SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide
The Altima has been a tremendous success for Nissan, with over 700,000 sold since its introduction nearly five years ago. With solid construction, a spunky and economical engine, and sporty handling wrapped in a uniquely-styled, conveniently-sized package, it served notice that Nissan was a serious player in the sedan market. The first-generation Altima aged well. But, five years is a long time in the auto industry. To keep ahead of the competition, the 1998 Altima has been given a makeover. Subtly restyled and slightly enlarged inside and out, it has a more contemporary look. Under the new skin, mechanical refinements make for smoother, quieter operation. The 1998 Nissan Altima builds on the first-generation car's strengths.
As before, the new Altima was designed at Nissan Design International in Southern California, and is built in Smyrna, Tennessee. Although it uses the same basic chassis and engine parts as the first- generation car, and the same precise construction methods, nearly every piece has been refined. The Altima lineup remains the same, with value-leader XE, volume GXE, sporty SE, and luxury GLE models. "Value" is more than a buzzword, as savings in development and manufacturing costs have been passed on to the customers. The 1998 model year Altima gives more car for less money than previously.
It is more difficult to improve on success than failure, and Nissan's designers had to be very careful not to damage the characteristics that made the original Altima a success. They did well, as I found during my week with a '98 Altima GLE. It had all of the good points of the old Altima, with more room and refinement. APPEARANCE: The little jelly bean has matured, been to the gym, and lost its baby fat. The basic shape and proportion remain, but have been toned and made more muscular. Where the original was rounded at the edges, the new Altima has definition. In silhouette side view, the '98 model looks almost the same as previous versions, with the hood, passenger cabin, and rear deck flowing gently together. The edges and corners are crisper, although a long way from boxy. At the front, a new Maxima-like oval grille, with chromed horizontal bar on the GLE model, is flanked by "jewel" headlights. Above the grille, a sharp crease at the leading edge of the hood and well-defined fender lines higher than the center of the hood are the most notable changes. The greenhouse and doors are subtly different, while the trunk lid has an integrated "ducktail" spoiler at its rear edge. Large wraparound taillights distinguish the new Altima at night.
COMFORT: The Altima GLE has always been "the affordable luxury sedan" of the Nissan lineup, and is now even more so. It has the fit and finish and all of the expected appointments of contemporary "near luxury" sedans at a far lower price. Leather upholstery and door trim, and the same woodgrain paneling as used in Nissan's upscale Infiniti line grace the interior. The tilt-adjustable steering wheel is leather covered, as well. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, with the driver's seat power-adjustable. A new instrument panel has very good placement of instruments and controls, and plenty of climate- control vents. The GLE's climate control system works very well, even in 100-degree heat. A high-quality AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system is standard GLE equipment, as are power windows, mirrors, doorlocks, and remote keyless entry. Rear passengers have more room than before, and the rear seat now can fold down with a 60/40 split. The sizeable trunk has a medium liftover height and a protected latch to prevent snags.
SAFETY: All 1998 Nissan Altima models have front and rear crumple zones, side-guard door beams, and second-generation, lower-powered air bags as standard equipment. Antilock brakes are optional.
ROADABILITY: Compared to the first-generation Altima, the 1998 GLE has a more rigid chassis structure and revised suspension tuning, resulting in improved ride quality and handling -- and the previous Altima was not exactly deficient in those categories. It's a nimble front-wheel drive car with ride comfort and quietness that are at the head of its class.
PERFORMANCE: The 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine used in the 1998 Altima is the same powerplant used previously. Like nearly everything else in the car, it has been refined for smoother, quieter operation. It now makes more power at lower engine speeds, for improved everyday performance. The 4-speed, electronically- controlled automatic transmission standard on the GLE is shared with the Maxima, and is very smooth and unobtrusive in operation. Altima engines are now assembled in a new plant in Dechard, Tenn.
CONCLUSIONS: The 1998 Nissan Altima shows how to make a good car better. In top-of-the-line GLE trim, it's getting ever closer to being an entry-level Infiniti. The "affordable luxury sedan" is now more affordable and more luxurious.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 19,890 Price As Tested $ 22, 086 Engine Type inline 4-cylinder, dual overhead cams, 16 valves Engine Size 2.4 liters / 146 cu. in. Horsepower 150 @ 5600 Torque (lb-ft) 154 @ 4400 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 103.1 in. / 183.1 in. Curb Weight 3012 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 20.1 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P195/65 R15 Firestone Affinity Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent MacPherson strut with Super Toe Control Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 30 / 26 0 to 60 mph 9.9 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) est 17.0 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Antilock Brakes $ 499 Power Sunroof with map lights $ 849 Floor Mats $ 79 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels $ 299 Destination charge $ 470