The 2002 Altima And The Mid-Size Horsepower Wars

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
the 2002 altima and the mid size horsepower wars

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.

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  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on May 26, 2012

    I seem to remember some Nissan advertising from this time where they touted the fact Nissans had more standard HP than any of there competitors. A bit like Ford's "total performance" theme of the 1960s. I rented a 4-cyl version of this car and even its 175 HP was a lot for a four back then. There was also a very nice looking SER version with lower suspension, Recaros, very tasteful spoiler and front splitter and a beautiful set of charcoal painted wheels.

  • Mr_min Mr_min on May 28, 2012

    Not being in America, I can't comment about who was first etc. But I think the horsepower pissing contest is also fed by a segment of lazy auto journalist whose simplistic mantra is bigger = better and more hp = better. The whole concept of fit for purpose gets lost in the noise of trying to have a louder voice than your competitor, and the easier way to do that, is more hp. Which is fine for a performance car, but a Camry/ALtima/Accord/Whatever they all look roughly the same.. purlease I fall asleep going around corners in one of these...

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?