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New Car Review


by Bill Maloney


SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyer's Guide

There's a Time And Place For An Un-Fancy four Door Sedan . . . But With Performance.

So the boss says, "OK you guys, start cranking out road tests of the 1998 models, and soon!" And as we had a Vegas trip scheduled, what place could be better for a real road/trip test of a new model. Time to test an "everyman's" car. Going to Sin City from L.A. you can utilize some neat stretches of highway thati, while patrolled, you can judiciously let it all hang out for a brief spell.

So, what we needed for this venture was a car that got decent gas mileage and that also did not stick out noticeably in traffic. One that blended in and did not say "chase me." So the obvious choice was the 1998 Nissan Altima. A black four door, of course. The speedo in this four banger goes to 120 mph and the car will (downhill) hit about 114 mph. It made the entire 289 mile trip to tinsel town on one tank of gas and with the automatic transmission it acheived 30 mpg. Not bad. And for some reason nobody has the answer, for you get better gas milesage on the return trip. Possibly because it's more downhill.

The Altima XE is the entry level sedan, has an MSRP of $14,990, and there are several step up models. The GLE with leather interior, 8-way adjustable driver's seat and four speed automatic is $19,890.

The Altima with its four cylinder, 16 valve, 2.4 liter engine is a no frills automobile and is built for service. There's no back seat middle arm rests, nor do the back seats recline for a bigger trunk capacity. As it is, the trunk with 13.8 cu.ft. is ample for any trip.

As might be expected from a four banger, the acceleration of 0 to 60 at 8.5 secs is definitely not blazing, but you don't purchase an Altima for performance. Rather, you want it for utility. It's a salesmans car . . . a family car that little kids can beat up. Easy to park, gas it once a week.

For 1998 the ride comfort has been enhanced through the use of revised suspension tuning, improved seat design and a unique aluminum steering wheel which transmits less vibration to the driver. Also the insulation package has been upgraded for noise reduction.

Although at first glance the body design appears to be unchanged over the '97 model it has received some "corner rounding" that has resulted in a lower drag coefficient: from 0.34 to 0.32. Nissan calls this "taking off the baby fat."

Should you want to dress up and upgrade your "straightforward" Altima, there are options available: rear spoiler kit, 15 inch alloy wheels, splash guards, nose mask, convenience net, 10-disc autochanger, sunroof, wind deflector, battery warmer, car cover, engine heater, ABS, wheel locks, trunk mat, cigar lighter, fog lights and gold badging.

This front wheel drive car was styled at the Nissan Design Studios in LaJolla, CA and assembled at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn.