- Fuel efficiency (Hybrid or four-cylinder)
- Responsive handling
- Simple but comfortable interior
- Tight backseat
- Mandatory keyless ignition
- Hybrid powertrain uneasy in highway cruising
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.
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.