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2014 Nissan Altima Test Drive Review
Nissan used to market itself as a purveyor of fun-to-drive vehicles. That’s not really the case anymore, and there’s nothing joyful associated with driving a 2014 Altima.
While it's true that the latest version of the Altima isn’t particularly engaging to drive, that doesn’t mean that it fails as a midsize family sedan. Quite to the contrary, actually, as the 2014 Altima is safe, it is fuel-efficient, it is comfortable, and it is affordable. There are aspects of the car that could use additional refinement, but the Altima rightfully earns its place on the list of best-selling models in America.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
Carlos Ghosn is the CEO of Nissan, and he wants Nissan to own 10% of North American new-vehicle sales. As one of the top 5 best-selling cars in America, the midsize 2014 Nissan Altima sedan is key to achieving this goal, and the automaker wants to make sure you choose an Altima over the equally popular Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. That’s one reason why your local Nissan dealer is always ready to make you an offer that you can’t refuse.
The good news, based on a week spent behind the wheel of a 2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL, is that this car isn’t close to what one might consider distressed merchandise. Totally redesigned for the 2013 model year, the Altima is an appealing family sedan in ways that are unassociated with the deal.
Before we get into the reasons why, a few housekeeping details are in order. Nissan sells the Altima in two different trim levels, the 2.5s with a 4-cylinder engine and the 3.5s with a V6 engine. Prices start at $22,920 for the base Altima 2.5, including the $810 destination charge.
Most people upgrade to the Altima 2.5 S ($23,440) at a minimum, because this version of the car includes cruise control, a 6-way power driver’s seat, additional stereo speakers and a Nissan Intelligent Key passive entry system. Other upgrades for this version of the Altima include Smart Auto headlights, an individual tire pressure monitoring system, an in-cabin micro-filter, illuminated visor mirrors, sun visor extensions and a driver’s seatback pocket.
The Altima 2.5 SV ($25,090) is the popular version of the car, equipped with 17-inch aluminum wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, and NissanConnect Apps technology with a 5-inch touchscreen display, a reversing camera, a USB/iPod connection, satellite radio and a hands-free text-messaging assistant. This version of the Altima also offers remote engine start, allowing the owner to heat or cool the interior prior to driving by pressing a button on the Nissan Intelligent Key fob.
At the top of the Altima 2.5 lineup is the SL ($28,670). It includes leather seats, a Bose premium audio system, a leather-wrapped shift knob and simulated wood or metal interior trim depending on whether you choose Beige or Black seats. This model also gets an 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel and heated exterior mirrors with LED turn-signal indicators. Fog lights and LED taillights are also standard for this model, along with a universal garage door opener, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, adjustable rear seat head restraints and automatic up/down operation for the front passenger’s window.
Switching gears to the Altima 3.5 S ($27,070), this trim adds a V6 engine, transmission paddle shifters and 18-inch aluminum wheels to the 2.5 S model, along with NissanConnect Apps technology and its related features.
The Altima 3.5 SV ($29,270) includes 2.5 SV equipment plus foglights, a power sunroof, a universal garage door opener, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED turn-signal indicators and automatic up/down operation for the front passenger’s window.
Commanding the highest sticker price of any 2014 Altima, the 3.5 SL ($31,570) adds high-intensity discharge headlights to the Altima 2.5 SL model’s standard equipment list.
My test car is the Altima 2.5 SL painted Cayenne Red with Beige leather, and equipped with an optional floor mat and trunk mat set, a power sunroof and a Technology Package, which adds a navigation system with a larger 7-inch display screen, a Lane-Departure Warning system, a Blind-Spot Warning system and a Moving-Object Detection system. The total was $30,745, which is about the average price paid for a new car in America.
With that overview of the 2014 Altima complete, let’s consider how this midsize family sedan looks and feels. Personally, I like the Nissan Altima’s styling, though the grille is somewhat overwrought. This car does, however, need the larger aluminum wheels that are included for all versions except the Altima 2.5 and 2.5 S, because otherwise it looks too long and too large. I also think Nissan should make the Altima 3.5’s larger 18-inch wheels available as an option for the 2.5 SV and 2.5 SL.
If you’re at all familiar with the Altima that Nissan sold from 2007 to 2012, then you will instantly recognize the big step up the latest Altima has taken in terms of interior materials and quality. My test car’s Beige interior is matched up with fake dark wood trim and silver plastic that doesn’t do a very good job of emulating aluminum. I prefer the Black interior, which uses just enough brightwork combined with a gray headliner to keep from feeling like you’ve fallen into a black hole.
Out of 10
My Altima 2.5 SL test car had a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 182 hp at 6,000 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Had Nissan sent the Altima 3.5 SL for review, its 3.5-liter V6 would produce 270 hp at 6,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, delivering quicker acceleration in exchange for a reduction in fuel economy.
Both engines are bolted to the latest version of Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), which directs the power to the car’s front wheels. With the Altima 3.5, the CVT supplies a manual shift mode, paddle shifters and 7 programmed “gears” to give the driver a sense of added control over power delivery.
If you regularly feel a need for speed and decide to go with the Altima 3.5, remember that the EPA rates it to get 25 mpg in combined driving, while the Altima 2.5 returns 31 mpg. During my week driving the Altima 2.5 on a heavy suburban cycle, the car got 28.5 mpg without trying. Not bad for a midsize family sedan, and especially since I never felt like the 4-cylinder engine lacked power.
Under normal acceleration, the Altima’s CVT is designed to operate as quietly as possible, and as soon as the driver reaches cruising speed it changes to a lower-rpm ratio. Accelerate hard, such as when entering a freeway or when passing slower traffic, and the powertrain drones loudly, a traditional CVT characteristic.
One great thing about a CVT, though, is that this type of transmission helps a vehicle to effortlessly conquer mountains. My Altima 2.5 SL powered itself from sea level to 800 feet of elevation in the space of a few miles, and without breathing hard, while easily maintaining 75 mph.
If you’re the type who prefers greater athleticism and response from your vehicle, the CVT offers a Drive Sport mode designed to keep engine revs higher, but I don’t anticipate that many people would choose to use it. The better choice for enthusiast drivers would be the Altima 3.5. Nevertheless, while I like the Altima 3.5 in most respects, I think most midsize sedan buyers will be quite satisfied with the Altima 2.5, as long as they understand how a CVT works and what it sounds like.
Once you acclimate to the trademark characteristics of its CVT, the only complaint I have about driving the Altima is related to the car’s steering. On center feel is essentially non-existent, and the off-center transition to steering input requires too much effort and is too abrupt. The result is constant meandering in a lane and continual minding of the steering, which gets tiresome fast.
Also because the wheel is basically lifeless on center, the steering tells the driver nothing about what’s happening at the surface of the road. For example, while the steering wheel remained completely oblivious to either condition, on several occasions it was the seat of my pants telling me that the Altima’s tires were tramlining on grooved pavement and that strong winds were buffeting the car on a country road.
In all other respects, from suspension tuning to brake feel and response, from ride quality to cabin quietness, from acceleration to fuel economy, the 2014 Altima 2.5 is a dynamically competent family sedan. Still, “dynamically competent” is not the same as “dynamically engaging” in the way that a Honda Accord or a Mazda 6 can be.
Nissan used to market itself as a purveyor of fun-to-drive vehicles. That’s not really the case anymore, and while the Altima displays almost no body roll, can tackle twisty road without drama, and is equipped with outstanding braking capability, this isn’t really a sporty sedan, because there’s nothing joyful associated with driving it. That makes the Altima 2.5 a refined appliance on wheels that needs some attention to detail with regard to the steering.
Form and Function
Out of 10
If you’re using Consumer Reports to conduct research while shopping for a new midsize sedan, you’re going to notice that lots of people surveyed by the organization complained that their redesigned 2013 Altimas had lots of squeaks and rattles. Now, I understand Nissan supplied my 2014 Altima test car, but it had more than 7,000 miles on it, and it had no squeaks and no rattles. So before you cross this Nissan off your shopping list because of the resulting Consumer Reports prediction that long-term reliability will be “much worse than average” (seriously, because of squeaks and rattles?), keep this in mind.
I happen to think that the Altima 2.5 SL’s interior is quite nice, feeling and sounding solid and secure whether slamming the door closed or yanking up on the center-console storage-compartment lid. Appealing textures and tones rule the cabin, and the Altima’s cabin looks and feels like it is constructed with care.
Better yet, the 2014 Altima is exceptionally comfortable. Nissan used NASA-inspired zero gravity seat designs, and the result is revolutionary. Imagine what it might be like to sit on a cloud, and you’re close to the sensation these seats deliver, front and rear. The only thing Nissan could improve upon would to be to provide a seat-height adjuster for the front passenger seat, though I must admit its absence isn’t that big a deal.
Buy an Altima with the intent of carrying frequent rear-seat passengers, and they will thank you. In addition to the excellent comfort and support, there’s a whole bunch of space for legs and feet, though I think headroom is a little tight for some people. Plus it’s really easy to get into and climb out of this car, and the rear air vents definitely assist comfort levels when the weather is extreme.
The Altima is equipped with a 15.4-cubic-foot trunk, a good size but not class leading. A storage net on the left side is designed to hold items such as gallon jugs of milk, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat expands space as might be necessary. Note that the inside of the trunk lid does not have a grab handle, a glaring omission for people who live where snow and rain are regular occurrences. Without it, your fingers get dirty when closing the lid.
Out of 10
Every version of the 2014 Altima, except the base 2.5 trim, includes NissanConnect Apps technology as standard or optional equipment. Most applications of this system use a 5-inch touchscreen display, making it a little more difficult to use, especially for folks with larger fingers. My Altima 2.5 SL test car had the larger 7-inch screen that comes with the optional navigation system, and the bigger display made NissanConnect more pleasurable to use.
So, what is NissanConnect? This system allows you to run certain smartphone applications right from your device as long as it is paired to the system via Bluetooth. NissanConnect supports Facebook, Twitter, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Stitcher, TuneIn Radio, SiriusXM traffic and weather, and more. Plus, the system supports hands-free text-messaging capability.
Thoughtfully, Nissan provides a covered bin for the USB port and auxiliary audio input jack, allowing the Altima’s owner to hide a connected device from prying eyes. All versions of the Altima except the base 2.5 also get smart automatic headlights and Nissan Intelligent Key passive entry.
Out of 10
Related to the Altima’s overall technology offering, the optional Technology Package adds a navigation system, a Moving-Object Detection system, a Blind-Spot Warning system and a Lane-Departure Warning system to any Altima with SV or SL trim. I’ve got no complaints about the navigation system, which is easy to use and reference and offers helpful real-time traffic information. The Lane-Departure Warning and Moving-Object Detection systems are also helpful, and the former can be switched off using a button on the dashboard.
The Blind-Spot Warning system, though, could use some improvement. First, the orange light that illuminates is located inside the vehicle near the intersection of the front window and the windshield pillar, rather than on the mirror itself, which is where your concentration is focused when changing a lane. Activate the turn-signal lever, which is irritatingly devoid of a lane-change position, and the system will sound an audible warning while the warning light blinks, but both could be more insistent about grabbing the driver’s attention.
If, for whatever reason, these features don’t prevent a collision, rest assured that Nissan has maximized your chances of survival. The 2014 Altima gets a 5-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and is called a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Out of 10
One area where the Nissan Altima definitely makes sense is with regard to its cost effectiveness. It delivers excellent fuel economy thanks to its 4-cylinder engine and CVT, ALG says that over time it will hold its value better than many midsize sedans, and Kelley Blue Book calls the Altima “among the best” in its class when it comes to long-term ownership expenses.
Reliability predictions are a mixed bag. J.D. Power says the Altima will ultimately prove to deliver better-than-average dependability over time, but concedes that the 2013 Altima did not fare well in the research firm’s Initial Quality Study. Consumer Reports is far less impressed, claiming that Altima reliability is expected to be much worse than average.
Dig into the data, though, and you’ll find that this prediction from Consumer Reports appears to be based on owner reports of squeaks and rattles and owner dissatisfaction with the car’s NissanConnect technology. While these factors certainly impact owner satisfaction with a vehicle, they don’t really have much to do with reliability.
In any case, if you’re willing to apply similar logic and dismiss the Consumer Reports rating, know that your local Nissan dealer really, really, really wants to sell you an Altima. Remember, the boss-man wants Nissan to own 10% of the market. Your sale is key to that goal. And that means you can get a great deal.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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