2003 Altima New Car Test Drive
The Nissan Altima is roomy, comfortable, and practical. It's bigger and roomier than the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and other mid-size sedans. It delivers everything a mid-size sedan is supposed to do, offering a big trunk and comfortable rear seating. Bold styling sets the Altima apart among bland-looking sedans.
But wait, there's more: Order the V6-powered Altima 3.5 SE and you get one of the hottest cars in this class. The SE comes with a power 3.5-liter V6 that delivers stunning acceleration performance. Punch it in any gear and this car takes off.
Redesigned for the 2002 model year, the Altima is much larger than the previous-generation Altima and it now offers one of the roomiest interiors in its class. The 2002 Nissan Altima won the North American Car of the Year title, an award determined by 50 of the nation's top independent automotive journalists.
Changes for 2003 are minimal, consisting mainly of refinements to interior trim, our chief complaint with last year's model. This year's revisions represent a big improvement over last year's interior, though there is still work to be done in this area. The V6 engine now produces 5 more horsepower. There's more standard equipment on SL models, and new option packages for the SE.
Nissan Altima is available in four trim levels: 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SL, and 3.5 SE. Two engines are available.
Base, S, and SL models are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 16 valves and dual overhead camshafts. It produces 175 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 180 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. A compact balance system and silent-chain cam drive ensure smooth running for such a big four. All four-cylinder Altimas meet ultra-low emissions (ULEV) standards.
The 3.5 SE features a powerful 3.5-liter V6, essentially the same unit used in the Nissan Maxima. This engine also breathes through four valves per cylinder to produce 245 horsepower at 5800 rpm, and 246 pounds-feet of torque at 4400 rpm.
The base 2.5 model ($16,349) comes standard with power windows, a green-tinted solar glass windshield, power steering, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, fold down center armrests in front and rear, a 60/40 split folding rear seat and an in-glass antenna. Air conditioning is not part of the base package, however, and other options are limited.
2.5 S ($17,999) 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.
2.5 SL ($22,699) adds 16-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, a power driver's seat, trip computer, security system, Bose premium sound system and other convenience features. For 2003, a four-speed automatic transmission, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors and simulated wood trim have been added to the list.
3.5 SE ($23,149) comes with the V6, 17-inch alloy wheels, 215/55R17 tires, a performance-tuned suspension, fog lights, and dual chrome exhaust tips. But the Bose stereo is optional ($899). The Leather Package ($1399) now includes the Bose audio system, plus a power glass sunroof, heated front seats and heated mirrors, and leather upholstery. A new Sport Package adds a power glass sunroof and spoiler; the Sport Package Plus includes the sunroof and spoiler plus the Bose premium audio system and xenon headlights. A new Leather Sport Package combines the Leather Package, with the spoiler and xenon headlights. The new Premium Leather Package adds simulated wood trim.
Automatic transmissions are optional and add $800 to a base model or 3.5 SE, but $850 to a 2.5 S. V6 Altimas with the automatic transmission can be ordered with a traction control system ($299), which uses a combination of throttle, fuel cutoff and shift schedule to aid traction in off-the-line starts and slippery situations. Other options include the sunroof ($849) and a package consisting of side-impact air bags, front and rear head-curtain air bags, and ABS ($799).