After moving to a brand-new, larger platform in 2002, the interior of Nissans midlevel sedan gets minor enhancements for 2003. New charcoal seat fabric will become available later in the model year. A bright titanium accent color is featured in all models, and a padded cloth front center armrest cover is installed. Two new body colors are available.
Option choices have been simplified for the 2003 model year. An automatic transmission, simulated wood trim, and heated seats and mirrors are standard for the 2.5 SL sedan. New 3.5 SE Sport and Leather option packages are available.
As a result of the 2002 redesign, the formerly compact Altima leap-frogged almost past its more costly Maxima sibling and into the full-size category. The Altimas principal rivals include the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The Altima exhibits a cab-forward profile, and it is ample in size all around. The wheelbase is comparatively long at 110.2 inches, and its overall length stretches to 191.5 inches.
The cabin boasts long side windows, and it looks huge compared to the cars hood and trunk. Nissan says the Altimas taillights are inspired by super bikes. A fully independent suspension is used. Four-cylinder models get 16-inch tires, and the V-6 sedans ride on 17-inch rubber.
Seating for five occupants includes separate front seats and a three-place bench in back. The front-seat hip point is relatively high to improve visibility. Models with the automatic transmission use a gated gearshift.
Standard equipment includes power windows and door locks, a tachometer, a fold-down rear armrest, a tilt/telescoping steering column and an illuminated entry system. The 2.5 S model adds cruise control, a CD player, air conditioning, remote keyless entry and power mirrors. The 2.5 SL gets heated leather-appointed seats, an eight-way power drivers seat, a Vehicle Security System and an eight-speaker Bose premium audio system with an in-dash CD changer. The V-6-equipped 3.5 SE has a six-speaker CD audio system. Options for the 3.5 SE include a rear spoiler and high-intensity-discharge headlights.
Under the Hood
The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces 175 horsepower. A 245-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, which is similar to the one used in the Maxima, is standard on the 3.5 SE sedan. Either engine can mate with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission, and premium fuel is recommended. Traction control is available for V-6 Altimas equipped with the automatic gearbox.
Antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats and roof-mounted side curtain-type airbags are included in an option group.
The Altima is more refined with the automatic transmission than with the manual shift, which is a bit on the clunky side; the sedan steers with a rather light touch. The Altima is stable on the road, and it exhibits minimal body lean. Its ride comfort is satisfying as the fully independent suspension deals adeptly with pavement bumps and holes.
Strong performance from the V-6 engine matches up with excellent response from the automatic transmission, which downshifts promptly and eagerly for passing. The Altimas acceleration is even more energetic with the five-speed manual. The seats feel comfortable and pleasantly supportive, and the sedan comes across as tightly constructed.