Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sporty sedan feels like a class above midsize.
First introduced as a 1993 model, the Nissan Altima was billed as all-new for 2013. With a combination of innovative mechanical components, carefully tuned ride and handling, advanced cockpit connectivity features and sleekly contemporary styling that belies its price class, the fifth-generation Altima feels like it's a class above its mid-size segment while providing comfortable, efficient family transport.
For the 2014 model year, a Technology Package (including NissanConnect) replaces the previous Navigation Package, available for 2.5 SV and 3.5 SV models. A new Sport Value Package for 2.5 S models includes 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, remote engine start, and a trunk-lid spoiler. A new Display Audio Package for 2.5 S and 3.5 S includes a 5-inch color display, rearview monitor, USB port, and NissanConnect. (For the 2.5 S, that package also includes SiriusXM satellite radio.) Front-seat visors are now illuminated, with extensions, on 2.5 S, 2.5 SV and 3.5 S trim levels.
Chrome exhaust finishers have been added to the 2.5 grade for 2014. Nissan's available navigation system has added smartphone integration for iPhone and Android, SiriusXM Travel Link, and SiriusXM Weather.
All seven Altima models have Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) as standard. Each Altima is a four-door sedan, as Nissan has discontinued the two-door Altima coupe.
Most Nissan Altima models will come with a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but a vigorous, upscale 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 is available. The thrifty four-cylinder combines with the latest Nissan CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). The result of 20 years of refinement, this drivetrain results in a segment-leading 38 mpg EPA Highway estimate. That's better than Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu ECO, Hyundai Hybrid or any other competing mid-size sedan.
The four-cylinder gets a 27-mpg EPA City rating. Contributing to fuel-efficiency are tires with reduced rolling resistance, and a regenerative alternator that operates only when the Altima is cruising. With the V6 engine, the fuel-economy estimate shrinks to 22/31 mpg City/Highway.
We found the Altima 3.5 with the V6 engine a brilliant performer, but the Altima 2.5 with the four-cylinder engine delivered just average performance.
Inside, the top-of-the-line Altima SL trim was very luxurious, and the SV trim with cloth upholstery was also very nice. All of the Altimas are very quiet when underway.
Combine headline-making fuel efficiency with a variety of features and creature comforts not generally found in non-luxury mid-size sedans, and the Altima makes a stylish, affordable and tempting choice for families working their way up the scale. In fact, for some time the Altima has been shouldering its way into Nissan Maxima territory.
Available features include such pleasantries as leather-appointed seating, as well as safety features like blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, and a moving object detection system.
Perhaps the most likable of the Altima's provisions is a fully automatic tire-pressure monitor that tells you exactly which tire is low, by how much it is low. Then, it tells you when you are beginning to refill it, and gives you a little toot of the horn when you've reached the proper inflation! Goodbye tire gauge. The Easy Fill Tire Alert is standard.
NissanConnect with Navigation, which is part of the available Technology and Display Audio Packages, includes such features as a 7-inch touchscreen, 3D-effect map views, voice recognition, and turn-by-turn navigation. Also integrated into the Advanced Drive-Assist screen are a speed-limit display, eco driving maps, curve warning, and split-screen display.
Nissan's Altima competes against the Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.
2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 models are powered by a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, while Altima 3.5 models feature the 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6. Both come with a continuously variable transmission.
Altima 2.5 ($21,860) comes standard with cloth upholstery, 6-way manual driver's seat, AM/FM/CD with 4 speakers, Bluetooth hands-free phone. Bluetooth streaming audio, speedometer, tachometer, coolant gauge, fuel level gauge w/ fuel door location, Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist display, power windows, power locks, dual remote power sideview mirrors, remote keyless entry with pushbutton start, steering-wheel cruise control, center console w/ armrest and power outlet, 4 cupholders, 4 bottle holders, 16-inch steel wheels, 215/60R16 tires, and halogen headlights. Altima 2.5 S ($22,380) upgrades with a AM/FM/CD that plays through 6 speakers. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail prices, which do not include the destination charge, and may change at any time.)
Altima 2.5 SV ($24,180) adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 6-way power driver's seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, 215/55R17 tires, speed-sensitive audio volume control, USB port with iPod, satellite radio, Pandora, Google POI Search, Hands-Free text messaging, rearview monitor, automatic dual-zone climate control, rear heating/cooling vents, and remote engine start.
An optional Convenience Package for 2.5 SV ($1350) includes a power moonroof, fog lights, sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals, manual folding sideview mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, front passenger window with one-touch auto up/down, auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, compass, mood lamp, and side cargo net. The SV Navigation Package ($590) includes the 7-inch color screen, with turn-by-turn navigation integration into Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist display. A Sport Value Package ($850) has 16-inch alloy wheels, remote start, and a trunk-mounted spoiler. Also available for SV is a Display Audio Package ($320).
Altima 2.5 SL ($27,760) upgrades with perforated leather-appointed seating, heated front seats, eight-way power driver's seat w/ power lumbar, 2-way adjustable head restraints, Bose nine-speaker AM/FM/CD/Aux audio, compass, folding power sideview mirrors, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, wood-tone trim, metallic texture trim, LED front map lights, mood lamp, side cargo net, fog lights, outside mirror LED turn signals, and LED taillights. An optional Technology Package ($1090) for SV or SL features the Nissan Navigation system with 7-inch color screen, turn-by-turn navigation integrated into Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist Display, steering wheel navigation system controls, Blind Spot Warning, Moving Obstacle Detection, Lane Departure Warning.
The V6-powered Altima 3.5 S ($26,160), 3.5 SV ($28,360), and 3.5 SL ($30,660) are equipped similar to the respective 2.5 models and offer the same option packages. All Altima 3.5 models have 235/45R18 tires on 18-inch alloy wheels.
Safety features on all Altima models includes ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, all federally mandated airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, child seat anchors, LATCH child-seat system, power window lockout, child safety rear door locks, emergency inside trunk release, Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, tire-pressure monitor, and vehicle immobilizer system.
The Nissan Altima has a sleek, dynamic, cutting-edge stylishness that is decidedly imposing. The latest Altima is in some ways a class above its competitors. For instance, the Altima has the same wheelbase as the previous-generation model, but both its front and rear track are 1.4 in. wider, and its fenders are deeper. This gives it a muscular, sporting stance that sets it apart from some of the other midsize sedans.
The car features a blacked-out grille with a chrome surround, very a la mode, and a zoomy, striking headlight cluster. A short hood blends with a steeply canted windshield in what was once called cab-forward styling. A pronounced character line runs high along the side of the cab towards the rear, but the Nissan stylists avoided using multiple character lines and cluttering Altima's look, as some others do. The profile is clean and elegant. Chrome trim around the windows and bright, dressy 10-spoke wheels give the Altima a near-luxury glamour.
At the rear, a bold chrome bar, almost startling in its impact, rides above the ending of the side character lines at the bottom of the trunk. The trunk lid reveals a conveniently low lift-over height of only 26.9 inches, and there are dual chrome tailpipe outlets, de rigeur these days, no matter which engine is installed. Side mirrors with redundant turn-signal lights are a nice safety provision.
Overall, the Altima looks stylish, aggressive and sporting. In the upper levels of trim, it looks more expensive than it is. Nicely done.
The Nissan Altima lineup offers a broad range of interior furnishing levels. The SL trim is positively elegant and richly equipped. In the SV, the interior is a step down from the top-end SL but still highly satisfactory.
The 2.5 SV we used for our test drive had fawn cloth upholstery. The white-on-black gauges were handsome, immediately legible, and were surrounded by excellent soft-touch dashboard padding. The tachometer displayed a 6600-rpm redline for the 2.5. We missed the paddle shifters, available only on the 3.5 models. But in the 2.5, intelligent circuitry and the CVT (continuously variable transmission) regulate engine speed automatically. The power driver's seat had 6-way adjustability, and a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel presented the usual audio and cruise controls, plus controls for the navigation system. The Navigation system in our SV delivered good information via simple, effective graphics. A one-touch open/close moonroof with a manual sunscreen was included as part of the SV Convenience Package.
One point particularly worth mentioning about the Altima is its quietness. Considerable effort was made to rigidify the body structure and soundproof its panels. This contributes strongly to the car's class-above impression, quietness being one sure hallmark of luxury cars. But the materials that silence cars also add weight. Nissan was nonetheless able to reduce the Altima's weight from that of the previous model by 79 pounds, which is no mean achievement.
Nissan's Zero-Gravity seats are designed to provide uniform support from pelvis to chest. The benefits of these seats are said to be felt on long motor trips. They seemed comfortable enough to us, but we didn't take a long enough trip to notice anything exciting.
More exciting to many owners are the Altima's electronic connectivity packages. All models are furnished with Bluetooth hands-free phone systems and streaming audio. Also available are a hands-free messaging assistant, Pandora integration, and USB connection for iPod interface and satellite radio. The advantages of managing text messaging hands-free are so enormous, we can't begin to say enough about them. You can reply with pre-set texts like “driving, can't text,” “on my way,” or a custom message. Invaluable. Safety advocates, and motorists who would rather drive than send/receive messages, have a far different view.
And there's more. Advanced Drive-Assist Display, standard on every model, is located between the speedo and tachometer, a four-inch color display that is much easier for the driver to use than the console-mounted navigation monitor. It delivers mpg, audio information, trip computer, tire-pressure information, and importantly, turn-by-turn navigation.
All in all, regardless of the trim level you choose, the 2014 Altima interior feels like anything but a skimpy car. And the higher trim models are positively lavish.
The 3.5-liter V6 Altima, with its 270 horsepower and sporty paddle shifters, can accelerate from zero to 60 mph, Nissan says, in 6.2 seconds. That's very quick for the class in our book, and Nissan proudly notes it's fastest in class.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 182 hard-pressed horsepower, is considerably slower. Nissan says the Altima 2.5 can perform 0-60 in just 7.14 seconds. We're skeptical. AutoWeek reported this feat took 8.0 seconds, and we think that's closer to reality. Of course, achieving 38 mpg, one necessarily must accept a bit of huffing and puffing, and with the 2.5, we got it. As the song says, it works hard for the money.
On the other hand, if you don't mind a bit of yowling from underneath the hood, or better yet, if you're not in a breathless hurry, as many hundreds of thousands of Altima drivers before you have not been, the 2.5 will be satisfactory. Not vigorous. Satisfactory.
And startlingly efficient. The secret of the Altima four-cylinder's thrift is a quantum leap in efficiency and reduced internal friction in its very unusual CVT (continuously variable transmission). Nissan has fought long and hard to develop this transmission, and for a number of years, it delivered woozy forward progress that made you feel like you were being dragged behind a huge rubber band. But the potential of the CVT was always there, chiefly that when an engine reached its cruising speed, the transmission could drop the engine down to an extremely low engine speed and deliver stunning fuel mileage. The Altima is there. At 70 mph, with the help of its CVT, we saw the Altima's engine speed maintain an ultra-low 1650 rpm, barely a pulse, barely sipping gasoline. While the competition is loading up its invoices with the expense and complexities of hybrids, Nissan snuck under the wire and beat a bunch of them. Nissan was an early adopter and a leader in CVT technology.
In keeping with its upscale aspirations, the Altima's ride and highway behavior are suitably quiet and refined. All models of the Nissan Altima have Active Understeer Control, a system which applies small amounts of braking to the inside front wheel to overcome the Altima's tendency to resist vigorous turning into a corner. Cornering poise is further aided by stabilizer bars front and rear, and by ZF Sachs shock absorbers that provide sturdy body control. We weren't in driving circumstances where this hardware could be fully tested, though in forceful driving on normal roads, the car's turn-in and stability were good.
Similarly, the Altima's rear suspension is a multi-link system with firm bushings, providing solid lateral response. Overall, the Altima is a family sedan with little sporting character. It is assuredly a safe over-the-road package, but it lacks the agility and fun-to-drive spirit of a true sports sedan. But the active presence of understeer control, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and traction control, each fully automatic and self-activating, combine to give this car the full degree of modern safety and security.
The four-wheel disc brakes, too, are equipped with ABS and electronic brake distribution, delivering minute degrees of braking control in slippery conditions that even the most skilled driver would be hard pressed to match. And when the rains come and the Altima's wipers are switched on, the headlights come on automatically, complying with laws in effect in many states.
The Nissan Altima is a social climber in all the right ways, more comfortable, attractive and better-equipped than its price suggests. It is also an extremely frugal fuel user, while still providing full five-seat family accommodation. We found the standard four-cylinder engine sluggish, however, and the sedan offered only average dynamics and feedback on the road.
Ted West filed this report after his test drive of the Nissan Altima near Nashville, Tennessee.
Nissan Altima 2.5 ($21,860), Altima 2.5 S ($22,380), Altima 2.5 SV ($24,180), Altima 2.5 SL ($27,760); Altima 3.5 S ($26,160), Altima 3.5 SV ($28,360), Altima 3.5 SL ($30,660).
Smyrna, Tennessee; Decherd, Tennessee; Canton, Mississippi.
Options As Tested
Convenience Package ($1350) with power moonroof, fog lights, sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals, manual folding sideview mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, front passenger window with one-touch auto up/down, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Homelink Universal Transceiver, compass, mood lamp, side cargo net; Navigation Package ($590) includes Nissan Navigation system with 7-in. color screen, turn-by-turn navigation integration into Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist Display, steering wheel navigation system controls.
Nissan Altima 2.5 SV ($27,490).
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