2002 Nissan Altima
This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.