car has decent performance on the highway and twisting roads as well. My initial guess was that the Altima would be priced at $16,000 to $17,000 and I discovered that the bottom line was closer to $20,000. If that was my only complaint with the car then it did fairly well.