Although Michael briefly touched on this in his review of the 2013 Altima, the 2002 Altima was a watershed vehicle in our market, albeit one that doesn’t get enough credit. Without it, there would never be a Toyota Camry with a sub 6-second 0-60 time.
Two Hundred And Forty Horsepower. Before this magic number, the Altima was an also-ran, too small to be a mid-size car but too large to be a compact, placing it in the weird no-man’s land occupied by cars like the Ford Contour. The 2002 Accord V6 used a 3.0L V6 with 200 horsepower, and the Camry was in similar territory. An Acura TL had a 3.2L V6 with 225 horsepower and cost a few thousand dollars more.
And then came the Altima. The QR25DE powered 4-cylinders weren’t that special, but the prospect of a VQ-engined, 240 horsepower family sedan with a stick shift was a novel concept. The Maxima, formerly the vanguard for the “4DSC” crowd, quickly became obsolete, even though it still lingers on today without a clear identity.
A year later, the Honda Accord debuted with 240 horsepower in their V6 engine. In 2006, the Camry V6 fired back with 268 horsepower. The Altima then upped its V6 to 270 horsepower, while Honda will now sell you an Accord V6 with 271 horsepower. Even brands intent on downsizing and improving fuel economy are getting into it; Hyundai’s 4-cylinder turbocharged Sonata makes 276 horsepower. The horsepower pissing match could arguably be the tipping point for when modern cars evolved to their current state; powerful, heavy, but without any joy behind them. A Camry can handle a WRX in the 1320, but it remains a Pyrrhic victory for one’s soul. Yeah, you beat a sportier car. Would you like to go hunt penned in deer while you’re at it? The Hyundai Genesis is a great example of how horsepower is useless without the appropriate tools. I can’t tell the difference between the original V6 version of the sedan, and the slightly more powerful V6 in the mildly updated 2012 Genesis. But in the coupe, where that power can really be used effectively, really does show you what an improvement the extra 42 horsepower is for that car.
I’m not really sure where things can go from here on out. A 300 horsepower front-drive family sedan just seems asinine, but the manufacturers have effectively backed themselves into a corner. Advertising a car with “30 percent less power!” is going to go over as well as a pork-only buffet at an event for the Muslim Auto Writers Association. The 2012 Fusion appears to be going in the opposite direction, with the 2.0L Ecoboost topping out at a non-insignificant 237 horsepower. The base engines, with 170 horsepower for the 2.5L and 179 horsepower for the 1.6 Ecoboost, are a little behind the current field on paper. Personally, I hope this trend spreads to other manufacturers too.