2007 Nissan Altima SEPosted on April 19th, 2007
Driver-oriented sport sedan
By Nina Russin
Sedans are the Felix Ungers of the car world. The perception that cars with four doors are the uncool stepchildren of cars with two defies conventional logic. If the Beach Boys had sung praises for their little deuce sedan, they might have changed the history of American car culture.
“The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice,” said Mark Twain. Twain knew the value of a good sedan.
This bias against four-door cars doesn’t extend across the pond. For years, European automakers such as BMW and Audi have made sport sedans coveted among car enthusiasts. More recently, American and Asian manufacturers have followed suit. The new Nissan Altima, that went on sale last fall, is a great example of four-door car that’s fun to drive, and not too shabby in the looks department.
The test car was the SE grade, with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and six-speed manual transmission. While Nissan sedans have always carried the option of a manual gearbox, the most recent version is a drastic improvement over its predecessors. I remember driving one of the first-generation Altimas: the transmission mounts were way too soft, making the vehicle difficult to shift. The manual gearbox on the current model is close to ideal. It’s easy to shift, with plenty of range in each gear for daily commuting. Shifting is light and precise. The shift lever is still a little bit longer than it needs to be on a passenger car, but that’s a small complaint, and not something that would keep the Altima off a buyer’s consideration list.
The 3.5-liter engine has plenty of power off the line, with 258 lbs.-ft. of torque. Like most overhead cam engines, it’s a high revver, so peak torque is well ahead of red line. Both the six-speed manual and available continuously variable automatic transmission boost fuel economy by maintaining the optimal gear. Engineers put a real-time fuel economy meter under the speedometer just to prove the point. The digital readout jumps around too much to be very practical, but it’s a fun add-on to the instrument panel.
Nissan’s racing experience is most evident in the Altima’s steering and suspension. The fully-independent sport-tuned suspension allows the sedan to corner flat at speed, but is compliant enough to absorb the occasional bump in the road. Optional seventeen-inch wheels on the test car gave it a large, stable footprint for even better handling. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard on all models.
The Altima is one of the cars built on Nissan’s new D platform. Engineers focused on improving torsional rigidity, that translates to better steering feedback. The four-wheel disc brakes are firm and linear without being grabby. Antilock braking and traction control are standard on all models.
Driving the Altima on the streets of Phoenix during rush hour was a good test of its ride and handling. The manual gearbox made it easy to gain the advantage off the line, and maneuver around slower vehicles. The car has a good on-center feel, enabling the driver to steer clear of potential trouble. There were no obvious blind spots around the car: its modest size makes it easy to park on the street or in a parking lot.
There is a noticeable lack of road noise to the interior, although I enjoyed the exhaust note from the optional dual exhausts. The clutch is a little stiff to stand on in thick traffic, but certainly not as bad as some sports cars. The availability of a large overdrive gear and cruise control should allow drivers to get exceptional gas mileage on the open road.
The Altima’s interior is definitely young at heart, with a large sunroof that allows plenty of ambient light for both front and rear passengers. The eight-way adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable and easy to adjust: it includes a power lumbar support. The premium option package adds heated seats for the driver and front passenger: something that drivers in cold climates will appreciate. A tilt and telescoping steering wheel makes it easy for any size driver to feel comfortable, and maintain a safe distance front the front airbag.
There are three-point seatbelts for three passengers in the rear, but three adults would be a squeeze. Two passengers will find plenty of shoulder and legroom. Separate air vents should make riding in back more comfortable in extremely hot or cold weather.
The steering wheel has redundant controls for the audio system and cruise control, so the driver can make adjustments without losing focus on the road. Dual temperature controls are easy to use. The premium package on the test car ($4,400) includes a Bose, six-CD in-dash changer, MP3 jack, and satellite radio. The system is also Bluetooth compatible. All of the controls are easy to reach from both front seating positions. At the base of the center stack is a covered bin that will hold a bunch of compact discs or small electronic devices. The center console houses two large cupholders that will easily hold 20-ounce bottles, as well as a deep storage bin, the incorporates a 12-volt power point. The two-tier glovebox is also exceptionally large.
Both front doors have bottle holders in the map pockets. The rearview mirror includes a compass and auto-dimming feature. Side mirrors are easy to adjust for any blind spots to the sides or rear of the car. Signal indicators on the side-mirrors are a useful feature for driving through thick traffic.
Large deep, trunk
The Altima’s trunk is ample in size. The sixty-forty rear seats fold flat to extend the load floor. While the Altima might not be bicycle friendly, it is certainly possible to put a bike in the car with the front wheel off. There’s a cargo net so that groceries won’t float all over the trunk floor. The trunk is easily large enough to hold the family’s luggage for a road trip, and even some camping supplies.
The Altima comes with a full-sized spare. While it adds a little weight to the vehicle, the spare tire can be driven at speed for much longer than an undersized spare, adding a margin of comfort for drivers who take long road trips.
Standard safety features on the Altima include antilock braking, traction control, front, side and side curtain airbags, active headrests for the front passengers, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
A lot of car for the money
Pricing for the SE model starts at $24,000. The option package and a $615 delivery charge put the sticker at just over $30,000. For the budget conscious, the Altima is also available with a four-cylinder engine. While the base model doesn’t include the fancy audio package or remote keyless start, it has all of the basic features a driver needs in a daily car. Smaller and less expensive option packages allow the buyer to upgrade the audio, add a navigation system or leather trim without the cost of the all-inclusive premium package.
Average fuel economy is 21/29 m.p.g., city/highway, making the Altima an affordable car to drive in these days of inflated gas prices.
The Altima is assembled at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee plant, and is currently available for test drives nationwide.
Likes: Responsive engine, with a crisp, easy to shift manual gearbox. The Altima is a practical car with sporty performance.
Dislikes: Gear shift lever is a little bit long for a car, and the clutch pedal is on the stiff side.
Base price: $24,000
Price as tested: $30,215
Horsepower: 270 Hp @ 6000 r.p.m.
Torque: 258 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 r.p.m.
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/29 m.p.g. city/highway
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