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by Steve Siler

Nissan Altima
2003 Nissan Altima

Nissan's new Altima is the car that started Nissan's new design direction, and indeed is responsible for the dramatic turnaround that we've seen in the company over the last two years. And we all know that it takes more than a pretty face to sell a car. It has to be good through and through.

The Altima is a sharp, modern car that clearly is pursuing the edgier folks who don't like to blend in. Whereas the old Altima had a droopy, rounded butt, the bustly new tush is all angles and bold, chrome-slathered taillights that look like they belong atop a squad car. The old one had high-radius surfaces that gave it a bloated appearance. Not so the new Altima, which slices the retina with a wedge profile and chiseled surfaces. And it's grown, too, with dimensions that finally fit right into the middle of this generously sized class.

The interior features fresh textures and shapes that are just as modern as those on the exterior. Its seats are comfortable and there is plenty of space in every direction (especially in back). There seems to be a little improvement in perceived quality, but part of that may be due to the unconventional shapes and the difficulty in rendering them in padded materials. We really like the sporty, deep-set instruments and the intuitive ergonomics.

Altimas come with either a 180-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is good and strong, if a bit coarse at high revs, The optional 240-hp 3.5-liter V-6 will have no problem lighting up its front tires. You know which one is the most fun, although in truth, the four is enough for virtually anyone.