2006 Nissan Altima

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2002 Nissan Altima

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

It's finally a rival to top-selling Honda Accord and Toyota Camry sedans.
Pros:
  • Thoroughly redesigned
  • Strong engines
  • Good ride and handling
Cons:
  • Space-eating trunk hinges
  • Rear windows don't lower all the way
  • Soft brake pedal

While decent, the Nissan Altima has been too small and underpowered to take on the big guns in the huge midsize family sedan market.

Those guns are the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus. They dominate that market, although the Accord and Camry have the most consumer firepower because many Taurus models go to fleet customers instead of consumers.

Bigger and Better
The third-generation Altima promises to be a big hit with consumers, if given the right promotion. It's larger and more powerful than its predecessors. And its slicker body gives it flair, which is something previous Altimas sorely lacked. The Accord and Camry don't look as good, although the 2002 Camry was restyled to shake its traditionally bland appearance.

No longer a compact sedan, the front-wheel-drive Altima has moved up to be larger in most dimensions than the Accord and Camry. It's built more rigidly on a new platform that will be used by Nissan for other models. In fact, the Altima may well steal sales from Nissan's higher-line Maxima sedan, which is approximately the same size.

The Altima's wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) is up fully 7.1 inches to 110.2 inches for a more comfortable ride. Overall length has been increased nearly 6 inches to 191.5 inches for greater occupant and cargo space.

Also, the body is significantly taller and wider, with a wider stance for better stability and a more ground-hugging appearance. Despite all that, the weight hasn't gone up much.

First V6
The Altima also gets its first V6 engine, which is the largest, most powerful engine in its class. The 3.5-liter 240-horsepwer V6 has dual overhead camshafts and 24 valves. It propels the Altima to 60 mph from a standing start in about 7 seconds, making it one of the fastest midsize family sedans.

However, the big news is Altima's new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is expected to be in about 80 percent of Altimas. Most buyers of the Accord and Camry order a 4-cylinder model because V6 versions cost considerably more.

New Four-Cylinder
The Altima engine is no carryover. It has 175 horsepower, or 20 more than in the last, smaller Altima 4-cylinder. It tops the Camry's 157-horsepower 4-cylinder and the Accord's 4-cylinder engines, which produce 135 to 150 horsepower. The Taurus comes only with a 155 and 200 horsepower V6.

Although it sounds rough when pushed hard, the Altima 4-cylinder provides such lively acceleration that some may think there's a "six" under the hood.

The 4-cylinder also is sophisticated, with dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing for better response. Balance shafts cancel vibrations typically generated by a 4-cylinder engine.

The Altima V6 is smoother and quieter than the 4-cylinder, but comes only in the top-line 3.5 SE, which costs $22,349 to $23,149.

Variety of Trims
In contrast, there are 4-cylinder Altimas in base 2.5, midrange 2.5 S and high-line 2.5 SL trims. Their prices range from $16,349 to $22,699.

Most midsize family sedan buyers are on budgets, and most Altima buyers thus are expected to get the well-equipped $17,999 to $18,849 2.5 S. Its standard features include air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a height-adjustable front armrest, split-folding rear seatbacks and power windows, locks and outside mirrors.

Decent Fuel Economy
The V6 provides decent fuel economy: an estimated 19 to 21 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. But the 4-cylinder economy figures are 22 to 23 in the city and 28 to 29 on highways. The higher numbers reflect the engine fitted with a manual gearbox.

Both engines come with a standard 5-speed manual transmission, which will allow moms and dads to drive in a sportier manner. Still, the optional, responsive 4-speed automatic transmission has a gated shifter that makes it fairly easy to use for clutchless shifting.

Smooth Ride
The 3.5 SE provides sharper handling than other Altimas because it has larger 17-inch wheels and a firmer suspension. But the 4-cylinder trims also are fun because they're lighter than the V6 trim and have the same supple all-independent suspension, which delivers a smooth ride. They also have fairly large 16-inch wheels and strong brakes, although the pedal is rather soft on all trims.

Unfortunately, the $299 traction control system is just offered for the 3.5 SE with an automatic transmission.

Other options include an $849 power glass sunroof for the 2.5 S, 2.5 SL and 3.5 SE. There also is a $749 option for those trims with items including side airbags up front and anti-lock brakes with a brake assist feature for surer stops.

Nice Interior
The quiet, nicely designed interior easily accommodates four tall adults. There are supportive front bucket seats, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel and recessed, backlit gauges that can be read quickly even when the sun is shining brightly.

The large, smooth controls are within easy reach for most persons. Cupholders are big, but the rear windows don't slide all the way down; they should go all the way down in a family sedan because kids in the back seat will often reach for food and beverages in drive-through lanes at fast-food outlets.

Large Trunk
The big trunk has a low, wide opening, but the lid's manual hinges eat into cargo space. And the underside of the lid is so roughly finished it seems as if the person in charge of the lid was out to lunch when someone signed off on its design.

Rear seatbacks flip forward to enlarge the cargo area, but they don't sit entirely flat. And the cargo pass-through opening between the trunk and rear-seat area is only moderately large.

Nissan currently doesn't have the production capacity to let the Altima match Accord and Camry output. But this new Nissan is sure to attract many new buyers. And increasingly aggressive Nissan surely could find a way to increase output.

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BB05 - 8/27/2014 10:27:19 AM