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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
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The 2014 Nissan Altima chooses to buck the current trend of downsizing engines for turbocharged models, and it continues forward with its four- and six-cylinder mills. However, there's only one transmission available, and that's the brand's improved CVT.
Those looking to save money will love the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It produces 182 horsepower, and gets to 60 mph in just under eight seconds. The CVT has been heavily reworked, and it's considerably more responsive than it has been in the past–especially in sport-shift mode, where it moves more quickly in the rev range, making the most of the smaller engine's power. This engine is loud, though, and the CVT doesn't do it any favors there. Drivers will be discouraged from running it all the way toward the redline, even though it's surprisingly refined at those engine speeds.
The swift Altima is the 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 model. It's fitted with a CVT too, but to go with its manual-shift mode, it also gets paddle shifters and simulated gear ratios that click the engine down a few hundred rpm once it flies too close to the redline. It's effortlessly smooth compared to the four, very fast (60 mph in about 7.1 seconds), and not too thirsty, at 22/30 mpg, estimated.
Along with a change from hydraulic to electrohydraulic steering--now the norm on all Altimas--the suspension changes have tipped the balance away from athletic response to a very well-controlled ride. Nissan says it's gone after a luxury-car level of shock performance and a plush ride--and they've achieved those goals. But the last two generations of Altima sedans have had an immediacy of steering feel and a more tightly damped ride, that made them feel like the sports coupes of the class. Like the Ford Fusion, the Altima was the "other" choice in a class full of softly sprung four-doors. Now it's the VW Passat that has the old Altima's resolutely firm, taut ride, while the Nissan has moved into the Accord realm. It's demonstrably better in some important ways, and still a few big steps ahead of most other family sedans in handling talents--but it's less enthusiastic about its own talent this time around.
All versions of the Altima ride on an independent suspension, now upgraded to Sachs shocks for better ride control. The rear suspension eliminates one of its lateral links, incorporating it into a structural brace that creates a wider, stiffer axis for better wheel control. A new Active Understeer Control applies braking to inside front wheels to tighten cornering lines. Sixteen-inch wheels are now standard on the Altima; 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires are available.
The CVT's far better than before, and so is the ride, but where has the Altima's old, athletic feel gone?