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Over the past decade, the Nissan Altima has found a niche for itself as one of the better-selling mid-size family cars. It's not quite the sales titan that is the Toyota Camry, or the Honda Accord, but like the Ford Fusion, the Altima is a steady, strong seller in a field overcrowded with great sedans and coupes, a new one taking aim on the segment every year.
The Altima cuts a distinct profile, one of the assets it has in the win column as it reaches the midpoint of its life cycle. The four-door sedan and two-door coupe strike us as two of the better-looking mid-sizers. There's a simplicity to its profile, and just a few well-rendered details to highlight its athletic stance. The two-door's as close as you can get to a mock Infiniti G37, with some of the same proportions and guidelines. Both versions have an uncluttered cabin that's easy to read and helm, even if some of the plastics look a little more drab than the ones in the Accord or the Sonata.
The Altima's four-cylinder engines are fine, competitive starting points for acceleration and fuel economy, and Nissan still offers a manual transmission for the shrinking set of buyers who want to shift it themselves in this class. Normally we'd prefer the automatic for cars such as these, but instead of a stepped-gear transmission, the Altima has a CVT. It's more responsive than the ones in Nissan's past, and the ones we've sampled from other brands, but the CVT tends to amplify the engine noise from both the four-cylinder and the very powerful, 270-hp V-6, while it doesn't quite zip with the ratio-to-ratio changes of a good automatic. Still, the Altima with a V-6 is strikingly fast, and its handling is a cut above most of its competitors, with the ride going a little pitchy in the shorter-wheelbase coupe.
A gimmick-free interior keeps the Altima looking fresh inside. In terms of raw available space, it's somewhere between the vastness of the current Accord and the new VW Passat, but larger than the Fusion. Rear headroom can be an issue in the sedan, and space is cramped in the two-door in most directions; tall drivers will have to adopt a lean-back driving position if they opt for the sunroof.
Every Altima comes with pushbutton start--whether you want it or not--and air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, and intermittent wipers. On SR models, a power driver seat and woodgrain trim are standard. Options range from a moonroof, a navigation system, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and leather seating. Those features pile on Infiniti-like luxury in the more mainstream Altima, and can drive its sticker price to more than $32,000. Our advice: stick with the cleanly styled, swell-handling versions with fewer luxury features for maximum value.
- Still one of the best-looking mid-sizers
- Responsive handling
- Simple, comfortable interior
- Strong six-cylinder acceleration
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- Back seat can seem tight
- Pushbutton start, whether you want it or not
- Some interior materials look drab
- Safety scores fall a bit shy
- CVT is an acquired taste