Fresh from a total makeover last year, the 2014 Nissan Altima arrives little changed but still very desirable. Offering much of the looks, power and performance of the larger Maxima sedan, the Altima costs significantly less than its big brother and even has features not listed on the Maxima's options roster. The Altima is a great driving car that is easy to afford and live with. However, competition in the family sedan segment is fierce, and there are certainly competitors that can best the Altima in rear-seat room, features, power and warranty duration.

To compete, Nissan targeted maximum efficiency for its conventional, nonhybrid version of the Altima, producing the lightest car of this group and continuing the company's class-exclusive use of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to achieve an impressive 38 miles per gallon on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highway driving cycle for the 4-cylinder model. Those more impressed with performance can opt for a potent V6, a feature more and more rare in the family sedan category.

What's New for 2014?

The 2014 Nissan Altima is fitted with NissanConnect Apps, an infotainment upgrade that allows apps-driven content from an iPhone or Android smartphone. Once paired, owners will be able to connect with such popular apps as Facebook, iHeartRadio, Pandora (Android only) and Online Search powered by Google (requires navigation). Hands-free text messaging is also included.

What We Like

Handsome styling; cushy seats; innovative CVT technology; easy to use and affordable navigation radio

What We Don't

Vague power steering; engine-induced torque steer; tight rear-seat headroom

How Much?

$22,670-$33,525

Fuel Economy

Nissan carried over the existing Altima's engines, a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and a 270-hp 3.5-liter V6. The 4-cylinder's EPA ratings are 27 mpg city/38 mpg hwy, while the V6 scores 22 mpg city/31 hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Nissan Altima comes in four trims with two engine choices. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder cars come in base, S, SV and SL, while the V6 powered 3.5-liter comes in S, SV and SL.

The base 2.5 ($22,670) includes 16-inch steel wheels with covers, 6-way manual drivers seat, power windows, locks and mirrors, 4-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, Nissan Intelligent Key keyless entry and push-button start, remote trunk and front window control via key fob, Bluetooth and steering wheel audio controls.

The 2.5 S ($23,190) adds a 6-way power driver's seat, cruise control and a 6-speaker audio upgrade.

The 2.5 SV ($24,990) brings 16-in alloy wheels, 9-speaker Bose audio with color display, USB and iPod integration, SiriusXM satellite radio, text message assistant, NissanConnect Apps, rearview monitor, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat heat/cooling vents and remote start.

The 2.5 SL ($28,570) includes a heated steering wheel, fog lights, integrated mirror turn signals, leather seating, LED taillights, 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, heated front seats, heated folding side mirrors and auto up/down front passenger window.

The 3.5 S ($26,970) has much of the 2.5 S equipment plus the V6 engine and 18-in wheels.

The 3.5 SV ($29,170) is similarly equipped as the 2.5 SV and adds V6, a power moonroof and 18-in wheels.

The 3.5 SL ($31,470) adds a power moonroof over the 2.5 SL.

There are six option packages, varying by trim. More notable is the Convenience Package on the 2.5 SV, which adds a power moonroof, rear A/C vents, fog lamps, integrated side mirror turn signals, HomeLink and more. The Technology Package (SV and SL) adds navigation radio with 7-in screen, Blind Spot Warning, Moving Obstacle Detection, Lane Departure and Online Search powered by Google.

Safety

Nissan offers several new safety technologies to help Altima drivers avoid accidents, such as lane departure, blind spot and moving-object warning systems. To supplement the usual new stability control technologies, the Altima features active understeer control. This automatically brakes the inside front wheel when the car is going too quickly into a turn, reducing the understeer effect common to front-wheel-drive cars. Understeer is when a car doesn't turn as much as the driver intends because the front tires are sliding. The Easy Fill Tire Alert system simplifies pumping up the tires by chirping the Altima's horn when you've put in enough air.

In crash tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2014 Altima a five overall rating (its highest score), with five stars in the front and side-impact tests and four stars in the roof-strength test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Altima a Top Safety Pick, giving it top marks in all but the small overlap front crash test, which was rated as Acceptable.

Behind the Wheel

The Altima's styling, comfort and efficiency all promise to make it an excellent contender against the top-selling family sedans. Unfortunately, the car's steering is a significant letdown, particularly in the V6 version.

In turns, the steering provides no feel for the road, and steering effort remains exactly the same no matter how hard the car is turning or how much grip the tires find. This gives the Altima's steering a disconnected, artificial feeling.

Similarly, the Altima suffers torque steer while accelerating. It isn't the seriously bad kind of torque steer, in which the engine wrenches the front wheels to the side and tries to change lanes when the driver intended to go straight. No, this is the more subtle sort, in which the car resists the driver's attempt to turn the steering wheel -- for instance, when unwinding the wheel while accelerating from a turn.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Malibu -- The Malibu is a smaller, tauter 4-cylinder-only car.

Ford Fusion -- The Fusion combines winning style with a huge variety of power sources, including a standard 4-cylinder, a turbo, a hybrid electric and a plug-in hybrid.

Honda Accord -- The old standby is still solid, efficient and responsive, though the styling has become stale.

Hyundai Sonata -- The exciting-looking Sonata isn't that exciting to drive, but it is a great car, delivering the combination of price, efficiency and quality that built the Toyota Camry's reputation.

AutoTrader's Advice

Loading the Altima with options quickly runs the price of the V6 version into the low $30,000s, which should scare away family drivers. At that price, Nissan's own Maxima might be the better choice. The responsible family shopper can choose the 2.5 SV trim level for $25,000 and get goodies such as remote start, Pandora radio integration and hands-free text reading with 17-in aluminum wheels and a backup camera, all in a car rated at 38 mpg on the highway.

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