New Car/Review

1999 Nissan Altima SE

By Tom Hagin

Nissan Full Line factory footage (16:43) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 18,490
     Price As Tested                                    $ 20,857
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 2.4 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 145 cid/2389 cc
     Horsepower                                   150 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               154 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.1"/69.1"/183.5"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2952 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/60R15
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 65 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            24/31/28         
     0-60 MPH                                          9 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17 seconds @ 79.5 mph
     Top speed                                           110 mph

     * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

Expecting Nissan to hit a home-run with a vehicle that it must market in the fiercely competitive midsize automotive segment is asking a lot from the automaker. But if the company's second generation Altima, newly redesigned in 1998, follows the path of the first model, company executives should be pleased.

The Altima is still offered in four trim levels: base XE, value-packed GXE, top-line GLE and our sporty SE test car.

OUTSIDE - In this class of vehicles, there isn't much room for radical breakthrough styling. The new Altima is over three inches longer and just under two inches wider than it was before, yet it weighs a mere eight pounds over the curb weight of the model it replaces. Its new shape expands on the basic design of the original Altima, with a less rounded, more tailored look. The most obvious changes are the sharp accent lines and the rakish rear glass and trunk lid. The front end is new as well, with a new grille and headlamps, and a restyled lower valance with inset foglamps on the SE version. The sleek new shape also brings with it a lower coefficient of drag, down from 0.34 to 0.32.

INSIDE - The extra stretch has added two cubic feet of interior space over the previous generation model, and has brought the inside dimensions closer to that of other cars in the midsize class. Still, don't expect three adults to reside in the back seat without a tight fit. Our SE test model used sporty white-on-black instruments and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, much like those used on the larger, more expensive Nissan Maxima. Subtle improvements to the interior include redesigned seats that offer more comfort and support, and a standard 60/40 semi-split folding rear seat, which allows the opening to the trunk to be larger. Generation II airbags now deploy with less force than the originals. Standard SE features include cruise control, remote keyless entry, variable speed intermittent wipers, a security system, tilt steering, air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo system, and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

ON THE ROAD - Some of Altima's rivals offer the choice of a four cylinder or a V6 engine in one body style, though their price ranges vary greatly. But one of the many reasons Altima became so popular was its peppy 2.4 liter four cylinder. It was relatively powerful, with good 0-to-60 times and good gas milage. The new model still uses this powerplant, and with its 150 horsepower and 154 lb-ft of torque, there wasn't much need to increase the power, only its efficiencies. Changes include lighter pistons, lower friction piston rings and improvements to the crankshaft and camshafts to give it a broader torque curve and a bit more tug at low rpms. The new improvements take away somewhat from its mid and upper-range power, but noise and vibration, a problem that plagues many four cylinder engines, is improved. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, while a four-speed automatic is optional.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - As before, Altima rides on a unit-body construction with MacPherson struts up front and coil-spring struts with transverse and trailing links in the rear. The rear suspension has been enhanced with what Nissan calls Super Toe Control geometry, a layout that's been used on the Maxima for a few years now. Handling is more responsive than before, especially with our SE tester's stiffer springs and shocks, and better tires. Both ends are fitted with anti-roll bars. Nissan claims to have increased the torsional rigidity by 20 percent with refinements to the A-pillars and floorpan, and by using higher strength steel in some areas of the substructure. Also, extra insulating material under the carpet helps keep noise and vibration from reaching inside the cabin. Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes (SE model only) with an optional anti-lock braking system (ABS).

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

OPTIONS - Leather seating surfaces: $1,299; ABS: $499; Floor mats: $79; Destination charge: $490.

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