Nissan Altima Model Overview
About the Nissan Altima
Stylish, sporty, and fun to drive, the Nissan Altima continues to build on its well-earned reputation as a highly competent family hauler. Owners find a lot to like about the Altima, particularly its nimble handling, which matches or exceeds just about anything in its class. Other noteworthy features include the Altima's solid construction, functional interior, spacious trunk, and overall affordability.
The Altima sedan comes in 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SL, 3.5 SR, and Hybrid trims for 2011. Powerplants include a 175-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which powers the 2.5 trims, and a 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine, which drives the 3.5 SR. While not capable of breaking any land-speed records, the powerplants deliver solid performance both around town and at highway speeds. An Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with a manual-shift mode comes standard in all sedan trims. Fuel economy numbers range from 22/32 mpg for the four-cylinder engine to 20/27 for the V6.
The Altima Hybrid, which features a 158-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a 105-kilowatt electric motor for a combined 198 hp, manages fuel economy numbers of 33/33 mpg.
For 2011, Nissan enhances the appeal of the mid-level 2.5 SL sedan trim by offering a Special Edition package, which includes a leather-wrapped shift knob, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, automatic on/off headlights, foglights, a rear spoiler, and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. In addition, owners can choose from three new exterior colors for 2011, including Brilliant Silver, Metallic Slate, and Saharan Stone.
Owners find the entry-level 2.5 trim sparsely equipped, and sometimes complain about the Altima's complicated and often costly options list. Other hits on the Altima include its limited legroom in the backseat, sometimes noisy engine, and glitch-prone navigation system.
Still, the Altima's many positive points make it attractive to buyers, a majority of whom are male, attracted by the Altima's crisp, angular exterior lines, superior handling, and clean, well-organized interior. Add state-of-the-art safety and tech features, and a choice of powerplants that straddle the line between aggressiveness and fuel efficiency, as well as relatively affordable pricing and an American-built pedigree, and it's easy to see why the Altima gives such competitors as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Mazda6 a run for their money.
Currently in its fourth generation, the Altima received a mid-generation facelift in 2010, which included a redesigned nose as well as a number of safety and tech updates. More than likely, prospective buyers can expect a fifth-generation Altima for 2012 or 2013.
The Nissan Altima debuted in 1992 for the 1993 model year as a replacement for the Nissan Stanza in the automaker's lineup. Originally, it retained the name Stanza Altima, which was soon shortened to just the Altima. Built at Nissan's factory in Smyrna, Tenn., it featured rather simplistic, rounded-off exterior styling created by the Nissan Design Center in California, with an eye toward American buyers and their sensibilities. The original Altima sat on a 103.1-inch wheelbase, with an overall length of 180.5 inches and a width of 67.1 inches. Although it comfortably accommodated four passengers, it proved too narrow to seat three adults across the back seat.
Trims included the base XE, mid-level GXE, sport-oriented SE, and luxury-oriented GLE. Standard features included cloth upholstery, front bucket seats, a driver's-side airbag, a tilt steering wheel, an AM/FM audio system, and power exterior mirrors. All except the entry-level XE also came standard with power windows and door locks. The GXE added premium cloth seats, a digital clock, and a pass-thru rear center armrest, while the SE came equipped with sport seats, foglights, a rear spoiler, and a sport-oriented suspension. The top-of-the-line GLE also included automatic climate control, keyless entry, a head's-up display, and a six-speaker audio system with larger rear speakers. All rode on 15-inch wheels.
Power for the front-wheel-drive Altima came from a 150-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which sent power to the wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Options included antilock brakes.
Nissan added a standard passenger airbag in 1994, and a power sunroof and standard leather seats for the GLE trim in 1997. Nissan also made exterior updates, including a new grille and new taillights, in 1995, and added a Limited Edition GXE with unique wheels in 1997.
Although the second-generation Altima debuted in 1998 for the U.S. market only, the real updates didn't appear until the 2000 model year, when horsepower for the Altima's four-cylinder engine increased from 150 to 155 hp and Nissan updated the suspension. Although the wheelbase remained the same, overall length increased in 2000 from 183.5 to 185.8 inches, and the SE and GLE trims received larger 16-inch wheels.
Outside, Nissan smoothed out the Altima's already well-rounded and somewhat nondescript curves, causing some to find the exterior design on the bland side. The interior received updated seats, new cloth upholstery, and a restyled instrument cluster. The GLE trim came standard with side-impact airbags.
The third-generation Altima, which bowed in 2001 for the 2002 model year, rode on a unique platform utilized solely for the U.S. market. Wheelbase increased to 110.2 inches, overall length grew to 191.5 inches, and the Altima widened to 70.4 inches, making it larger than the Maxima and upgrading it to a midsize, five-passenger vehicle. The exterior styling changed significantly, and for the better, thanks to a more sculpted design with an aggressive nose, a rear-sloping roofline, and an overall aerodynamic design.
Also with the third generation, a V6 powerplant was available for the first time. Trims included the Base, S, SL, and top-of-the-line SE, which came standard with a new 3.5-liter, 240-hp V6. A 175-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine drove the other Altima trims.
Because of the Altima's stretched wheelbase and overall length, interior space increased as well, adding much-needed legroom to the rear seat, as well as more cargo space in the trunk. But some owners found the quality of the interior materials lacking. Standard features included air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a CD player, and a folding rear seat. The SL received foglights and larger 17-inch wheels, while the SL included a power-adjustable driver's seat and an upgraded sound system.
For the fourth and current generation, which appeared in showrooms with the 2007 model year, the Altima sat on a slightly smaller (by 1 inch) platform with a revamped, tighter suspension, resulting in improved handling and stability. The exterior displayed a sportier, more refined design, with a new grille and headlights, as well as more distinct lines, especially on the front end and along the sides. Inside, passengers enjoyed a roomy cabin, as well as a number of new standard features, including Nissan's new Intelligent Key and push-button ignition. The Altima Hybrid debuted in late 2007, while the Altima Coupe bowed as a separate model in 2008.
Buyers can divide used Altimas into two categories. Pre-2000, the Altima was a compact car with space for four passengers and a nondescript design, while after 2000, and particularly with the introduction of the third generation in 2002, the Altima became an established competitor in the midsize sedan category. Older Altimas, particularly those built in the 1990s, remain on the roads today and offer good value and affordability. Their powerplants, safety features, handling, and interior design were competent, yet not overly competitive. However, all that changed with the new millennium.
From the early 2000s onward, the Altima's exterior design changed only minimally, with a number of refreshes along the way. The third and fourth generation are particularly distinguished by their long, aggressive noses and sharp exterior lines. However, prospective buyers seeking a more upscale interior may want to opt for a late-model, fourth-generation Altima, since the third-generation cars were often criticized for the lack of soft-touch materials and overall elegance throughout the cabin.
On the other hand, the Altima's highly regarded handling and performance has remained fairly constant throughout the last decade. The addition of a V6 engine in 2002 gives buyers who prefer a higher level of performance a good option, and the Hybrid and coupes widen the choices as well. Prospective buyers who like to drive a little more aggressively should opt for the SE trims, with their sport-tuned suspensions. Similarly, owners who need more interior and cargo space should opt for the larger third- and fourth-generation Altimas, while the earlier, narrower versions of the 1990s should fit the needs of single drivers or couples on a budget.
By R. Feeman