2007 Nissan Altima Review

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TCC Team TCC Team
November 19, 2006




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  Taut shape, tighter handling, finer interior materials.

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  Looks a lot like its G35 cousin -- goody for Nissan, not so much for Infiniti. 

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  Give us a real ignition key or give us death!


Momentum matters. Just think about Toyota, the auto industry’s 800-pound gorilla. Virtually everything it launches has to be taken seriously. And when it comes to the mid-size passenger car segment, few products can rival the automaker’s Camry.


Nissan would certainly like to try. Japan’s number-two automaker has also had a lot of momentum going for it — at least until recently. It was the comeback brand of the new millennium, but lately, products like the Quest minivan and Titan pickup have failed to live up to their ambitious expectations. Add the fact that the 2006 model year saw a dearth of new Nissan products, and things have slowed a bit uncomfortably for the Japanese automaker.


For 2007, Nissan is betting it can ignite some action again as it rolls out a pair of critical new sedans, the long-delayed remake of the Sentra and the update of the bigger Altima. The latter model was long an also-ran in the mid-size market, at least until 2001, when Nissan introduced a sedan that was visually striking, sporty and surprisingly well-equipped, not to mention much larger than before — a true mid-sizer.


What’s new


For the new car, Nissan engineers set out to correct some of the nagging problems with the outgoing Altima, such as torque steer — that annoying tendency to pull left or right when you stomp on the accelerator. Designers, meanwhile, were tasked with fixing flaws in the interior, as well as ensuring the remake’s design would come across as fresh and even more sporty.


The 2007 Altima starts out with Nissan’s new Global D platform, developed jointly with Renault, the Japanese automaker’s French alliance partner. It is, for one thing, an inch shorter than the outgoing model. At a moment when fuel prices have manufacturers thinking about downsizing again, that might seem like a smart idea, but the new sedan is also about 100 pounds heavier — depending on specific model — what with all the added airbags and other new features.



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Fuel economy is up, however, by a mile a gallon on the six-speed manual-equipped 3.5 SE version we tested, which rates 21 in the EPA’s city cycle and 29 on the highway, both credible numbers. Acceleration, meanwhile, comes in around six seconds, 0-60 mph, also an impressive number.


With the available continuously variable transmission (CVT), fuel economy is rated at 22/28 mpg. Meanwhile, with an automatic and the 2.5-liter in-line four also found in the new Sentra, mileage-minded buyers will get 26 mpg city, 34 highway.


Better still, with the D platform’s lowered engine — which allows the half-shafts to be positioned more effectively — more rigid front, and revised suspension geometry, the ’07 Altima does it without noticeable torque steer.


Styled to a T


1969 Pontiac Firebird

1969 Pontiac Firebird

The new sedan debuted at the North American International Auto Show, last January, and it’s interesting to note the media’s immediate reaction. The Altima’s strikingly sweet styling grabbed notably better initial reviews than the warmed-over look of the Infiniti G35, which debuted just moments later. The weak link? The over-the-top taillights, which took a little too much inspiration from the aerospace industry.


In V-6 form, you can opt for either an Altima SL or SE. We opted for the latter, with its torquey 3.5-liter engine pumping out 270 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, a distinct improvement over the ’06 Altima SE-R, at 260 and 251. Adjusted for the new SAE measurements, it’s actually an increase of 20 hp — and more than enough to compensate for the ’07’s added weight.


We went with the six-speed manual transmission package for the first part of our drive. It’s not the best stick on the market, with an unsatisfying clutch feel, but it’s reasonably quick-shifting and easy to get the hang of.


Most buyers are likely to opt for the CVT. Nissan has been absolutely gung-ho on the technology, using CVTs in every vehicle possible, and expects to sell more than a million of these step-gearless transmissions around the world this year. Other automakers have also adopted the technology, though generally with far less success. CVTs have a tendency to feel off to the casual motorist, especially under hard acceleration, when it feels sort of like stretching a rubber band and waiting for it to catch up. We find the latest version, used in the Altima, to be about the best on the market and as close as we’ve seen to a conventional automatic transmission.


As mentioned, torque steer has largely been banished, though we found the SE did squat a bit during hard launches. The Altima feels well planted, sporty, and a lot of fun to drive. The speed-sensitive steering provides a definite improvement. It’s both responsive and offers a reasonable amount of feedback.


No more chintz


1966 Fire Truck

1966 Fire Truck

Dealing with torque steer solves one of the biggest complaints about the prior-generation sedan. The other challenge: upgrade the chintzy cabin. Interior design has been Nissan’s Achilles heel, in our opinion, and we’re pleased to see so much of an improvement in the new Altima.


The chrome accents are a nice touch, and overall, the materials Nissan has chosen are more luxurious and refined. The new instrument cluster is much more modern, while also being a bit easier to read. Seating is firm, with good lateral support for hard driving. And controls and knobs no longer feel like they might break off in our hands. We appreciate the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and the new, padded armrests.


But Nissan, while we know that keyless ignition is all the rage, we’re over the hip-for-hipness-sake technology. Following a drive from San Francisco down to the tony Monterey Peninsula, we dropped our car off with the valet at the Inn at Spanish Bay and started walking off to our room. Halfway down the long hall, we were hailed by the breathless parking attendant, racing to catch up with us. We’d walked off with the key in our pocket — something the valet confided happens quite frequently these days.


On the safety side, the new Altima SE offers both front and side airbags up front and head curtain restraints for both front and rear passengers. Front seats come with active head restraints to reduce the chance of whiplash. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard.


On the whole, we have to rate the 2007 Altima 3.5 SE as one of the better entries in the crowded mid-size segment. It likely doesn’t quite have the broader, plainer appeal of the Camry, or even the Honda Accord, for that matter. But that’s not a complaint. The last-generation Altima was the number four on the U.S. passenger-car sales charts. With its healthy dose of attitude, the new sedan could do even better. When you add in the new Sentra, we think Nissan is likely to regain a fair share of momentum in 2007.


2007 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE

Base price: $24,615 (CVT); $25,115(manual)

Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, 270 hp/258 lb-ft

Transmission: Continuously variable transmission or six-speed manual (as tested); front-wheel drive

Length x width x height:  189.8 x 70.7 x 57.9 in
Wheelbase: 109.3 in
Curb weight: 3334 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 22/28 mpg (automatic); 21/29 mpg (manual)
Safety features: Anti-lock brakes and traction control; dual front, side and curtain airbags; pre-tensioning seatbelts; active head restraints on front seats; tire pressure monitor
Major standard features: Automatic climate control; power windows, locks and mirrors; AM/FM/CD changer; keyless remote; cruise control; leather-wrapped tilt/telescope steering wheel; power driver seat
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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