New Car Review

1998 NISSAN ALTIMA GLE

by Tom Hagin

nissan

SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,890
Price As Tested                                    $ 22,086
Engine Type                            2.4 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 146 cid/2389 cc
Horsepower                                   150 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               154 @ 4400 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.1"/69.1"/183.1"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3015 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/65R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/30/27
0-60 MPH                                          9 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.2 seconds @ 82.5 mph
Top speed                                           110 mph
     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

When the Nissan Altima was first introduced in 1993, the automotive press forecast it as a quick success for Nissan. And it sold briskly, thanks to its seemingly perfect size, lengthy standard equipment list, modern looks and comfortable ride. But best of all, it came out at around $13,000, and was very well-equipped.

A remake of the car was inevitable, but Nissan was careful not to alter Altima's strengths - it just put some polish to the package.

OUTSIDE - The outline may be recognizable, but there have been major changes in its shape. A new, radical look wasn't the goal, according to Nissan, only a simple trimming and toning were needed to follow the former model's successful shape. A new grille with a single horizontal bar stretches across its opening, and new headlamps and lower valance assembly give it a cleaner, fresher appearance. The rear flanks have been massaged as well, with noticeably more slope to the trunk, rear window and taillamps. It is also 3.4 inches longer, 1.6 inches wider and a bit taller and heavier than before. Aerodynamic attention has brought a more slippery shape, and with it a lowered coefficient of drag - from 0.34 to 0.32. Our test model GLE was wearing optional alloy wheels and set of General-brand all-season 195/65R15 tires.

INSIDE - Owners of previous Altimas who complained about the front seats' lack of support would like the support of the new model's chairs. The rear bench seat is still a tight squeeze for three adults, but there's ample head and leg and shoulder room for two. It's also split in a 60/40 fashion (except on XE models), and folds for access to the trunk. The interior is now more open and spacious, thanks to a low dashboard and thinner, stronger roof pillars. Its instruments are large and easily read, while the buttons, knobs and controls are big enough to quickly find while driving. Standard features on all Altimas include full instrumentation, power windows and mirrors, a tilt steering column and a rear window defroster with timer. Our top-line GLE model featured such standards as leather upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control, variable-speed intermittent wipers, remote keyless entry, a 100-watt AM/FM cassette/CD system and an eight-way power driver's seat.

ON THE ROAD - Powering Altima is a revised version of the 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine that powered the last generation model. It still produces the same 150 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque of before, but internal modifications such as lighter pistons, and a low-friction crankshaft, camshaft and piston rings have given it more pull at a lower rpm range. The four gives good acceleration and freeway cruising power, along with very respectable (21 city/29 highway) fuel economy. It also doesn't display the "buzziness" of many four-bangers, in part due to extra soundproofing insulation. A five-speed manual transmission is standard in the first three models, (XE, GXE, SE) while a four-speed automatic is standard with GLE models; optional with the rest.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The new Altima's chassis is 20 percent stiffer than last year, and is an evolution of the original platform. With the added strength, Nissan was able to increase the car's track by 1.6 inches front and rear. Track, or the width across the car from the contact point of each tire, really can help the handling of a car. The suspension components underneath the new Altima continue to use struts both up front and in back, just like the first model did, but now the drive feels a bit more refined. It soaks bumps easily, and nearly gives an expensive car ride. Its rack-and-pinion steering is crisp and responsive, and the car handles twisty roads quite well. Braking duties are handled by front disc and rear drum brakes, with an optional anti-lock braking system (ABS). This system works just fine, but we'd prefer to see the luxury Altima model offered with all-disc brakes, just like the sporty SE version.

SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact beams are standard; ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - ABS adds $499, while a sliding glass moonroof, which includes a small overhead console is $849. Aluminum wheels are $299.

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