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Review: 2002 NISSAN ALTIMA 3.5 SE

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SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


      Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 22,349
      Price As Tested                                    $ 26,363
      Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
      Engine Size                                 213 cid/3498 cc
      Horsepower                                   240 @ 5800 RPM
      Torque (lb-ft)                               246 @ 4400 RPM
      Wheelbase/Width/Length                  110.2"/70.4"/191.5"
      Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
      Curb Weight                                     3274 pounds
      Fuel Capacity                                  20.0 gallons
      Tires  (F/R)                  P215/55R17 all season H-rated
      Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
      Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
      Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
      Domestic Content                                        N/A
      Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


      EPA Economy, miles per gallon
         city/highway/average                            21/26/23
      0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
      1/4 (E.T.)                          16.0 seconds @ 90.5 mph
      Top-speed                                           120 mph
                  * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

             The old Nissan Altima can definitely be compared to a meek, Mister Peepers high school boy. Serious about its work and beautiful at heart, he was somewhat clumsy at sports and ignored by the top social circles.

     The 2002 Nissan Altima is that same boy after a summer of pumping 
iron, getting the right haircut, acquiring a new, confident social 
attitude and an athletic demeanor. The "new kid" forces the whole 
school to stand up and take notice. Like that boy, the Altima has changed.

     Available in Base, S, SL and SE, the 2002 Altima SE just waltzed 
into the prom, and we're still catching our breath.

     OUTSIDE - The new look is a dramatic step in an upscale styling 
direction. Nissan took that step several years ago when it completely 
redesigned the Maxima, and many of those styling cues went into the 
design of the new Altima. The shape is both striking and pleasing, and 
it stands out in the crowd. This particular segment of the car business 
sells best, and most in the class are bland and boring, with emotion 
and excitement being left to aftermarket enhancements. But the 
shovel-nose look of the Altima is exciting, with its steeply raked 
windshield, Euro-styled roof line and flat-plane tail end. Our top-line 
V6 model wore six-spoke alloy wheels, 17 inches in size, along with 
55-series high performance tires. Jeweled head and tail light lenses, 
and twin chrome exhaust tips give it a rich look.
     INSIDE - A seven-inch increase in wheelbase, along with more width 
and height, have increased interior space 10-percent. The three-pod 
dashboard has highly legible orange back-lit dials and protrudes from 
the deep dash-top, where a center console houses easy-to-use audio and 
climate controls. We'd like to see richer-looking plastics used 
throughout the cabin, although it's common practice in cars in this 
market niche. For us, the front bucket seats could use a more lateral 
support and some extra thigh bolstering, as it's obviously tailored to 
fit the masses. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and combined 
with the powered driver's seat, should give nearly any size driver a 
suitable driving position. Standard Altima SE features include remote 
keyless entry, variable speed intermittent wipers, air conditioning, 
cruise control, a lockable, 60/40 split folding rear seat, power 
windows, outside mirrors and door locks, leather wrapped steering 
wheel, and a mid-line AM/FM/CD stereo.

     ON THE ROAD - For years, the Altima had been powered only by a 
four- cylinder engine. The automotive press demanded more power, even 
if it meant being supplied by an optional package. And while the 
lower-end Altima models can still be had with four cylinder power, 
(it's a 180-horse, 2.5-liter unit) Nissan has quieted critics in a big 
way. For the first time, a 3.5-liter, 240 horsepower V6 is available, 
which turns Altima into a real street-screamer. It's an all-aluminum 
unit, using all the power-enhancing technology found in today's best 
engines. Such design science includes dual overhead cams, four valves 
per cylinder, variable valve timing and "drive-by wire" throttle 
control. It can be ordered with either a five-speed manual or a 
four-speed automatic transmission.

     BEHIND THE WHEEL - To make a strong platform even stronger, Altima 
now benefits from a one-piece body-side structure framing the doors. 
This, Nissan says, improves structural rigidity by 70 percent, which is 
noticed most in its taut and quiet road-going attitude. Extensive use 
of aluminum in the suspension system has reduced unsprung weight, while 
a new layout for the rear system has reduced friction and suspension 
wind-up as well as providing better damping and less ride harshness. 
Altima's rack-and-pinion steering system is well-weighted and gives the 
driver a good feel for what the front end is doing. Braking is by 
four-wheel discs with an available anti-lock braking system (ABS) 
that's bundled together as a safety package that adds front, side and 
head curtain airbags. Brake Assist, a system that automatically applies 
maximum braking pressure in a panic stop, is standard.

     SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags, brake assist and side-impact door 
beams are standard; traction control (only with an automatic
transmission) side-impact and side-curtain airbags are optional.

     OPTIONS - ABS and Airbags Package, $749; uplevel stereo, $899; 
power glass sunroof, $849; rear spoiler, $399; floor mats, $70; uplevel 
headlights, $499.