By on October 29, 2008

Second place sucks. Witness the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics’ squad in Beijing last summer. Pony tails drooped and tears streamed down their be-sparkled cheeks when gold medals were hung on the necks of the young (we swear they’re at least sixteen!) Chinese Olympic team. My heart goes out to Nissan, whose excellent 2009 Altima 2.5 sedan fell just short of the 2009 Mazda Mazda6 i Sport in this comparo.

One cannot behold the Altima without thinking Infiniti. As Tim Gunn might say, the car shares the same silhouette and proportion as the G-series Infiniti sedans, which is a very good thing. The horizontal louvered grille with large Nissan logo is a bit of a wet blanket on the powerful Infiniti styling, but it is an appropriate adaptation for the non-luxury market.

Nissan’s marketing propaganda claims that the tail lights are inspired by jet fighter afterburners. Given the likeness this may well be true.

Every car in this competition, including the Altima, shares a long sloping rear window design. This leaves little room for a proper deck lid. Rather than putting the trunk hinges at the top of the rear window hatchback-style, all of these cars have constricted trunk openings. SUV refugees will find this particularly annoying.

Altima’s minimalist styling continues inside. The dashboard looks quieter and more soothing than Camry or Accord. More Zen. And a special treat for drivers whose carpal tunnel syndrome might be aggravated by having to twist a key: a push button start button.

Any comparison of cars selected for their practicality wouldn’t be complete without an evaluation of price, fuel economy and reliability. In this group, relative judgments involves splitting a few fine hairs. The Nissan Altima is the most expensive. But at $22,410, it’s less than $900 more than the least expensive car in the group (Camry) and just $185 more than the second most expensive (Mazda6).

When it comes to fuel efficiency, the Altima emerges as the clear winner, leading all others in city, highway and combined mileage. But again, that’s not saying much. On the highway, Camry and Accord tie at 31 mpg; the Mazda6 lags behind at 30 mpg. The differences are a little more dramatic in the city, where the Altima (23 mpg) leads the Honda (22 mpg), Toyota (21 mpg), and Mazda (20 mpg).

None of these cars are maintenance hogs but a quick and informal survey of reliability studies from Consumer Reports, J.D. Powers and Associates, Warrantee Direct, and Michael Karesh’s TrueDelta shows a general consensus. The reliability of the Camry and Accord are excellent, and the Mazda6 is solidly above average. Meanwhile, Nissan Altima reliability results are just average.

On paper Nissan’s 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder should be the clear performance winner in this comparison. It produces almost as much peak horse power as the Accord (175 hp vs. 177 hp), but does so 900 revs sooner, at 5600 rpm. The Altima also grunts-out the most torque at 3900 rpm. Unfortunately, Nissan’s Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission robs the Nissan of its power advantage. The last Nissan I drove with this engine and transmission pairing was the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe 2.5 S. It hasn’t gotten any better.

Governing the CVT is a strict old schoolmarm with her hair in a bun and yardstick in her hand. She’s got nothing but fuel economy on her mind. While you [the occasional hooligan] precociously push the limits of the well-controlled suspension and spot-on steering, the schoolmarm sternly punishes vulgar enjoyment.

To help me determine the overall rank of these vehicles, I scored each vehicle according to the individual characteristics that TTAC writers assign Star ratings: Performance, Ride, Handling, Exterior, Interior, Fit and Finish, Toys, Desirability, Mileage,and Price as Tested. For example, I rated the Nissan’s performance second, ride quality third, handling second, etc. Then I summed the ten ranking scores to get a calculated overall score (are you bored yet?). The sum of the Altima rankings was 25, second only to the Mazda Mazda6 i Sport that totaled 20 (lower is better).

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To choose first place, I relied solely on my visceral gut response to each vehicle. In this case, the above numeric gyrations mostly confirmed how I felt. All of these cars are competent family haulers. Each is economic. But compared to the others, the Mazda6 feels like a two-year-old thoroughbred that wants to run. It woke me up when I slipped behind the wheel, and made me want to drive. The Altima touched many of these same chords, only to a lesser extent. Perhaps a comparison of cars with manual transmissions would have yielded a different result. But for now Altima wins the silver medal.

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47 Comments on “Comparison Test/Review: Second Place: 2009 Nissan Altima 2.5 S...”


  • avatar
    John R

    Governing the CVT is a strict old schoolmarm…While you [the occasional hooligan] precociously push the limits of the well-controlled suspension and spot-on steering, the schoolmarm sternly punishes vulgar enjoyment.

    Why didn’t you just leave it “manual” mode? The last time I drove one of these I found it the best way to enjoy this car with an auto.

  • avatar
    Tommy

    It’s sad to hear that the CVT – which has garnered similar (if not the same) criticism – hasn’t changed much since it was introduced. It definitely is a schoolmistress with a ruler, and not in a good way.

    But you have to wonder, is second place so terrible in this grouping?

  • avatar
    noreserve

    I’ve really always wondered about Nissan buyers. The reliability just has never been up there with the Accord and Camry. I wonder what they have found that wasn’t in an Accord (oops – bias showing, bias showing). I haven’t been in a Nissan in a while, but I see the nauseating Nissan Orange is still around. That and the CVT would really make breakfast a hit or miss proposition each morning.

    I was behind a brand-new silver Maxima yesterday at a red light. The trunk lid gaps were noticeably uneven and the exhaust tips misaligned. It sure didn’t make me want to run out and buy an Altima. Just more confirmation of their build quality as a brand.

    A quick check from our oft-maligned friends at Consumer Reports and Edmunds shows that rear seat room is tight and that ESC is unavailable on four-cylinders. Not good. And not mentioned in your review. Those are two very important items for buyers of a family sedan.

  • avatar
    JJ

    I thought after the Accord came in third the Altima would probably win given the poor fuel economy and alledgedly less dynamic chassis of the new Mazda6.

    At the end of the day, I’m not convinced by any of them. The ones I would go for before hand would be the Accord or the 6 but in many ways they are lesser versions of what they used to be. The Altima is improved but still the interior isn’t appealing, which is very important IMO.

    The Euro-Mondeo is nice.

  • avatar
    4runner

    The pictures are misleading. The car you tested was a Nissan Altima 2.5 S. The pictures, however, are of a Nissan Altima 3.5 SL. Although this may seen minor, I believe the 3.5 SL comes with different wheels and other exterior accessories(rear spoiler?).

  • avatar
    John R

    @noreserve

    Have you held the steering wheel? It. is. nice.

    More to the point, look at the alternatives? Camry or Accord (and the old Mazda6 has been largely off the ballot for most for some unbeknown reason).

    I don’t believe there is anything to wonder about really. Especially when the choices are between borderline blah and ZZZZZZZZZ…

    In regards to the Maxima. Panel gaps can be forgiven for driving experience. Would you really rather drive an Avalon?

  • avatar
    arapaima

    My personal feelings about Nissan cars is mixed. Their cvt just flat out sucks, it is a devil’s tool to suck any fun out of moving forward, it also hisses (well drone is more accurate, but less poetic) when you try anything above a controlled acceleration. As for style, the rear end of the Altima is a work of art in my eyes, the front end is awful. The headlights are a weird diamond shape, and the hood has bland and awkward styling.

  • avatar

    noreserve makes a good point: anyone who places a priority on rear seat room will put the Altima at the bottom of this foursome. It has a much tighter rear seat than the other three.

    Thanks for mentioning TrueDelta’s reliability results. I should note, though, that while the 2007 Altima has been about average in reliability, the 2008 has been better. First-year Nissans have been iffy, later years less so.

    Additional participants in the research always helpful.

    http://www.truedelta.com/latest_results.php

  • avatar
    noreserve

    John R :

    In regards to the Maxima. Panel gaps can be forgiven for driving experience. Would you really rather drive an Avalon?

    If you check any of the options on the Maxima, you’ll quickly get above $40K. Repeat, $40K. Without even trying. Lots of possibilities start to open up at this point – BMW 335i and Audi A4 for starters. I know, they aren’t as roomy. Scratch that – actually, the Altima has more rear legroom (less hip room though) than the Maxima. Hell, I’d consider a TL with SH-AWD in a color that minimizes the “shield” if I had to over a cushmobile Avalon.

    And, no, I can’t forgive those panel gaps. They were horrible. Enough to make me want to go to my nearest Nissan dealer and look at a few more Maxima examples for a sanity check.

  • avatar
    John R

    You can quickly get over $40k in an Avalon without much effort either. I was on Toyota’s website for 2 minutes and I was on track to build a $45k Avalon. And there were still 4 levels tailoring to go!

    TL? A4? 335i? If that’s what you want Nissan makes something called an Infiniti G. Apples to Apples, please.

  • avatar
    salhany

    Every car in this competition, including the Altima, shares a long sloping rear window design. This leaves little room for a proper deck lid. Rather than putting the trunk hinges at the top of the rear window hatchback-style, all of these cars have constricted trunk openings.

    Which is why I’ve always thought the Skoda Octavia-style “sedan with a hatchback” design would be a winner if introduced in this marketplace. You get the look of a sedan, which most buyers seem to want, and the convenience of a hatch with its large opening and expanded cargo space.

  • avatar
    unregular

    The horizontal louvered grille with large Nissan logo is a bit of a wet blanket

    YES IT IS.

    still, love this Altima. The Mazda6 and Altima have completely outpaced the Cam and Cord – inside, outside, and especially while in motion – in THIS GUY’S opinion.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    These reviews have been great so far. I would only add that an alternative to these 4 (and domestic equivalents) is a used luxury car.

    For example, for the same money you could get a 2004 Jaguar XJ8 with maybe 35K miles on it. Classy lines, comfortable interiors, V8 RWD performance and features you only dream of at the $20K level in a new car.

    A 3-4 year old E350 will run in the low 20′s, and might include AWD. You could get a 4 year old (new body style) 7-series for under $30K or an A8 or Phaeton. 2005 G35′s go for $18K.

    I just bought my wife a three year old A6, and she absolutely loves it. The only difference between it and a new one is the $27K I saved.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @NoReserve – if you think the Altima’s panel gaps are bad, check the Accord and Camry. And if you think Nissan’s are unreliable, again, check the user reviews for the Accord and Camry. Nissan has gotten better, Honda and Toyota: significantly worse. If you’re not sure why someone would pick a Nissan over a Honda, try driving one. Pretty much seals the deal.

    @OP – You are aware that you can throw the CVT into ‘manual’ mode when you want to hold engine revs? It’s the best of both worlds- you have a gratifyingly rapid ‘manumatic,’ when you feel like having fun, a silky smooth automatic when you don’t.

    @SherbornSean – The cost of REPAIRING of a used luxury car (especially an Audi or good god… VW Phaeton) is going to probably cost more than the car payments of a mainstream sedan. Hope your wife enjoys that.

  • avatar
    thalter

    Do the 2.5L engines on these things still have the nasty habit of grenading themselves after 50-75K miles? I keep reading about problems the 1st gen Altimas have had with these engines.

  • avatar

    @noreserve :

    If you check any of the options on the Maxima, you’ll quickly get above $40K. Repeat, $40K. Without even trying. Lots of possibilities start to open up at this point – BMW 335i and Audi A4 for starters. I know, they aren’t as roomy. Scratch that – actually, the Altima has more rear legroom (less hip room though) than the Maxima. Hell, I’d consider a TL with SH-AWD in a color that minimizes the “shield” if I had to over a cushmobile Avalon.

    I have been testing a 2009 Maxima SV with the premium package and premium technology package for the past week, and its MSRP is $38,500 including destination and before the $500 cash back currently in effect. This car has 18″ wheels, dual pane sunroof, XM, Bluetooth, heated steering wheel, HID lamps, navigation, rearview monitor, leather, power tilt/telescope steering column, etc. I still think $38,500 is a lot of money for a FWD Nissan, but it’s also not as expensive as you’re representing.

    While it’s possible to get over $40k on a Maxima, it’s not too easy. And to get that stuff in a 335i (or even a 328i), you’re paying well over $40k. But you’re also getting a BMW.

  • avatar
    geeber

    So far I have yet to see any real-world evidence that Nissans are more reliable than Hondas or Toyotas. More fun to drive – maybe, but not more reliable or better built.

    My friend’s 2002 Altima certainly isn’t aging better than my 2003 Accord.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Good review. I drove an ‘08 Altima S a few weeks ago and the interior somewhat dark and funereal – way too much black. You’re also spot on with the transmission – this car would be so much more with a good 6 speed auto instead of the joy-killing CVT. My only other complaint with the Altima was the wide flat seats – maybe I’m an odd shape but I found it difficult to get comfortable.

  • avatar
    kansei

    carguy: I know how you feel about the seats (my mom has a 2007 Altima so I drive it whenever I find myself back home). They are extremely “americanized”. The bolstering is firm, yet the seat is literally 4-5″ too wide for me. S curves are the worst –I am thrown from one bolster to the next, sliding around on the seat all day. Either make the seats medium-sized, or allow an option for smaller seats for people who aren’t huge.

    What I love about the Altima is that it is the least offensive Nissan but still pretty quirky. I love playing around with all the computery toys, I love Nissan’s keyless ignition system (better than Mazda’s I’ll admit.. and I’m a Mazda fanboy). The instrument cluster lighting is downright beautiful. It’s the CVT that kills it for me, and killed it for my mom the two times it had to be repaired/replaced within a few months of purchasing the car (she’s getting the new Mazda6 next). Good news, the new transmission has lasted 10k miles so far!

    As for the “manual mode”.. it doesn’t lock the gear ratios, though it comes close. There’s still some CV going on in that T.

    Damn, the end of the last paragraph gave it away, I was wondering if the Mazda6 was going to be in this review series. Glad to hear it is on top, can’t wait to read that review. I do hate that the 6 has become a monolithic sedan but I still feel it is a better car than the alternatives. It does still manage to provide more driving excitement even though it is super-sized.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I have been in the car biz forever and let me attest, Nissans are not Toyotas or Hondas. Nissan is run by Renault and their axe man, Carlos Ghosn. Carlos is the man who made VW cars from some of the best to some of the worst.

    That said, like another poster, none of these cars do anything for me. They are all competing for who can have the largest car. I loved the last generation Mazda 6, thinking it just the right size.

    So, until something in between a Civic and and Accord comes along, I will keep my trusty boy racer Honda Fit and rent larger cars when the need arises.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    These reviews have been great so far. I would only add that an alternative to these 4 (and domestic equivalents) is a used luxury car.

    As someone who went that route, if the used luxury car is anything other than a Lexus, Acura or possibly a Lincoln MKZ I would say, unequivocally, hell no.

    The maintenance costs of European iron are crushing and, unless you really need the dynamics, they’re not actually that much better than a decent midsizer, especially if that midsizer is well-trimmed (Camry XLE, Accord EX-L).

  • avatar
    John R

    @Canknucklehead:

    Sonata?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I just bought my wife a three year old A6, and she absolutely loves it. The only difference between it and a new one is the $27K I saved.

    I pray you bought some type of extended warranty. As a former Audi, BMW, Volvo (and current Saab) owner, you’ll need it. Many times.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @SherbornSean

    I’m with you. Picking up a used car in a different category gets you more car and a completely different driving experience.

    @mikeolan

    CPO warranties are typically 6 yrs and 100k miles. You’re driving worry free for a while. Esp. for any VAG product, you’ll want that.

  • avatar
    Usta Bee

    Is it my imagination or did the review completely skip over any mention of ride and handling ?.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    John, the Koreans make good cars but the lemon ratio is still too high. There are three Honda cars in my family, a 1997 Civic, a 2004 Civic and a 2008 Fit. Not one has ever had an unscheduled dealer visit or warranty repair. I bought them all new and the are so good, we just keep them in the family. For that reason, I will keep buying Honda cars, motorcycles, generators….

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    HA!…I called it (the first and second place cars anyway). The Camry and Accord, as brilliant bland-mobiles as they are, have been outpaced at their own game. The Altima has grown to be more dynamic than the Accord and yet very supple and the Mazda6 is just plain and simple a hoot to drive.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    Whoopee, the taillights are styled after jet fighter afterburners! Good thing afterburners have so much to do with the ass-end of a family sedan.

    Talk about a waste of design resources.

    Unless you like the style, why would you go for an Altima? The lack of room? The sporting pretension? (Emphasis on “pretension.”) Reliability is big in the cheap family sedan category, and the Altima is bested by many japanese sedans, the sonata, and even American models. I just don’t get it.

    Somehow the Altima caught on as the “hip” 4-door sedan (must be the toy head and taillights). Many around here are driven by folks under 30 with no kids in sight. Afterburners aside, it’s just an ordinary car to me.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @BobJava: I don’t know what you’re smoking to think the Sonata is more reliable than the Altima, but give me some. And it’s smaller than its other “jumbo size” competitors, but unless you’re in with the Golden Corral regulars crowd, I highly doubt you’d find a lack of room in the Altima, as it’s still plenty big inside.

    Also, someone might go for the Altima based on the fact it has excellent steering feel, more power, better performance, and the fact it’s a tad easier to park than its bloated rivals but can still fit four people plenty comfortably (and I don’t mean “I can squeeze 4 people in my Honda Civic” comfortably), has better fuel economy, oh yes, and is quicker. And unlike the Sonata, isn’t engineered to a chassis standard surpassed 6 years ago.

    @JKross22: those are powertrain warranties. No good if say, your A/C craps out, or stereo craps out, or you wind up with a car with a million electrical gremlins which uh, Luxury cars tend to do.

    For those questioning Nissan’s reliability, the 2008 Altima has a 21 on TrueDelta- better than most Accords and Camries, AND has a higher owner satisfaction rating on Edmunds.com .

  • avatar
    noreserve

    mikeolan :
    October 29th, 2008 at 10:33 am

    @NoReserve – if you think the Altima’s panel gaps are bad, check the Accord and Camry. And if you think Nissan’s are unreliable, again, check the user reviews for the Accord and Camry. Nissan has gotten better, Honda and Toyota: significantly worse. If you’re not sure why someone would pick a Nissan over a Honda, try driving one. Pretty much seals the deal.

    I was actually referring to the new Maxima. Not sure about the Altima. Like I said though, I’m going to go check out a few on the dealer lot just as a sanity check. There is the possibility that the Maxima I saw could have had some kind of damage.

    As for reliability, I’m going by personal experience with probably close to a dozen Hondas over the years in my immediate family. Rock-solid. I just traded in an 05 Accord LX that had zero problems. Zilch. Not a single dealer visit in the three year lease. I’ve pretty much sampled their entire line from Odyssey to Pilot to Civic to CR-V to Accord. TrueDelta shows good stuff for the 08 Accord as well. Consumer Reports has had the Accord as a perennial reliability star.

    Now, show me where the Accord and Camry reliability (apart from the well-publicized Camry 6-cyl model) have gone downhill. I have an 08 Accord V6 with 9K flawless miles on it. No dealer visits. I’m generalizing here, but Nissan has been a tier down in terms of reliability compared with Honda and Toyota. Reliability means a lot to buyers in this segment. I’m sure that not all owners of Camrys are buying them for their looks. God, I hope not.

    Speaking of looks.. I know it’s all subjective, but the Altima just does not look better than the Accord, particularly from the front. The rear of both have those gaudy lights, but the Accord is, to me, a bit less gaudy. Wow, what praise. :-)

    Seriously, I’ll check out the Altima to be able to speak from experience rather than assumption. I may be surprised.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    mikeolan
    Thank you for implying that I use drugs and that I’m a huge American (half of the latter is true).

    The Consumer Reports ratings for the past three years show that it’s about even between the Sonata and the Altima. Okay, so it’s a wash. You’re half right and I’m half wrong.

    My larger point is that its not very sporting (at least with CVT) and that as a family hauler, room for kids, toys, and adults is important. And aside from the Sonata, which you pick on, there are more reliable cars out there.

    I might not find the lack of room in the back seat a problem in a Z, but this is an Altima. It should probably be competitive in this area.

    I rank things a bit differently with cheap family haulers, in that the sporting pretensions really should be last on the list. There’s no way around the fact that these are all FWD, pudgey, go-slow-mobiles. Why pretend the way it takes a corner is the most important thing? (And by the way, as mentioned, it DOESN’T have ESC available, so the fat Sonata you malign might be the better choice for drivers of these cars.)

    Room, ride, reliability, economy. That’s probably the top four things for most buyers. That and cupholders.

  • avatar
    kansei

    BobJava: ok, so just because Toyota and Honda decided to supersize their current “midsize” offerings, why should Nissan? I think we should be applauding them for keeping the size (and weight) from going up with the “new” gen (now in it’s third year) –what company other than Mazda can typically make that claim?

    They found with the last generation that making it as large as they did really ate the Maxima sales, and though a bit smaller the new one is no small car. It’s quite large inside, including the back seat. Heck, Nissan did even “cheap up” the interior on this gen Altima vs say a 2005 Altima SL trim. Much less chrome, much less metallic trim, more black. I bet this was also to lessen competition between the Maxima and the Altima. A fully loaded 2005 Altima looked the part of a sporty luxury sedan on the inside, but the 2007-2009 looks more quirky, less elegant inside. I don’t think this is a bad thing though…

    Also.. “pudgy”? Hell yes the accord and camry are, but not the Altima and Mazda6. The Altima is under 3100 pounds as a 4cyl, and under 3300 pounds as a V6. Compare that to 3400-3600 pounds for the 350z… shocking, eh?

  • avatar
    BobJava

    kansei

    Far be it for me to applaud the supersizing but … I’d say they should because sales seem to follow (their self-inflicted complications with the Maxima not withstanding).

    That or make something about the car so appealing that we’d overlook the space disadvantage. As mentioned, it does have a bit of an advantage in fuel mileage, but not so much that I think it’d entice buyers on that alone.

    And yes, I’d consider 3100 and a 4-cylinder rather unsporting. That’s pudgy. On the relative scale of family sedans, maybe not. But overall, yes.

  • avatar
    GaryM

    I just rented one of these on a trip to DC and found it to be bland, bland, bland. The steering was heavy and the car wandered on the road, the road feel was dead in an American sedan like way, the transmission unpleasant when it shifted to high gears in low revs, the brakes too grabby, the interior was ok but the seats low and not especially comfortable. In short, I wished I had taken something else out of the lot and was glad to turn it in. I used to think these cars were kind of cool. Not anymore.

    I am surprised this car is rated higher than an Accord but then I haven’t driven the current one.

  • avatar

    I always liked the styling of this generation of the Altima. I like it far more than the Accord and Camry but I like the Accord coupe more than this Altima.

    For someone who needs a good, Zippy little car, I’d recommend the Altima easy.

    I’d end up in the Maxima though cause I drive big cars.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    GaryM: ” the road feel was dead in an American sedan like way, the transmission unpleasant when it shifted to high gears in low revs

    Uh…
    1) The Altima’s transmission has no gears.

    2) Just about every transmission seeks the lowest possible gear or ratio. If you dislike that, the Altima, unlike the Accord or Camry, offers the ability to bump it down to another ratio.

    3) “Road feel was dead?” Compared to what, exactly? I can only think of a few cars with MORE communicative steering, and guess what… the Accord definitely ain’t one of them.

    I also wonder what on earth you could possibly drive to think the Altima’s steering is too heavy.

    BobJava: And yes, I’d consider 3100 and a 4-cylinder rather unsporting. That’s pudgy. On the relative scale of family sedans, maybe not. But overall, yes.

    3100 + 4 cylinders is pudgy? What do you consider Not pudgy? For the record, C/D measured the Altima 2.5′s 0-60 time at 7.5 seconds (which is faster than the 2009 Mazda6… don’t tell William Montgomery) is pretty darn quick- faster than a lot of V6 sedans not too long ago.

    And the space disadvantage is exaggerated. The Altima’s back seat is hardly cramped or even small. It’s way above average for the class before it blimped out. Actually, I’d rank the Altima’s back seat tops in SL trim, as it’s the only car to provide air vents for the back seat passengers.

    IMO, the CVT, despite getting a lot of hate (My guess is from people who have never actually experienced one or drove one predisposed to hate it because it’s different), is a far superior transmission to what every competitor is offering in this class. I’m a shift-it-yourself kinda guy, but the Altima’s CVT is good enough so that I’d trade the 5 speed manual in my car for it.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Bob Java:
    The lack of room? The sporting pretension? (Emphasis on “pretension.”) Reliability is big in the cheap family sedan category, and the Altima is bested by many japanese sedans, the sonata, and even American models. I just don’t get it.

    Come now. The Altima has better road feel and handling than the Accord or Camry, although I’ve only driven Altima’s with manuals.

    As far as American models, the Fusion is very good (especially with the 5 speed). But you’re gambling with a domestic warranty (given bankruptcy possibilities) and dealers.

    Admittedly, the Altima’s not as rock solid as the Accord/Camry, but there’s more to life than a few extra basis points of reliability. Certain trade-offs are worth it.

    Just as cell-phone chatting soccer mom in a Tahoe likes the optional ability to run red lights and T-bone smaller cars into oblivion ‘feeling’ of safety and security, pistonheads like a daily commuter with a bit more verve than a Camry.

  • avatar
    BobJava

    mikeolan

    I think you’re missing my larger point and focusing on a single word. These are four-door family sedans with automatic transmissions.

    The last MR2 was a light car. The first Fit and current Civic are light cars. The Altima is the least fat car among a bunch of fat non-sporting cars, which sounds a bit like identifying the least annoying Baldwin brother.

    For someone in the market for a sports car/sports sedan, this ain’t it. For someone in the market for an automatic transmission 4-door midsized sedan, I happen to think the Altima’s strong suits, including that commendable 0-60 time, aren’t very important. (Though I will say it has some of the best overall styling — taillights not included.)

    I think many posters here are viewing this car through an enthusiast’s lens. I realize that’s TTAC’s audience, but it seems misplaced in this contest of four 4-cylinder automatic sedans.

  • avatar
    BlindOne

    # Flashpoint :
    I’d end up in the Maxima though cause I drive big cars.

    Err…the Maxima is smaller than the Altima, no?

    I like the looks of the 6 the best, then the Alti…the new Accord and Camry are just dog ugly. What the hell happened to Honda? I used to love their cars, Toyota’s have never had style so no shock there.

    Give me a Mazda or Nissan/Infiniti any day over Toyota/Honda. Way more fun to drive.

  • avatar
    BlindOne

    BobJava :
    I think many posters here are viewing this car through an enthusiast’s lens. I realize that’s TTAC’s audience, but it seems misplaced in this contest of four 4-cylinder automatic sedans.
    —-

    I think most people would rather have something with at least sporty pretensions. Any man at least. No reason you can’t have a lil fun in the car.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @BobJava: The Last MR-2 was a teeny tiny car that could barely fit two adults let alone a pack of gum. The Fit and Civic are light, but perhaps you’ve noticed- they’re each slower than the Altima.

    What if I wanted a four door sedan that was sporty and fun to drive but could still carry my family or buddies comfortably and didn’t gulp gas? The Altima fits that category pretty well. In fact, the Altima pretty much carved out its niche on the fact that mid-size sedans don’t have to function just as appliances, but can be fun to drive as well. Why on earth should one have to say “Well, I’m getting a mid-size sedan, I don’t want crisp linear steering or any degree of chassis poise.” Nobody’s going to pick an Altima over a Z per se (maybe college girls with the Altima Coupe), but there are plenty of people who expect excellent road manners and responsive handling.

    That’s why the Camry and Accord ranked lower- because the Altima serves up most of their virtues without sacrificing driving dynamics. The Altima has plenty of other strong suits- Fuel Economy (important, nowadays) , Technology (knows when you lock your keys in the trunk, for instance) , Excellent ergonomics and dashboard layout (you won’t bang your knee on the instrument panel) , plenty of storage inside, strong HVAC (think this is nit picky? Ridden in an 08 Accord on a hot day?) , or the fact it gets little things like a split-folding rear seat and decent size trunk – all right.

  • avatar
    davey49

    The 4 cylinder+ CVT must feel slower than it is.
    CR got a 8.1 sec 0-60 time for the Altima
    The old Accord manual got 8.4 sec
    the old Accord auto got 9.6 sec
    The Camry 4 is 9.4 sec

  • avatar
    Jaeger

    Reliability: my wife and I have owned and driven a wide variety of Nissan / Honda / Toyota sedans over the years. We have experienced no meaningful difference in reliability between the brands – they have all been very good. The standout best single vehicle – my 2001 Nissan Maxima SE. The standout single worst vehicle for reliability – her Honda Civic of the same model year.

    Sportiness: while I appreciate that this was a test of the 4 cyl. models, keep in mind that Nissan offers something for the enthusiast-oriented driver that none of the others do: the combination of a powerful V6 and a manual transmission. Schoolmistress factor = 0. As for the CVT – at least it offers a pretty darned responsive manual mode – recess can be anytime you want it to be.

    Accord: Honda clearly went for the geriatric dollar and succeeded magnificently. Tough choice between this and the Avalon for gramps and grammy.

    Ergonomics: It is less apparent in a comparison of base models, but check out the dash of a fully loaded Altima and Accord. The Altima’s is simple and clean and intuitive. The Accord’s is an absolute riot of switches, buttons and knobs. Remember when clean, uncluttered ergonomics were a Honda hallmark? It was back around the same time that agile handling was taken as a given.

  • avatar
    gregoryk

    I just drove this car for 5 days and was very impressed…as a rental I did not treat this car as my own..ie drove the sh*t out of it. Still it got 22mpg mostly city, acceleration was incredible for a 4 banger, handing was very crisp. Acceleration from 55 to 75 left rubber on the highway!!!
    Very nice cabin, large trunk, numerous hiding spots for “stuff” The sound system was very nice too, we have been long term Subaru owners, now looking @ the altima as a replacement car.

  • avatar
    jmwent25

    @gregoryk: Was is the 3.5 or the 2.5 just curious?

    I have a 2.5s 07 altima and have found to be VERY economical when I’m not driving fast like ricky bobby. I agree that the front particularly headlights need to be redisgned and also how the hood seems to take a weird angle downward. However, the rear is very sexy to look at (I have de-badged it so it’s easier to wax and is more appealing.) My only PITFALL on this is the paint is like butter, hindsight I should’ve got a bra (but i dont like the look of one.) It has been very reliable since I bought it new with 55 miles on it (now I have 44K+), and haven’t had a problem! (knock on wood)I installed HID xenon headlights and a K&N cold air intake and I love it.

    I would have loved to get a Infinit G

    I love this car for the price and long term savings in gas!
    I

  • avatar
    blahber

    i have a 1989 maxima 200k+ which still runs dandy. also have a 2000 altima which is nearing 200k and never had any problems with it. i know plenty of other nissan owners who’ve never had any problems with their cars. all those reliability consumer reports are bs. nissan owners tend to be loyal nissan customers and are not as vocal as other japanese car owners about how great their car is.

  • avatar
    danboy24

    I apologize for being so blunt, but rear head room is the very last thing on my mind when purchasing a car. Im buying the car so odds are i will never sit back there..so why the hell would i care about the headroom? If my rear passengers are cramped they should take their own car next time and stop killing my gas mileage with the added weight! Next i would like to comment about the cvt. The cvt is a very simple and reliably built transmission that adapts to your style of driving. its like breaking in a new pair of shoes. after a few thousand miles everytime you drive it, it will hit the sweet spot that its adapted to being in. And as for nissan reliability I had a nissan 200sx that had 270k miles on it when i sold it. only problem i ever had was a water pump. Mazdas are decent cars but the millenia that i owned crapped out at about 150k. Toyota are nice except for the bland interiors and unfinished finish work. Cant argue with a honda either. In nissans defense if you go with the 3.5L engine you cant get much better, its been the top ten engine in the world for 15 years running. 3.5L engine is the same that was in the 350z and maxima and altima 3.5 also nissans are all timing chain driven while hondas and toyota are timing belt driven. we all know belts usually dont last longer than 100k while the chain can last 200k or higher. and being that the cost for changing timing belts is close to $1000 ill take the chain. Last but not least ive more problems with audis than any other vehicle. couple friends that have owned them told me if i bought one to have a savings account on the side for repairs after the warranty goes out and that it felt like the car was in the shop more than it was on the road..however most of the time a cars longevity is dependant on the driver, how its taken care of and a little luck. Some cars no matter the make are straight up lemons, it happens after all they are designed and manufacture by human beings!


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