Nissan Altima SE Review

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer
nissan altima se review

Picture this: you’re a middle-aged, mid-level, middle-management guy in the mid-west. You’ve gone a bit doughy around the middle. You’ve got 2.5 kids and a golden retriever. You got socks for Christmas. It’s been a long time since you handed in your acid-wash denims for wrinkle-resistant Dockers, swapped the Van Halen for Vivaldi, and traded in the Firechicken for a four-door bore. But there’s something strange about today. The (predictably) silver sedan you’re sliding into isn’t all that boring. She’s got dual exhausts, a V6 packed with ponies and check out those taillights… Sweet! You hit the push-button-starter (!) and there’s an underhood growl, just as Wilson Phillips breaks into, “Hold On For One More Day.” Yep, it’s the 2007 Nissan Altima.

You gotta give Nissan credit: their designers realized that the model’s target market couldn’t take much more styling than the previous version already offered. Long live the evolution! Up front, someone took a belt-sander to the new Altima’s nose, creating a restrained modernity that works well with the new T-shaped grille. The rest of the sedan’s design is similarly subdued: a sharpening of the creases, a shortening of the rear deck and a flattening of the wheel-arches. Is it a Nissan? Hai!

It’s only when you get ‘round to the Altima’s ass-end that quibbles arise. For one thing, the taillights are far too busy; they look like a cross between a bazooka and a plucked eyeball. There’s also a bit of tail droop, as if the Altima needs to do a few more power lunges. It’s particularly noticeable in the four-cylinder models, whose smaller wheels are dwarfed by the sheer volume of sheet metal.

Inside, Nissan once again felled a rubber elephant and used its hide to upholster the dash. In all other things, the newbie is a vast leap forward. If the old Altima’s innards look like they were drawn in crayon, the new cabin has all the carefully shaded subtlety you’d expect from a draftsman working with a pointy pencil. The car’s fat buttons, the backlit controls on the steering wheel, improved fit and finish and fine-vision gauges represent a significant ambiance upgrade.

The new Altima’s front seats are perfectly comfortable through the twisties and over the long haul, though the rock hard rears lose a little headroom to the tapering roofline. Quick question: how many cupholders do five people need? Seriously, the Altima can holster enough Evian bottles to hydrate an Olympic bicycle team. Now, back to that starter button…

The class-exclusive needless affectation fired-up our SE tester’s 3.5-liter V6. The venerable Nissan mill’s good for 270hp and 258 ft.-lbs. of twist @ 4400 rpm. Unfortunately [for Nissan], the hot rod revolution started by the ’02 Altima is over, and the transplanted competition’s caught up. Honda now sells a 244hp V6 Accord while Toyota flogs a 268hp V6 Camry SE. The Nissan still zips from zero to 60mp in about six seconds– as do the Accord and Camry. Even so, that’s plenty damn quick– especially for a front wheel-drive sedan.

In fact, Nissan claims their new Altima is “the best-handling front wheel-drive sedan ever”– which is a bit little like boasting about selling “the most fire-resistant paper hat ever.” But to quote a Homeric classic, it actually turns out to be fairly sacrilicious. Like a recreational Viagra user, the new car’s chassis is 30% stiffer. Combined with a slightly reduced wheelbase, the Altima is genuinely nimble through the twisties. No sir; this is not your Camry “jet-propelled La-Z-Boy” experience; you can actually drive this car.

While the old Altima responded to injudicious jabs at the throttle by making for the tree-line like an amorous arborist, the new model tracks straight and true under WOT. Due in part to a lowered engine placement (and thus parallel half-shafts), the car feels as unruffled as a plucked chicken. There’s plenty of understeer at the limit, but a bit of liftoff or the handling Nanny sorts it right out.

Even better, Nissan’s boffins have finally installed a loveable transmission. Previous CVT’s were borderline WTF. The new transmissions are not quite OMG, but at least they don’t make you LOL. The rubber band from Hell feeling is gone. In the V6 version, it’s now a slingshot. You’re still going to lose half a second 0-60, but progress no longer feels unnatural. Of course, anyone interested in performance should opt for the six-speed manual, even with its every-shift-a-power-shift throttle overrun.

The 2007 Altima proves that Nissan hasn’t entirely abandoned their brand’s sporting aspirations. While the Versa and Sentra have blimped out, they’ve managed to keep their mid-size daily driver a driver’s car. The imminent prospect of an SE-R version should make pistonheads drool like a pack of Pavlov’s dogs listening to “Don’t fear the Reaper” as produced by Bruce (more cowbell) Dickinson. Only one question really remains: why in the world would anyone buy a Maxima?

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2 of 63 comments
  • on Mar 01, 2007

    Don't you think its odd that all automakers make you get the 6 disc CD changer in order to also get the MP3 Player? I mean, if I've got my cataloge on my I-POD, who needs 6 discs?

  • Smallpoet Smallpoet on Mar 18, 2007

    Excellent reading. . . having test driven just about everthing in this class (that still has somewhat of a sporty soul) I can honestly say I miss my 1999 Maxima SE Limited Edition more and more every day. Icidentally, I whole-heartedly agree with the commenter above that the stereo in this model was unbeatable. The Bose unit in the new Altima is saturated in excessive bass, and sounds quite muddy. The highs do not come through well at all, and the speaker positioning does not leave you feeling nearly as entrenched in the sound as the Bose components from the 5th gen Maxima. That said, trying to find a quick, somewhat spacious, and very well appointed V6 sedan that does not topple the 30k mark is getting quite tough. I'm torn between ponying up for the G35 Journey (sans-navigation, since it would push the car out of my price range) or "settling" for this Altima (fully loaded). Also at conflict with my wallet is the fact that many models are due for a refresh this year and next. Aside from the Accord (and TSX) mentioned above, the Acura TL is getting gray and sprouting hair in places where it shouldn't ought to grow. This car is certainly the closest thing to my 99 Max that Nissan has put out since. The biggest road block in getting me to right the check at this point is the 32k sticker price, which is so close to a G35 that I might be able to make up the difference by digging under the couch cushions!

  • Leonard Ostrander Pet peeve: Drivers who swerve to the left to make a right turn and vice versa. They take up as much space as possible for as long as possible as though they're driving trailer trucks or school busses. It's a Kia people, not a Kenworth! Oh, and use your turn signals if you ever figure out where you're going.
  • Master Baiter This is horrible. Delaying this ban will raise the Earth's temperature by 0.00000001°C in the year 2100.
  • Alan Buy a Skoda Superb.
  • Alan In Australia only hairdressers would buy this Monaro as its known as. Real men had 4 door sedans and well hung men drive 4x4 dual cab utes with bullbars and towbars. I personally think this is butt ugly. Later iterations of the Commodore were far better looking.
  • Jeff As a few commenters on prior articles on this site about the UAW strike mentioned many of the lower tiered suppliers could go bankrupt and some could possibly go out of business if the strike is prolonged. Decades ago Ford and GM owned many of their own suppliers but as we all know over the years manufacturers have been outsourcing more parts and with just in time supply there is little room for any interruptions to production including strikes, natural disasters, and anything unforeseen that could happen. When the strike ends there will be delays in production due to parts shortages. It costs suppliers money to just keep making parts and stockpiling them especially when many parts have razor thin profit margins.