SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide
The first Altima was one of Nissan's most successful car launches ever when it debuted for the 1993 model year. Its small-midsized / large compact size was just right for many people, and its combination of then-contemporary styling and precise fit and finish won acclaim. 1998 saw the second-generation Altima, an evolutionary development of the original with edgier styling and refinements to nearly every part. The first Altima had a normal product life span, but the second seems to have lasted a bit less time.
It's no secret that Nissan has been in dire financial straits in recent years, but the company is very serious about survival. New vehicles like the Xterra SUV and extensive revisions to all existing cars and trucks are its strategy. So the two-year old second-generation Altima has been given a makeover for 2000.
Nothing is radically changed in this year's Altima, but few things have been left alone. The styling is superficially similar, but ever so slightly different. The engine and transmissions have been significantly upgraded, and the suspension tweaked for improved handling and ride comfort. Little was wrong with the '99 Altima, and many manufacturers would be tempted to save money by keeping such a car unchanged. Not today's Nissan. Last Fall, I had the opportunity to drive similarly-equipped 1999 and 2000 Altimas back-to-back at a local press introduction. The '99 felt pretty good...until I stepped into the 2000 model. It didn't feel radically different, it was just that much more poised and precise in its abilities. The ultimate Altima. Dialed-in, to use a racer's term.
The 2000 Altima is offered in four trim levels, XE, GXE, GLE, and SE. The sporty version, an SE with a five- speed manual gearbox, has been my transportation for the past week. Its combination of room and comfort, energetic performance, nimble handling, and reasonable fuel economy makes it a winner.
APPEARANCE: A careful look is needed to distinguish the new Altima from last year's version, even when they are parked side by side. The basic shape is unchanged, but the details differ. Not quite boxy but far from the original "jellybean", the new Altima has a half-inch lower front end with a larger, more oval grille. A new rear fascia features restyled taillights and a prominent bumper. The new car is two inches longer.
COMFORT: The Altima is bigger than compact and smaller than midsized, which makes it a very convenient size. It's roomy enough for four, or even five, if the rear passengers aren't too large, with more room than in any compact sedan. Rear legroom is especially good for the size of the car, but anyone in the center position had best be very small - not unusual even for some midsized sedans. In SE trim, the Altima's appointments are classic Nissan sport, with the signature black-on-white instruments. Like the exterior, the interior looks superficially the same, but it actually considerably different. A new instrument cluster and redesigned console, and new visors with extensions add convenience. The new front bucket seats are comfortable for everyday use, with adjustable lumbar support on the driver's side in the SE. Convenient storage areas, a locking glovebox, the 60/40 split folding rear seat, and a healthy trunk make the Altima a versatile car.
SAFETY: All 2000 Altimas have dual second-generation front airbags, child-safety rear door locks, side-guard door beams, and three-point safety belts for all seating positions. Front side airbags are standard on the GLE model and available on GXE and SE models.
ROADABILITY: The 2000 Altima may not look very different from a 1999 model, but it feels more solid and poised on the road, with better handling thanks to improved suspension control and a more rigid chassis. The fully- independent suspension has been retuned on all models, and those with 16-inch wheels, including the SE, have a front strut tower brace for even more rigidity, lower-profile tires for improved turning response, and acceleration-sensitive shock valving to help improve both comfort and handling. The ride is well-controlled and comfortable around town and on the highway, and the shocks firm up for more precise control when speeds increase. The Altima SE an enjoyably entertaining car than combines comfort and handling.
PERFORMANCE: The engine in the 2000 Altima looks the same as that in the 1999 version, and has the same 2.4-liter displacement. But internal enhancements have given it more horsepower and torque, lower emissions, and lower maintenance requirements. Its 155 hp at 5600 rpm is 5 hp more than previously; the 156 lb-ft of torque is up by two. This may not sound like much, but it feels like more, thanks in part to lower final drive gearing and revised gearbox ratios that improve acceleration. Unlike some competitors that develop maximum power at maximum revs, the Altima does its best right from a start. This makes it quick in traffic and around town, and lets it work effortlessly with an automatic transmission. My test car had the standard sporty 5-speed manual, which is easy to use and does improve performance. But the 4-speed automatic is also an excellent choice thanks to the engine's torque characteristics.
CONCLUSIONS: Welcome the Nissan Altima, Version 2.5 for the year 2000.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 18,640 Price As Tested $ 22,423 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.4 liters / 146 cu. in. Horsepower 155 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 156 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual (4-speed automatic available) Wheelbase / Length 103.1 in. / 185.8 in. Curb Weight 2930 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.9 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement regular unleaded gasoline, 87 octane Tires P205/55 HR16 Firestone Firehawk GTA 02 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc (SE only) Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent strut Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 31 / 24 0 to 60 mph 8.3 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.4 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Antilock braking system $ 499 Immobilizer enhancement system $ 199 Sunroof $ 849 Floor mats $ 79 Mudguards $ 89 Front side airbags $ 249 Leather seating surfaces $ 1,299 Destination charge $ 520