The Nissan Altima was originally launched
in 2002 and has quickly become Nissan's best selling vehicle. The 2006
model tested here is the third generation Altima and soon Nissan will
release a newly designed replacement. Available with a wide variety of trim
choices as well as engine choices, the Altima is a very versatile vehicle
available in many price points.
On the outside the Altima 3.5 SE has a low
and fast appearance even standing still. The sporty character emanates from the low handing face, to the large 17-inch five spoke wheels through which you can see the brake calipers, and finally to the rear deck wing. This
grown up look with a stronger body design makes the Altima look more like a
Maxima from pervious years. The rear end features a large wrap around
bumper and dual exhaust tips. The clear taillights give the Altima a sports
tuner feel and the large clear headlamps with Xenon bulbs look great at
Inside the Altima's overall design is similar
to that found in the Nissan and Infiniti lineup. The dash is low with a
downward slant that makes you feel as if it is under you rather than
enveloping you. The instrument cluster is set deep in three dials and the
main audio controls as well as climate controls are in a pod like unit in
the center console. You generally sit high with a clear view of the outside
but you feel open, not safe, and this in a vehicle that already feels light to the touch as you open its doors.
At the drivers seat a multifunction
three spoke tilt and telescoping leather wrapped steering wheel greets you.
Control stalks on both sides of the wheel are large and have a solid
feeling. Door window switches with automatic down for both front windows as
well as mirror adjustment is to your left. The switches themselves are hard
plastic with a dated appearance, something that you could find in a car from
1995. Their shiny appearance also makes them look as if they are worn or
used. Interior door handles have a chrome covering but feel like plastic
with a distinct plastic sound. Door paneling has a fuzzy suede-like trim,
which just looked very dated in our car, and it was not pleasing to the eye. All
doors lack an ergonomic grab handle to hold onto while the driver makes use
of the powerful engine in twisty curves.
There are loads of storage areas from a bin
in the upper dash console, to one below the ventilation controls, and also one in the armrest which is quite deep. Dual cup holders are found under a cover just next to the emergency brake handle. Yes nissan still has this here in the center of both front seats. Our car did not have the optional navigation system which would fit in place of the storage area above the stereo system. We found the center armrest
to feel very light and flimsy, and would expect more from a car in the
$28,000 price range. The climate control system in its 'auto' setting was
very loud. The fan speed always stayed too high and was not quiet.
Headlights are automatic on our model which is an option as is the dimming
rearview mirror all rolled up in one large package.
Leather seating surfaces on our test car
felt good and were perforated for a nicer style. The seats however were
very uncomfortable. The lacked any lateral support and did not fit well to
the various drivers we put through the Altima. A slight tilt in the rear
seats was helpful but overall comfort was not achieved on long drives. The passenger seat
in front is not height adjustable and was too high for comfort. The
driver's seat was uncomfortable for one tester who noted that it could not
be lowered enough to sit in line with the steering wheel which also sat too
low for him.
Our sunroof equipped Altima still had an
old quality sunroof with two buttons for use and no 'one touch' operation.
The sunroof was part of the Leather Sport Package. The paneling around the
sunroof controls was low quality plastic. We would like an improvement in
the quality of parts used throughout the interior and some more ergonomic improvements for different sized drivers.
We also feel the need to complain about the design of the doors on the Altima. As you open the doors, the handles seem to slip out from your fingers as it does not have a deep enough grip area. The door itself feels very light and moves too freely. The doors also have a tendency to close when pushed open, instead of staying open when you want to exit the car. This leads to a feeling of a poorly built car from the first moment you touch the car. The Volkswagen Passat we recently tested had
much higher quality parts with strong German feeling doors all for a lower base price.
Upon closer inspection of the Altima we found the doors lacked notches on the hinge that helps keep the door open on a hill. Touch the rear trunk cover and you can see this again, with a very light
weight feeling. At least the trunk was a nicely sized trunk at 15.6 cubic feet.
An 8-speaker stereo system from Bose was an
option on our car and featured an in-dash six CD changer. Also optional was
the XM Satellite radio on our tester. The sound quality was quite good with
the Bose speakers.
The 3.5 SE features several
exciting equipment packages to group options together. A Sport Package includes
sunroof and spoiler. A Sport Plus Package includes sunroof, spoiler,
Bose audio system and Xenon headlights. The Leather Package includes a
Bose audio system, sunroof, heated leather-appointed seats, automatic
temperature control, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, auto-dimming inside
rearview mirror and heated outside mirrors. The Leather Sport Package, includes the Leather Package, spoiler and HID xenon headlights. A separate Navigation package offers a DVD navigation system. The fully equipped 3.5 SL offers a single option, the
Navigation Package, with DVD-based navigation system and speed-sensitive
The Altima 3.5 SE features a 250 horsepower
2.5 liter DOHC six cylinder engine. It produces 249 lbs.-ft. of torque. A
5-speed automatic transmission with gated shifter and manual shift mode is
matched to this engine. The engine features continuously variable valve
timing, microfinished crank journals and cam lobes, molybdenum coated
lightweight pistons and electronically controlled throttle. Traction
control is also mated to the automatic transmission to help stop wheel
spin. However stability control is not offered, which really does help you
stay on the intended course if a wheel begins to spin. Power is sent to the
front wheels. As for fuel mileage, our test revealed a 22.3 mpg average for
both city and highway driving.
Suspension components use aluminum parts
extensively which is good for reduced weight. The rear multi-link independent suspension was adapted from the
Japanese-market Nissan Skyline supercar and is similar to Infiniti's
flagship Q45 sedan. The rear shocks and springs are separated for reduced
friction and the shock is in line with the center of the rear wheels,
providing better damping and less harshness. The V6 model also offers
17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and 215/55 R 17 tires.
Driving around town the Altima
offers a nimble ride with a very sporty engine. The suspension is
comfortable without being overly slushy and body lean and bounce is
controlled well. Using all the power in this lightweight car felt unnerving
as each time you pushed hard on the pedal the whole car would jerk into a
lower gear and pull forward strongly. Power delivery was not very smooth. At highway speeds the
Altima we tested had jitter and shakiness at speeds of 75mph. This could
have been due to an unbalanced tire. We did not get the feeling of
confidence that we do get in a German car, which easily climb past triple
digits. In the Altima you also sit with a high view of everything around
you. The dash, and doors do not envelope you and thus you have a feeling
that you are going faster than you really are. Stopping power is also quiet strong and good as in most Nissan cars. We really think that not much has changed in teh driving feel from a 1990 Nissan Maxima to this Altima. We hope the new upcoming redesigned model will make large leaps forward in all aspects of the Altima.
From a safety standpoint, Altima comes equipped with the Nissan Advanced Air
Bag System (AABS), which includes dual-stage front air bags, seat belt sensors with
front-seat passenger classification sensor, front-seat side supplemental
dual-stage air bags and available side curtain air bags. Front-seat active
head restraints, 3-point rear seat belts for all seats with adjustable
upper anchors, pretensioners and load limiters, emergency inside trunk
release, front and rear crushable zones and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and
Tethers for Children) child seat anchors and tether system are all included
in Altima's long list of safety features. ABS is optional and we highly
suggest it. Stability control is not offered.
Every Nissan is backed by a 36-month/36,000-mile limited vehicle warranty which is lower than the four year warranty most manufacturer's offer. A 5-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain warranty covers the engine.
The base price of our Altima 3.5 SE starts
off at $24,150. XM satellite radio adds $350. Side airbags as well as
front and rear curtain side air bags and the traction control system are an
$800 option. Leather sport package with rear spoiler and Xenon headlights,
as well as the Bose audio system, sunroof, auto climate control, dimming
rearview mirror and heated outside mirror was $3,900. Add $605 for
destination charges and the total comes to $29.805. This price does appear
to be high for a vehicle that doesn't quite have the updated interior
styling of some of its closest rivals. For instance, we found the
Volkswagen Passat to have a better engine response with less horsepower,
better handling and far better interior layout and design. Until the next
generation Altima hits showrooms, buyers should carefully way their options
and test drive a few cars in this segment before making a long term