After moving to a brand-new, larger platform in 2002, Nissan’s midlevel sedan got minor interior enhancements for 2003. New charcoal seat fabric became available later in the year.
Little has changed for the 2004 model year except for a new Smoke body color and revised emissions standards for the four-cylinder engine. The lineup includes a base 2.5, 2.5 S, 3.5 SE and 2.5 SL.
Option choices were 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. Sport and Leather option packages are available for the 3.5 SE.
As a result of the 2002 redesign, the formerly compact Altima almost leap-frogged past its more costly Maxima sibling and into the full-size category. Principal rivals include the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The Altima is ample in size, and it exhibits a cab-forward profile. 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 looks huge compared to the car’s hood and trunk. Nissan says the taillights were inspired by “super bikes.” A fully independent suspension is used. Four-cylinder models get 16-inch tires, and V-6-equipped sedans ride on 17-inchers.
Seating for five people includes separate front seats and a three-place rear bench. The front-seat hip point is relatively high to improve visibility.
Standard equipment includes power windows and locks, a tachometer, a tilt/telescoping steering column, an illuminated entry system, and a split, folding rear seat. 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 driver’s 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 cloth seats and a six-speaker CD audio system. A Leather group for the 3.5 SE includes a rear spoiler and high-intensity-discharge headlights.
The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces 175 horsepower (170 hp in California). A 245-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, which is similar to the one used in the Maxima, is standard in the 3.5 SE sedan. Either engine can mate with a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission, and regular unleaded fuel can be used with both engines. Traction control is available for Altimas equipped with the V-6 engine and automatic transmission, which uses a gated gearshift.
Antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats and roof-mounted side curtain-type airbags are included in an option group.
Altimas equipped with the automatic transmission are more refined than models featuring the manual shift, which is a bit on the clunky side. The Altima steers with a rather light touch, is stable on the road and exhibits minimal body lean. Ride comfort is satisfying as the fully independent suspension deals adeptly with pavement bumps and holes.
Strong performance from the V-6 engine matches excellent response from the automatic transmission, which downshifts promptly and eagerly. Acceleration is even more energetic in models equipped with the five-speed-manual gearbox. The Altima’s seats feel comfortable and pleasantly supportive, and the sedan comes across as tightly constructed.