NACIMIENTO, Calif. — This winding road is one of the least traveled and best-kept secrets among West Coast sports car drivers. It winds up from the gorgeous Big Sur coastline over the crest to the grassland valleys beyond. It is a delight in a good handling car, and in the new Nissan Altima — the company’s new midsize sedan and finally, a true competitor for the Camry and Accord — it is a delight.
Nissan is calling the Altima the "cure for the common car," and they are highlighting its superior dynamic characteristics. In the past the Maxima has been considered sportier and more of a driver’s car than Camry and Accord, but had to be de-contented to compete with those models, especially since it did not offer a four-cylinder version. Now, the Altima will take on the fat middle of the family-sedan segment, leaving the Maxima to drift up into more luxurious, more sporting territory when it is redesigned in a couple of years.
In its new fighting trim, the Altima is convincing evidence that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s “Revival Plan” (which included a big investment from France’s Renault) has not only taken root, but is putting out some great results. Nissan’s designers and engineers started with a clean sheet of paper when designing the 2002 Altima, including an all-new platform. In comparison with the previous Altima, the new one’s wheelbase has been increased 7.1 inches, overall length is up 5.7 inches and the ’02 Altima is 1.3 inches wider. Track has been increased by 1.8 inches in front and 2.4 inches in the rear for better handling.
The ‘02 Altima features an all-new front suspension with an extensive use of aluminum parts, and a rear multi-link independent suspension adapted from the Japanese-market Nissan Skyline super car. To help with handling (and looks) the standard 205/65R16 tires come on either steel or aluminum-alloy wheels; V-6 models have standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 215/55R-17 tires.