New & Used Nissan Altima: In Depth
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The Altima is Nissan's four-door, mid-size family sedan. It 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. While the model was previously available as a coupe, today's Altima is sold as a four-door only.
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 review
Introduced 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.
When the third-generation Altima launched in 2002, it was the first of a new wave of dramatically styled Nissan models, 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 (a four-speed for the four, a five-speed for the V-6). The sportiest SE-R model included not only the 250-horsepower V-6, but also unnique suspension tuning, 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 design-forward alternative to the average mid-size sedan, 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 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.
In 2010, the Altima received a mild refresh consisting of a new grille, improvements to interior materials, and added options. At the time, the engine choices were a 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder in base models and an optional 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The standard transmission in both the sedan and coupe was a continuously variable transmission (CVT), while coupe buyers could select a six-speed manual.
Nissan offered an Altima Hybrid through the 2011 model year. It used a 162-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired with a licensed version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system found in the Prius and others. Fuel economy was rated by the EPA at 35 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway cycle. Nissan removed the Altima Hybrid from the lineup to focus its green efforts on the then-new Leaf all-electric hatchback.
The two-door survived through the end of the 2013 model year but has not been replaced alongside the latest Altima sedan.
The new Nissan Altima
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 2013 model year was the last for the Altima Coupe, which went out based on the last-generation model. For its sign-off, it came only in a single configuration, with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and the CVT.
The Altima sedan was largely unchanged for the 2015 model year.