Overview

The Nissan Altima is the sportiest of the mid-size sedans. For 2005. Nissan has redesigned the interior, addressing the biggest caveat with this car. In addition to its new interior, the 2005 Nissan Altima gets some mild styling enhancements and a slight boost to its powerful V6, already one of the best V6 engines on the market. A new high-performance Altima SE-R adds even more sports appeal.

The Nissan Altima boasts a bigger interior than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and most other mid-size sedans. The new interior is nicer and more convenient than last year's interior.

When ordered with its 250-horsepower V6, the Nissan Altima is one of the hottest cars in its class. It delivers stunning acceleration. Punch it in any gear and it takes off, with nimble handling and brakes to match all the thrust. For its part, the standard four-cylinder engine is more powerful than comparable engines in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Altima earned the North American Car of the Year award when it was redesigned for 2002, and it remains Nissan's best selling vehicle.

Model Lineup

Nissan Altima is offered in 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SL, 3.5 SE, and 3.5 SL trim levels. Two engines are available. Base, S, and SL models are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL feature a powerful 3.5-liter V6, essentially the same engine used in the Nissan 350Z and Maxima.

The base 2.5 model ($17,200) comes standard with power windows, a green-tinted solar glass windshield, power steering, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, fold down center armrests front and rear, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and an in-glass antenna. Stereo and air conditioning are not part of the base package, however. The base model comes with a five-speed manual transmission; an automatic transmission is not available.

The 2.5 S ($19,050) adds air conditioning, power mirrors, remote keyless entry with remote trunk lock, an eight-way adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system, seatback pockets and a lock for the split rear seat. The 2.5 S comes standard with a five-speed manual, but is available with a four-speed automatic ($19,550). This is the most popular Altima, and Nissan offers several option packages to further increase its appeal. The Convenience Package ($1,680) features alloy wheels, 8-way power driver's seat with lumbar support, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, trip computer, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, speed-sensitive volume control, automatic headlights and a vehicle security system. The Convenience Plus Package ($2,500) adds a power glass sunroof with sunshade to the other goodies, while the Premium Convenience Package ($3,300) ups the ante with a Bose audio system that includes a six-disc in-dash CD changer.

The 2.5 SL ($23,400) is the luxury Altima. It comes standard with a four-speed automatic transmission, heated leather seats, a power driver's seat, simulated wood trim, and has most of the features offered in the Convenience Packages above. The only convenience option is the sunroof ($850). For those who want all the goodies without the big engine, this is the car.

The 3.5 SL ($26,900) has the V6 and comes standard with the five-speed automatic. A new model for 2005, this is a very nice car, loaded with luxury features, and represents the top of the line.

The 3.5 SE ($23,100) is the performance model, equipped with the V6, five-speed manual, 17-inch alloy wheels, wider, speed-rated tires, a performance-tuned suspension, fog lights, and dual chrome exhaust tips. The SE is available with the automatic ($23,750). A Leather Package ($3,000) includes the leather upholstery, Bose audio system, sunroof, heated front seats, and heated mirrors. The Sport Package Plus ($2,600) includes the sunroof, spoiler, Bose premium audio, and xenon headlights. The Leather Sport Package ($3,900) combines the Leather Package with the spoiler and xenon headlights.

The new SE-R ($29,200) benefits from the changes wrought on all 2005 Altimas, but also gets a 260-horsepower version of the 3.5-liter V6, performance-tuned front struts and rear shocks, stiffer front and rear springs, and thicker front and rear stabilizer bars. The SE-R also comes with 225/45R18 W-speed rated tires and 18-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels. New front and rear fascias, compact fog lights, new rear spoiler and side-sill spoilers, and large dual exhaust finishers highlight the exterior; inside, the SE-R gets sport leather seats, dark chrome trim, and a three-pod center-mounted gauge package.

Safety features include dual-stage frontal airbags. Side-impact airbags for the front passengers are optional, however. Roof-mounted curtain airbags designed to provide head protection for front and rear passengers are also optional, but we recommend them as most side-impact fatalities are caused by head injuries. Seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters are standard; we recommend always wearing seatbelts because they are your first line of defense in a crash. Also

Walkaround

The Nissan Altima is a big car by mid-size standards, bigger than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Its wheels are pushed to the far corners of the car, giving it a long wheelbase and wide track for stability at high speeds. The long wheelbase leaves plenty of room for large doors and passengers as well.

Styling revisions, though subtle, give the 2005 Altima a more aggressive look. Cast more in the style of European sedans, the Altima looks more like something from Volkswagen or Audi than Honda or Toyota. The hood has been redesigned, giving the 2005 Altima a more athletic look, by suggesting it's packing a powerful engine. A new front fascia and smoked headlamps adds to the bold impression and a new grille looks more in keeping with the rest of the newest Nissan lineup. The taillamps have been smoked slightly.

The grille and front bumper are set off nicely by aggressive-looking multi-parabola projector-type headlights with four bulbs set behind large covers. Altima's grille is large by contemporary standards, but not the least bit awkward. Newly styled 16- and 17-inch wheels give the 2005 Altima a sportier look.

Its sloping roofline is reminiscent of a coupe. The high trunk lid is set off by bold round taillights, turn signals and backup lights set in a triangular-shaped cover.

The trunk has a large opening and low lift-over height. Offering 15.6 cubic feet, the Altima near the top of the mid-size class in trunk space. Flexibility is increased by the standard split-folding rear seat (with a lock on all but the base car). The trunk lid lifts on its own when popped with the remote key fob, and the gooseneck hinges that allow this action intrude minimally into the usable trunk space.

Altima is assembled with a one-piece bodyside structure for more consistent build quality. Altima has gained on Camry and Accord in exterior build quality and Nissan claims panel-fit accuracy within 1.0 mm. The Altima also has more exterior design detail than the Toyota and Honda, with creased mirrors, integrated foglamps and other subtle cues.

Interior Features

The interior of the Altima has been redone from top to bottom and addresses our biggest complaints with this sedan. The new interior is a vast improvement over that of last year's model.

Interior improvements for the 2005 model year include a new instrument panel, a new center stack and a new center console, all much nicer than the previous model's. Seat materials, trim finishes, headliner and new chrome accents are an improvement over last year's materials.

The three-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes. The dashboard is set relatively low, with a three-gauge binnacle directly in front of the driver containing speedometer, tachometer, and water temperature and fuel gauges. The instruments glow orange in the dark, offering less interference to night vision.

The available navigation display is located at the top of the center stack. Audio controls are mounted high on the center stack for easy access. At the top are two rows of buttons, used to control audio, trip computer, and navigation functions, with a small joy stick in the center. Heating/air conditioning control knobs lie directly below and are easy to locate with minimal distraction.

Air conditioning vents are flush-mounted on the dash. Seams for the passenger-side airbag are invisible, cleverly hidden in a large expanse of unembellished dashboard surface. The center console has cupholders large enough for one-liter bottles. A power port inside the center console storage area is useful for cell phones. There's an adjustable elbow rest. The parking brake is a proper handbrake, located front and center. The windows can be opened with the remote key fob, a nice feature in hot summer months.

Altima feels spacious inside and that's no illusion. Altima ranks near the top of the class in interior roominess. There's more front legroom here than in all but the largest vehicles on the road. The front seats are quite comfortable and large enough for larger bodies. Getting in and out of the Altima is easy, thanks to wide doors and a slightly higher-than-average front seating position.

The same applies in back. The rear seats are supportive and comfortable, with good legroom and sufficient headroom. A 6-foot, 4-inch passenger can sit comfortably behind a 6-foot, 4-inch driver. Rear center passengers have a three-point seat belt with shoulder harness; when the center spot is empty, an armrest drops and presents cupholders. Getting in and out of the rear seats is easier in the Altima than it is in many mid-size sedans. The long wheelbase and large doors make it less likely that a rear passenger will get dirty by dragging clothes across the fender well.

Driving Impressions

The Nissan Altima is one of the quickest, most powerful cars in its class. Both the four-cylinder engine and V6 deliver strong power, but it's the V6 that turns the Altima into a sports sedan.

It's the V6 that turns the Altima into a true sports sedan, especially when paired with the five-speed manual transmission. Nissan's V6 is one of the best available from anyone anywhere. Slam the throttle down, either from a stop or at 40 mph, and the Altima will take off like a rocket. There's so much power that you'll notice some torque steer, even with the automatic, though it's not an issue. (Torque steer is a phenomenon common to powerful front-wheel-drive cars that causes a tug at the steering wheel under hard acceleration.) When equipped with the V6, the Altima is arguably the best performer among mid-sized sedans, and among the most fun to drive. This is essentially the same 3.5-liter V6 used in the Nissan 350Z and Maxima. It features the latest in high-output, variable-valve technology, producing 250 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 249 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, a slight increase (5 horsepower, 3 pound-feet) over last year's model. Though certainly not raucous, Nissan's V6 isn't quite as smooth as those from Honda and Toyota, but you may have so much fun driving the Altima that you'll neither notice nor care.

The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is strong, too. It's more powerful that the four-cylinder engines used in the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, and it works well with the four-speed automatic transmission. With the automatic, the four-cylinder Altima still pulls strongly from a standing start, and the transmission shifts promptly between 40 and 60 mph for quick passing maneuvers. Four-cylinder engines of this heft tend to run on the rough side, and Nissan has addressed this inherent vibration with a compact balance system and silent-chain cam drive that smoothes operation nicely. The big four-cylinder engine is still a bit louder, more raucous, than those in Accord and Camry, however. Nissan's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is sophisticated, with 16 valves, dual overhead camshafts and fully variable valve timing. It produces 175 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 180 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm (The engine used in California and several Northeast states is rated as a PZEV low-emissions vehicle and produces 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque.) The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is more economical than the 3.5-liter V6, particularly with the manual transmission. The four-cylinder rates 23/29 mpg City/Highway compared to 21/26 for the V6, according to the EPA. The 20-gallon fuel tank, considerably larger than most in this class, means Altima can travel a long way between fill-ups.

This is a stable car at speed, and the suspension and brakes are tuned appropriately for the job. The Altima feels secure at 80 mph in a torrent of rain. It feels larger than the Honda Accord and other mid-size sedans. The four-wheel disc brakes are easy to modulate, even without the ABS, and deliver plenty of stopping power. Power rack-and-pinion steering gives precise directional control, with good feedback. Overall handling is exemplary, thanks party to its multi-link rear suspension, which uses aluminum components to reduce weight. This is a sophisticated design, and it enhances the stability of the rear end, even on bumpy roads. When it comes to chassis dynamics, the Altima is a class-leading performer. Enthusiasist drivers will love it, but it may not be for everyone.

While it rides well in most circumstances, the Altima feels stiffer than some of its competitors, particularly when it's crossing a rhythmic series of bumps or pavement joints. It's not quite as smooth as the Camry or Accord, and the driver and passengers might feel a bit more vibration through the pedals, steering wheel or armrests. Overall NVH (noise, vibration and harshness control) doesn't quit

Summary

This third-generation Nissan Altima was launched in 2002 as an exciting alternative to the otherwise ordinary mid-size sedan segment. And it remains the cure for the common car. Now with a new interior, the 2005 Nissan Altima has addressed our biggest complaint with this car.

The Nissan Altima's bold styling is backed up by strong performance. On a fun-to-drive scale, the Altima 3.5 SE tops the class of mid-size cars, but the fun doesn't come at the expense of practicality. This car is bigger and roomier than most mid-sized sedans, with comfortable accommodations front or rear, and plenty of space to haul stuff.

Altima is loaded with personality, and it offers a combination of virtues that's hard to beat. Anyone shopping for a mid-size sedan should look closely at the Nissan Altima.

Model Line Overview
Base Price (MSRP)
$17,200
Model lineup:
Nissan Altima 2.5 ($17,200); 2.5 S ($19,050); 2.5 SL ($23,400); 3.5 SE ($23,100); 3.5 SL ($26,900); SE-R ($29,200)
Engines:
175-hp 2.5-liter dohc 16-valve inline-4; 250-hp 3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions:
5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic; 5-speed automatic
Safety equipment (Standard):
dual front airbags, active front-seat head restraints, emergency inside trunk release
Safety equipment (Optional):
front side-impact and front and rear curtain-style head protection airbags, anti-lock brake (ABS) with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, traction control
Basic warranty:
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:
Smyrna, Tennessee
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSRP):
Nissan Altima 3.5 SE ($23,100)
Standard equipment:
air conditioning, AM/FM/CD with six speakers and speed-sensitive volume control, cargo net, automatic headlamps, fog lights, dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors, eight-way power driver's seat, power windows with front auto-down, power mirrors, power locks, cruise control, intermittent wipers, remote keyless entry with remote trunk release, 60/40 split rear seat with lock, tilt steering column, steering wheel audio controls, leather-wrapped steering wheel, sun visor extensions
Options as tested:
ABS and Side Airbag Package ($800) includes anti-lock brakes, side-impact and side-curtain air bags; Leather Package ($3000) includes leather seating surfaces, padded leather armrest cover, simulated leather door trim panels, heated front seats, auto-dimming mirror, heated outside mirrors, HomeLink universal transceiver, automatic climate control, one-touch power sunroof, Bose audio system with eight-speakers AM/FM/CD6, trunk lid trim
Destination charge:
560
Gas Guzzler Tax:
N/A
Price as tested (MSRP)
$27,460
Layout:
front-wheel drive
Engine:
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm):
250 @ 5800
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):
249 @ 4400
Transmission:
5-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:
21/26 mpg.
Wheelbase:
110.2 in.
Length/width/height:
191.5/70.4/57.9 in.
Track, f/r:
61.0/61.2 in.
Turning circle:
38.7 ft.
Seating capacity:
5
Head/hip/leg room, f:
40.8/53.0/43.9 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:
37.6/52.7/36.4 in.
Cargo volume:
15.6 cu. ft.
Payload:
N/A
Towing capacity:
1000 lbs.
Suspension F:
independent
Suspension R:
independent
Ground clearance:
N/A
Curb weight:
3227 lbs.
Tires:
P215/55VR17
Brakes, f/r:
vented disc/disc with ABS, brake assist and electronic brake distribution in.
Fuel capacity:
20 gal.
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