New & Used Nissan Altima: In Depth
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The Nissan Altima is the automaker's four-door, mid-size family sedan. No longer available as a two-door coupe, the Altima is now one of the best-selling vehicles in its segment--one that includes the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, not to mention the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata.
Over the two decades it's been on sale, the Altima has gradually been upsized and toned down to fit its mission as Nissan's most mainstream vehicle. From its compact roots through a strongly sporty phase, the Altima is now one of the most comfortable, affordable, and fuel-efficient family sedans on the road.
MORE: Read our 2015 Nissan Altima reviewIntroduced in 1993, the Altima has grown from its original compact-class size to a mid-sizer, and from a mediocre offering to a very good one. The 1993-1997 and 1998-2001 Altimas were compact sedans powered by four-cylinder engines, offering a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission. They were the successor to the Stanza sedan, and did well for Nissan against the Toyota Corolla.
In 2002, the third-generation Altima was the first of a new wave of dramatically styled Nissan models when it launched, drawing great acclaim for its distinctive lines. That 2002-2006 model offered a 2.5-liter four and a 3.5-liter V-6, with standard five-speed manuals or automatics (four-speed for the four, five-speed for the V-6). The sportiest SE-R model included not only the 250-horsepower V-6, but also revised suspension settings, 18-inch wheels and tires, and some styling flourishes to set the car apart from standard Altimas.
Restyled for 2007, the Altima continued as a more stylish alternative to middle-of-the-road mid-size sedans like the popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, as well as the up-and-coming Hyundai Sonata and domestic competitors like the Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu. It was most notable in this generation for displacing the Nissan Maxima as Nissan's biggest sedan, though the vehicles actually shared much of their running gear. It also added a two-door model that gave the Honda Accord Coupe one of its few real rivals.
The Nissan Altima was mildly refreshed for the 2010 model year with a new grille along with both new interior materials and an expanded list of options. Engine options included a four and a V-6, in this case a 175-hp, 2.5-liter four or a powerful 275-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) was standard on the sedan and coupe, with a six-speed manual offered on the coupe only.
The Altima Hybrid was available through the 2011 model year. It paired a specially tuned, 162-hp version of the 2.5-liter four to an adapted version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, producing gas mileage rated at 35 mpg city, 33 mpg highway. The model was dropped for the 2012 model year as Nissan accelerated production of its all-electric Leaf hatchback.
Previewed at the 2012 New York auto show, the latest Nissan Altima went on sale that same year as a 2013 model. Essentially carried over for the past two model years, the Altima retains the four- and six-cylinder engines of the previous generation, as well as its continuously variable transmission (CVT). On 182-hp four-cylinder cars , improvements to the CVT mean the sedan gets an EPA-estimated 38 miles per gallon highway, among the best in its class. The thirstier 270-hp V-6 adds paddle controls and programmed "shift" points to the CVT that simulate the feel of a conventional automatic gearbox. Excellent seats and a tightly assembled interior are highlights.
The new Altima sedan also adopts more safety and technology, with standard Bluetooth and streaming audio, and available wide-angle rearview camera, lane-departure warning systems, and satellite radio. The IIHS gives the Altima its Top Safety Pick accolade (with top scores in all but the new small overlap test), while the NHTSA gives it five stars overall for crash-test performance.
The 2014 model year was the last for the Altima Coupe. For its sign-off, it came only in a single configuration, with the four-cylinder 2.5-liter engine and the CVT.