Nissan's Altima has grown up in 2002, not only in size but in performance.The previous Altima was noted primarily for its all-around competence, while the new car blends youthful styling, greater size and an optional 240-horsepower engine that gives it scintillating acceleration. The wheelbase, now 110.2 inches, is 7.1 inches longer than the previous car. Overall length is up by 5.7 inches and height has grown by 2 inches. The extra size provides a larger interior. The Altima is now closer in size to the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat. All major interior dimensions have been increased over the previous model. You notice the new styling first, from the nicely curved roof to the short trunk and sweeping character lines that emphasize the vehicle's wedge shape. It looks lean, taut and muscular. Bright headlights and clear-lens taillights are distinct pieces of "jewelry" that add glimmer to the front and back. Its overall appearance is more German than Japanese. The base model begins at $16,649, while the popular 2.5 S starts at $18,999. The powerful 3.5 SE, which is the model I drove, begins at $23,149. The 3.5 SE is a car of significant performance for the price. Our test carÕs sticker price was $26,963, and that included a sunroof, anti-lock brakes, rear spoiler, Bose stereo and both side and side-curtain airbags. The base engine is a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that should provide decent acceleration, although I have not had the opportunity sample this engine. What is unusual for a car in this segment is the optional 3.5-liter, 240-horsepower V-6. This is essentially the same engine as that used in the Maxima, and it gives the Altima a decidedly sporty personality, one of the things which helped it garner the North American Car of the Year for 2002. The VQ family of V-6 engines has been recognized as one of the "Ten Best Engines," by Ward's Auto World magazine. The compact, powerful V-6 engine fairly bursts with energy when you call on it for maximum power. There is a small amount of torque steer, or gentle pulling to one side or the other, as the front wheels search for traction when you accelerate hard from a stop. Passing on two-lane highways or merging onto the expressway is a breeze with this much power on tap. A five-speed manual transmission is offered, but the automatic is likely to be the transmission of choice for all but the most performance-minded drivers. With 240 horsepower under the hood, the suspension needs to be firm, and it is. The ride is taut, and the 17-inch low-profile tires respond to road irregularities with sharper feel than smaller tires would. Cornering, however, is enhanced with these tires, and the wheels look great. A slightly rougher ride is worth improvements in handling and steering response. The new body structure is 170 percent stiffer, according to Nissan, and to save weight, aluminum is used for the hood and trunk. It is built at the plant in New Smryna, Tenn. Inside, the Altima has comfortable seats and decent rear-seat legroom. The instrument panel has deep tunnels for the gauges. The plastic used on the center section of the dash, surrounding the radio and climate control, is smooth and less inviting than a nice texture would be. Secondary controls for the audio system and heating/cooling are well-configured and easy to use. The sound quality of the optional Bose AM/FM/CD with six-disc changer is excellent. The top-line SE has finger-tip buttons for the stereo and cruise control on the steering wheel. Changing the Altima so dramatically means it almost takes the place of the Maxima as NissanÕs volume sedan, while the Maxima moves closer to a luxury car. Price
The base price of the test car was $23,149. Options included anti-lock brakes, side airbags in front, side-curtain airbags, Bose stereo, traction control, rear spoiler and power sunroof. The sticker price was $26,963. Warranty
Three years or 36,000 miles plus five years or 60,000 miles limited powertrain coverage. Point: The new Altima has great looks, a bigger interior and especially vigorous performance if you opt for the 3.5-liter, 240-horse V-6. This package is quick, athletic and reasonably priced. Counterpoint: The front wheels nibble from side to side under hard acceleration and some interior plastic surfaces are less than inviting because they are hard and smooth. SPECIFICATIONS:
Engine: 3.5-liter, 240-hp V-6
Transmission: automatic Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,273 lbs.
Base price: $23,149
As driven: $26,963
Mpg rating: 19 city, 26 hwy.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||May 6, 2002|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||June 8, 2002|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||May 31, 2002|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||May 4, 2002|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||February 24, 2002|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||January 27, 2002|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||January 5, 2002|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||December 28, 2001|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||November 14, 2001|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||October 21, 2001|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 14, 2001|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit News||September 26, 2001|
|John O'Dell||Los Angeles Times||July 25, 2001|
|Jason Stein||February 25, 2002|
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