2011 Nissan Altima Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 5, 2011

The 2011 Nissan Altima isn't quite as roomy as some mid-size rivals, but it's one of the sportiest-driving choices.

Like the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima is one of just a few mid-size sedans also to be offered in a Coupe variant. And like the Toyota Camry, it's offered in a Hybrid version. Factor in its sleek, clean styling and better handling than is typical in this class, and you get something to appeal to nearly everyone looking for a mid-size car.

Despite getting a minor refresh last year, including a new front end, some new interior materials, and a revised options list, the Nissan Altima is admittedly not the freshest face in the mid-size sedan class. Nearly all of its rivals—including the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima—have seen major redesigns since then, or at the very least significant refreshes. That said, it remains one of the better-looking offerings in this class. A simple but racy profile and a lack of clutter are keys to the Altima's longevity and vigor, in the opinion of our editors, and unlike some other sedans, the Altima doesn't come across as overwrought. The same holds true inside; the Altima's instrument panel is straightforward and simple, yet sophisticated and a little sporty. The overall look can be drab in some colors, but bright trim and bezels spice it up somewhat.

The 2011 Nissan Altima sedan and Altima Coupe are offered in four-cylinder and V-6 versions, and depending on which engine is underhood the driving experience can be quite different. The base 2.5-liter four makes 175 horsepower and does just fine either with the six-speed manual (coupes only) or the Xtronic CVT automatic (both models). Under the hood of SR models is a 270-horsepower version of Nissan's well-regarded 3.5-liter DOHC V-6. With the V-6, the Altima feels refined and strong in either body style—although there's a little too much torque at times for the Altima to deliver smoothly through the front wheels. Some testers have been able to dash to 60 mph in less than six seconds with the V-6.

Review continues below

The Altima Hybrid, which is especially limited this year with Nissan's decision to discontinue it, gets an advanced full-hybrid system with the 2.5-liter engine, tuned down to 162 horsepower for improved efficiency; altogether the hybrid system makes 198 hp. That power reaches the road through a continuously variable transmission, also via the front wheels. Fuel economy ratings for the Hybrid are excellent, especially if you plan to drive mostly in the city, at 33 mpg city, 33 highway.

If you're expecting the Altima Hybrid to look significantly different, you're destined for disappointment; the Hybrid looks almost indistinguishable from the sedan, aside from low-key badging. But the Coupe is very distinctive; it's several inches shorter, with a much more tapered roofline and sculpted rear flanks, plus an altogether different treatment in back. The only major packaging difference is that the back seat is fixed in Hybrids, whereas it folds forward in other models.

The interior of the 2011 Nissan Altima is positively functional and not at all gimmicky, with neat, attractive styling, plus good passenger space all around—though the back seat could prove tight for taller adults. Coupes give up several inches of useful cabin space and are quite a bit tighter in back, with headroom scarce. Our only lingering complaint is that the tactility of the controls leaves something to be desired, as does the plethora of hard, drab plastics. Ride quality tends to be good, though a bit on the firm side, in any of the sedan models; the Coupe's shorter wheelbase can make the ride slightly more pitchy, however.

Altima S models include Nissan's Intelligent Key system, six-speaker sound, air conditioning, rear seat heaters, a trip computer, dual power remote-controlled side-view mirrors, and speed-sensitive variable intermittent windshield wipers. Nissan's push-button ignition system is included on all Altimas, whether you like it or not. Top SR models get a power driver's seat, wood interior trim, and a few other extras, while options include a Sport Package with High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, fog lights, a moonroof, and a rear spoiler, or a Technology Package with a nav system, Music Box hard drive music system, Bluetooth streaming audio, and XM NavTraffic and NavWeather. A Premium Package wraps those audio upgrades with leather seats (heated in front), plus mood lighting, rear A/C vents, and a HomeLink garage-door opener. When fully loaded, an 2011 Nissan Altima SR sedan can top $32k.

8

2011 Nissan Altima

Styling

Clean, sleek styling keeps the 2011 Nissan Altima sedan a head-turner years after its introduction, while the Altima Coupe will even pass as a sports coupe in some crowds.

The current Nissan Altima is admittedly not the freshest face in the mid-size sedan class. Nearly all of its rivals—including the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima—have seen major redesigns since then, or at the very least significant refreshes. That said, it remains one of the better-looking offerings in this class. A simple but racy profile and a lack of clutter are keys to the Altima's longevity and vigor, in the opinion of our editors, and unlike some other sedans, the Altima doesn't come across as overwrought.

If you're expecting the Altima Hybrid to look significantly different, you're destined for disappointment; the Hybrid looks almost indistinguishable from the sedan, aside from low-key badging. But the Coupe is very distinctive; it's several inches shorter, with a much more tapered roofline and sculpted rear flanks, plus an altogether different treatment in back.

The same holds true inside; the Altima's instrument panel is straightforward and simple, yet sophisticated and a little sporty. The overall look can be drab in some colors, but bright trim and bezels spice it up somewhat.

8

2011 Nissan Altima

Performance

While not everyone will like the now-mandatory CVT transmissions, the 2011 Nissan Altima is more entertaining to drive than other mid-size sedans.

The driving experience in the 2011 Nissan Altima sedan and Altima Coupe can be quite different, depending on the engine, but all Altimas handle just a little more enthusiastically than other mid-size sedans.

The Altima sedan and Coupe are offered in four-cylinder and V-6 versions. The base 2.5-liter four makes 175 horsepower and does just fine either with the six-speed manual (coupes only) or the Xtronic CVT automatic (both models). Under the hood of SR models is a 270-horsepower version of Nissan's well-regarded 3.5-liter DOHC V-6.

While the four-cylinder engine works better with a CVT than most, and it has no problem moving the Altima rapidly, the smaller engine doesn't so much match this sedan's somewhat sportier character and more able handling. With the V-6, the Altima feels refined and strong in either body style—although there's a little too much torque at times for the Altima to deliver smoothly through the front wheels. Some testers have been able to dash to 60 mph in less than six seconds with the V-6.

Nissan has decided to discontinue the slow-selling Altima Hybrid, but there still might be a few out there. With an advanced full-hybrid system with the 2.5-liter engine, it makes 198 hp altogether. That power reaches the road through a continuously variable transmission, also via the front wheels.

7

2011 Nissan Altima

Comfort & Quality

Back-seat space is far from class-leading in the Altima, but the interior is comfortable and straightforward overall.

The interior of the 2011 Nissan Altima is positively functional and not at all gimmicky, with neat, attractive styling, plus good passenger space all around—though the back seat could prove tight for taller adults.

Coupes give up several inches of useful cabin space and are quite a bit tighter in back, with headroom scarce. Trunk space is plentiful, too, with fold-forward seats (on all but the Hybrid model) to accommodate larger items (though they don't fold flat), and the glovebox is huge. The instrument panel in either model has the intimate look and feel of a sports coupe without seeming tight, and controls are close at hand.

Our only lingering complaint is that the tactility of the controls leaves something to be desired, as does the plethora of hard, drab plastics. Ride quality tends to be good, though a bit on the firm side, in any of the sedan models; the Coupe's shorter wheelbase can make the ride slightly more pitchy, however. Road noise is a little more noticeable in Coupes and V-6 models, both of which have lower-profile tires.

7

2011 Nissan Altima

Safety

The 2011 Nissan Altima doesn't have class-leading safety ratings, but it does include all the features shoppers expect.

The 2011 Nissan Altima has only respectable safety scores in a class of overachievers, which means that there are better choices for those who are especially worried about safety in a mid-size sedan.

The Altima sedan and Coupe models get top 'good' scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal and side impact tests, but earn only 'acceptable' for rear impact and roof strength. And in the new, revised NCAP testing from the federal government and introduced for 2011, the Altima sedan earns four stars overall, including four stars in frontal impact and five stars for side protection.

Front, side, and curtain airbags, along with electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, are now all standard across the line, along with active head restraints that should help reduce the chance of whiplash.

8

2011 Nissan Altima

Features

The 2011 Nissan Altima offers more option possibilities than many vehicles in this class, but it's at its best value when you keep it simple.

The Altima's feature set, at the base S level, includes a little more than you might expect, while even in its more luxurious SR trim it delivers a level of equipment that seems close to earning it an Infiniti badge.

Altima S models include Nissan's Intelligent Key system, six-speaker sound, air conditioning, rear seat heaters, a trip computer, dual power remote-controlled side-view mirrors, and speed-sensitive variable intermittent windshield wipers. Nissan's push-button ignition system is included on all Altimas, whether you like it or not.

Top SR models get a power driver's seat, wood interior trim, and a few other extras, while options include a Sport Package with High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights, fog lights, a moonroof, and a rear spoiler, or a Technology Package with a nav system, Music Box hard drive music system, Bluetooth streaming audio, and XM NavTraffic and NavWeather. A Premium Package wraps those audio upgrades with leather seats (heated in front), plus mood lighting, rear A/C vents, and a HomeLink garage-door opener. When fully loaded, an 2011 Nissan Altima SR sedan can top $32k.

8

2011 Nissan Altima

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Nissan Altima is about average for fuel efficiency in its mid-size class; but the Altima Hybrid is one of the greenest picks.

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All four-cylinder Altima sedan models (and four-cylinder Altima Coupes with the CVT) come with fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city, 32 highway. That's very respectable for the class, but not quite on par with a number of mid-size models—such as the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, which both get 35 mpg highway. As for V-6 models they're about what you'd expect for the class, at 20 mpg city, 27 highway.

The 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid is another story altogether; thanks to its sophisticated hybrid system, it achieves 33 mpg both in the city and on the highway. That places it among the lowest vehicles its size for carbon footprint.

All four-cylinder Altima sedan models (and four-cylinder Altima Coupes with the CVT) come with fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city, 32 highway. That's very respectable for the class, but not quite on par with a number of mid-size models—such as the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, which both get 35 mpg highway. As for V-6 models they're about what you'd expect for the class, at 20 mpg city, 27 highway.

 

The 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid is another story altogether; thanks to its sophisticated hybrid system, it achieves 33 mpg both in the city and on the highway. That places it among the lowest vehicles its size for carbon footprint.

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