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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