Nissan Altima Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
In the “better not mess with success” mode, Nissan has shown amazing resistance to upsetting a good thing. When something is in demand, well-received and appreciated, maybe you just go with it and smile all the way to the bank. We're not suggesting it's a matter of collecting easy money every time another 2012 Nissan Altima is sold. But the position of Altima as one of the top selling mid-size sedans in the U.S. (and assembled in two U.S. locations) shows that all the previous decisions putting it together must have been pretty spot on.
This is the sixth year of the current generation, a time that for some vehicle models would be akin to collecting a pension. Not so with Altima. It has shown a resilience and resistance to the fickle attitudes of some auto buyers and the often changing models they demand. Maybe part of that is the midsize sedan scene itself, a segment that seems more purposeful than capricious, more intent on value than on vanity. The fact there's a revised, new generation 2013 model coming on scene might be translated to bargain hunting time for the astute sedan shopper rather than feeling left behind, especially those wanting the Value Package that Nissan added for 2012.
But the 2012 Altima has to be considered a winner in our book, no matter what the future holds. With a styling Nissan describes as “dynamic simplicity,” it is solidly handsome in an understated way, with a neatly tailored face, the kind of sloping rearward line more often associated with two-door coupes for their sporty, aerodynamic posture, and styling lines that flow up and back, uninterrupted, into the signature rear tail lamps.
Inside, the Altima has a quality feel and seems roomier than one might expect with the exterior design cues. The smooth flow and outward slope of the instrument panel adds a sense of spaciousness. Easy-to-reach dials are well placed and functional. Vehicles equipped with the optional hard drive navigation system (with a 6.5-inch monitor display) have an unobtrusive inset screen (unlike the pop-up variety on some more trend-conscious autos), that doesn't dominate the feel of the cabin. We found seating comfortable even on extended rides during our test drive times, and a 20-ounce bottle nest in each front door let us satisfy our thirst cravings.
The Altima rides on two distinctive powerplants that seem tuned more for comfort than for an adrenalin-raising rush. A 2.5-liter inline four cylinder in the base and “S” models, generates 175-horsepower and earns a best 23 city/32 highway mileage rating. A 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 powers the more performance-oriented SR model that gets a 20/27 EPA rating.
The “Xtronic” CVT (continuously variable transmission) in all versions that eliminates those noticeable shift gate changes adds to a smooth ride and easy handling. Nissan calls it a “fluid-feeling performance,” which we consider aptly named. The V-6 version, with manual function, adds a “sport” mode and “Adaptive Shift Control” for more dynamic shift sequences -- maybe good for scooting off the interstate at an available exit when a traffic jam materializes ahead, in addition to being fun to drive.
During our time behind the wheel of the Altima, we had a sense of comfort and could anticipate using it for years of daily commuting without discovering some of those annoying quirks that can appear over the long haul. We suspect any that might have been around earlier in the model run have long since disappeared.
Beyond the S model's new Value Package (including leather-wrapped steering and Bluetooth among add-ons) and extension of the Special Edition Package (including fog lamps and aluminum-alloy wheels plus more) from 2011, the 2012 model is essentially a carry-over. There's one exterior color swap, however, with Dark Slate replacing the previous year's Metallic Slate.
As before, Nissan has a slew of high tech and comfort amenities for the Altima. Much of that depends on one's budget as many, including Bluetooth connectivity, come with an “available” classification -- meaning an added cost for options.
Pricing starts at $20,550 for the base Altima model and runs to $25,570 for the 3.5-liter SR, before available accessories and options that can include a $2,370 Sport package for the SR. While not the most budget-minded mid-size sedan on the block, we think the Altima deserves serious consideration from sedan buyers for its well-earned stability and trusted quality in a sometimes-confusing vehicle segment.
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