POSTED: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - 1:22pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 8:46pm
It was only a few years ago that Nissan as a company was in the automotive ER on life support. And then Renault rode to the rescue. Yeah, I know, who’d have guessed.
When the Altima originally hit the market in the 90’s, I frankly wondered why. It filled a niche between the mid-sized Maxima and the compact Sentra. It seemed like too small a market to have much of an audience. This is yet another example of why auto companies do not call me for strategic planning.
The new Altima is actually what is known in the trade as a mid-cycle enhancement. In other words, it was completely redesigned in 2007, and so this year it gets a new grill, nicer interior materials, colors, etc. And it all works.
The Altima coupe is one of the prettiest affordable automobiles on the planet, and the sedan is …well…almost as attractive. It is functional, sleek and completely inoffensive. It is also a bit “generic Japanese sedan.” It’s Nissan’s fault. The coupe has completely spoiled me.
Inside, the attention to better materials has paid dividends. A lovely, very usable panel surrounds the driver, and the seats encourage performance driving. Fortunately, the drivetrain and chassis are game for anything you bargain basement Andrettis want to try.
The base engine is a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four, and our test car had the 3.5 -liter 6 with 270 ponies hooked up to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The manual gearbox was dropped for the sedan this year, though you can still get it on the coupe. There is even a hybrid version if that’s to your taste.
On the road, the Altima is perfectly balanced, taking curves as if on rails. 60 miles per hour comes up in 5.6 seconds, and you still get 20 miles per gallon in the city and 35 highway. Prices start at $20-grand and end up north of 27.
One magazine called the Altima the un-Camry. I’ll skip the Toyota jokes and say this. The Camry is a high quality appliance. The Altima makes you want to find a curving road and make it yours.