For the many car shoppers who have no need for a lumbering SUV, desire for a sporty two-seat sports car, or budget for upscale luxury, the obvious choice is a nice, midsized sedan. The field is dominated by two entries today the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry however, the Nissan Altima is worthy of your attention. The 2009 model gives a somewhat sportier take on the same pleasant, useful package as its competitors.
Just look at those enormous taillamps running way up the sides of the rear body! The shiny tubes inside are a design cue from earlier models. Up front, the tapered nose with "T" Nissan grille is flanked by bold, chunky headlamp clusters. Smooth sides stand out with sharply carved wheel-well outlines, and the sedan roofline tapers back boldly.
Inside, the instrument panel breaks sharply out of the cascading dash panel, and rakishly angled controls and grips enliven the subtly configured door panels. Interiors come in the evocative shades of Charcoal, Blonde and Frost, depending on exterior shade, which can run from Sonoma Sunset to Majestic Blue. My Navy Blue tester wore Blonde inside.
Choose from two engines, a solid 2.5-liter inline four cylinder, or a vivacious 3.5 liter V6, a 14 time Ward's "10 Best Engines" award winner. The four puts out 175 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque (subtract five from each number for California cars). The V6 delivers a hearty 270 horsepower along with 258 lb.-ft. of torque.
Altimas are offered in five levels. My SE test car sat above the base model and the S model in the lineup and below the luxury-oriented, leather-equipped SL. While the entry level car and the S share the four-cylinder, the SE and SL get the six. The fifth model, the Hybrid, uses a different, 158-horsepower four-cylinder with a 40-horsepower electric motor.
The base car and SL come only with Nissan's highly-developed continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) while the two middle lines, the S and SE, both offer a choice of a manual six-speed as well. My tester had the CVT.
The V6 earns EPA fuel economy numbers of 19 City, 26 Highway. I averaged 20.2 mpg on the required premium fuel. The four-cylinder pushes those official numbers to 23 City, 31 Highway using regular; that could influence your buying decision.
The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide gives all V6-equipped Altimas a 7 for Air Pollution, but the cars with CVTs get a 6 for Greenhouse Gas while the manual transmission versions earn a 5.
Since 2007, you can order up an Altima Hybrid if you live in one of the eight states that follow California's stricter emissions rules. The Hybrid earns 35 City, 33 Highway, and superb green numbers 9.5 for Air Pollution and 9 for Greenhouse Gas. That puts it in the EPA's "Smartway Elite" category.
2009 Altimas carry over the 2007 and 2008 styling, but offer numerous little upgrades, particularly to the base model. It gains new covers on its 16-inch steel wheels, dual power remote mirrors and a standard trip computer and temperature gauge. Other upgrades include dual sunvisors with vanity mirror (driver only sorry) and speed-sensitive variable intermittent wipers.
All 2009 Altimas benefit from new automatic door locks. The S has upgraded climate control; the SE gets standard Vehicle Dynamic Control (electronic safety system), improved headlights, new fog lights and a jaunty rear spoiler.
Most, if not all cars today come with some form of tire pressure monitoring. One morning, my Altima suddenly flashed a low tire pressure warning light, so I stepped outside to check. All four tires looked fine, so I didn't worry about it, but the light stayed on. Finally, I pulled out my gauge at the gas station and found the culprit, the left rear tire was at 25 psi while the others were at 31. That's not dangerous, but low tire pressure affects fuel economy (slightly) and it's always safer to keep your tires equally and properly inflated for things like tire wear. The light disappeared after I added air to the offender.
Altima Prices range from $19,990 for the base 2.5 model through $21,540 for the S, $25,680 for the SE, $26,650 for the Hybrid and $29,380 for the SL with all of its bells and whistles. Add $695 to those prices for delivery. You can order up option packages, such as my tester's Premium Package and Sport Package. For about $4,000, I got heated leather seats, sensationally upgraded Bose audio system with nine speakers, and much more. My tester came to $30,500, including delivery.
With cars in a competitive realm like the midsized segment, you have to get in, drive around, work the controls, and think it over before you buy. The Altima was a very pleasant drive you'll have some serious thinking to do.