By on January 9, 2013

Camry or Accord?

Back in the early 90’s, most non-enthusiasts with who admired certain small cars as long-term transportation modules would wind up at a Toyota or Honda dealer. Civic, Corolla, Camry, Accord. The majority of these blase buyers would price out their Toyonda car with nary a fleeting glance toward the Nissan side of the world.

Those early-90’s Sentras may have eventually yielded a bulletproof powertrain for the developing world and a wonderful SE-R model as well. But nobody cared back then.  The Stanza? Still stuck in the 80’s school of design  with a 90’s price tag.

Nissan was the least loved child of the Japanese Big 3 among those who least loved cars in general. But then the market slowly changed.

The 1993 Nissan Altima was not a paradigm shift by any stretch of the imagination. Then again it didn’t take much to leap far away from a Stanza. The 1st generation Altima would offer a humdrum 2.4 Liter that produced a respectable 150 horsepower. Upscale GLE models received the fake wood that glorified an otherwise average interior, and SE models would eventually offer a fake sporty bodydress that was all too typical of the time.

The look… was  not quite as sporty as the 1994 – 1997 Accord. Nor was it as conservative as the 1992-1996 Camry. It was in almost all respects a good solid car that had to compete with great solid cars.

Then a few strange things happened with the Japanese midsize car. It stopped being a compact.

The Honda Accord went from a sporty compact to a far larger Camry-esque midsized sedan with a luxury focus.

Toyota brought forth more room with the redesigned Camry. Along with cost containment (<– Click!) and an aggressive pricing strategy that would make it a dominant player for the next 15 years.

The Altima became the forgotten car. In 1998 Nissan launched a 2nd generation that looked almost exactly like the first generation. So much so that much of the public considered it to essentially be the same car as before.

The handling became a little better. The interior was a bit more cheap. The styling was conservative to a near Malibu level of anonymity. You could buy a new Altima and the exterior contours along with an identical level of interior space (108 compact cubic feet) would make the tidy package seem almost a body double with the older model unless you put them side to side.

The Japanese alternatives simply dialed in the same consumer takeout. Toyota quality and affordability with the Camry. Honda quality and affordability with the Accord. The Altima couldn’t quite hit either sweet spot nearly as well and the stunning lack of V6 power in the SE and GLE models made the Altima little more than an afterthought in the high end of the market. Sales were a mere 130,000 units in 2001 compared with 388,000 for the Camry and 414,000 for the Accord.

Something had to be sacrificed at Nissan… and it turned out to be the Maxima.

The 3rd generation Nissan Altima was almost an automotive Charles Atlas compared with the Poindexter of the prior year.  Nissan finally embraced the role of the athletic midsize model in a way that not even the Maxima could duplicate. In fact, the V6 equipped 2002 Nissan Altima would be even more powerful and spacious than the 2002 Nissan Maxima.

Horsepower rang up to 175 for the 4-cylinder and a then prodigious 240 for the V6. The rear seats had reasonable room for the first time, stickshift models finally had zing in ways the Camords could no longer duplicate, and Nissan finally saw fit to bequeath their American supersized Altima with a new platform dubbed FF-L .

It was that decade’s version of the Chrysler LH. Modern, spacious and athletic for an automaker that had struggled to put all three of these qualities into one platform. This platform would give rise to the highly successful Nissan Murano and enabled Nissan to finally embrace the multiple model platform that was essential for profits in the global marketplace. The Maxima and Quest would soldier on in their respective declining market segments with the same underpinnings ,while the Altima models would soldier forward to finally take on the Accord and Camry.

The 2002 Nissan Altima would break through the 200k barrier and put the model firmly in the midsized dimensions where it belonged . Ten years and one D platform later, the 2012 Altima would break through the 300k barrier and seriously challenge the Accord as the second best selling midsized sedan in the United States.

This stunning advancement would hide two unusual realities for the midsized segment.

The first is that the midsize sedan market is penetrating several segments that were once distinct and impervious . Today’s Camrys and Altimas suck an awful lot of customers out of the full-sized, dedicated hybrids, and even the family CUV and minivan markets.


The average midsized car is now a full-sized model with all the safety equipment, and nearly all the fuel economy that can be had in any of these four other markets. This is as much marketing driven as it is technology driven.

The 1993 Accord, Camry and Altima offered only 4 trim levels and fewer than three engines (2, 2, and 1 respectively). The 2013 models have anywhere from 6 to 7 trim levels with a dizzying level of potential alternatives. Plug-in, hybrid, coupe, sedan, CUV-like wagon, CVT, Auto, stick. Not to mention that everything from minivans to SUV’s will often use the same exact platform.

Variety in look, and commonality with platform, are now the new reality. Lee Iacocca and the auto industry’s K-Car forebearers would have been proud.

The second reality that tails in well with the greater economies of scale (and fewer suppliers)  is a strong increase in quality standards across the board for all major manufacturers. So much so that quality gaps have now become more a matter of interiors and infotainment technologies, rather than long-term durability.

Not too long ago it used to be that only two midsized models, Accord and Camry, could largely carry the mantle of quality with the general public. Now the subpar quality car is the irritable exception.

For now the Camry is still the king of popularity, particularly the LE models. But the four-cylinder Altima I had for about a thousand miles seemed to be about $3000 better than the Camry LE I had the week before. Even though the price difference was a mere few hundred dollars.

While the Camry LE still offers a variety of hard plastics in the middle of the dash, bare bone door panels, and exposed screw holes in the back of the steering wheel. The Altima S  provides a far stronger luxury bent. With a laced up leather steering wheel and a well padded  interior with a far better overall upscale  feel of quality.

From door handles that weren’t cost contained amorphous cheap plastics. To controls that were less octogenarian and more pleasing to the touch. The reviews by Alex Dykes and Michael Karesh highlight the fact that the Altima is now a more luxurious and fun vehicle to drive than the Camry. Other than making sure the CVT is serviced every 30k, which I encourage for all those here who still have little faith in lifetime fluids, the Altima is virtually without vice.

The six cylinder Altima 3.5 SV does offer a few unique on the road advantages over the four-cylinder model. At between 40 to 60 mph, the six cylinder can turn at between 1000 and 1500 rpm’s, helping the six-cylinder model earn the mantle of the better choice for road warriors that prefer a cruiser oriented driving experience. In a near perfect mix of 50/50 driving, the more upscale Altima also garnered a remarkable 29.5 mpg drive with a similar level of refinement as $50,000 luxury cruisers routinely offered only a decade ago.

Long and the short of it, I found the real world experience of the Altima to be almost as Lexus like as an ES350. Great highway capabilities. The perfect size for a family of four that needs space. A driving experience with sound luxurious isolation and power whenever you desire it.

The interior materials in the Altima are far less luxurious than any full-sized or entry level luxury model. But with a $7,000 to $9,000 price advantage, that’s not too much of a sacrifice. A lot of you may scoff at the thought. But I can see the new Altima heartily chipping away at both markets.

Who woulda thunk back in the day?

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70 Comments on “Then And Now: A Short History Of The Altima...”

  • avatar

    Rented one in San Francisco earlier this year and was really impressed. Reminded me of an Accord from the late 80’s or early 90’s – well built, quiet, good materials. I wasn’t sure about the CVT at first, but came to like it. I’m a truck-guy at heart, but would definitely put this on the list if looking for an economical family hauler.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Excellent work Steven,

    I’m going to cross shop the ’13 Altima and the ’12 Impala. But first, I have to get to the shrink and get more treatments for my bad case of taxophobia.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      @ Cat’s Cradle –

      The Impala and Altima are very different cars. You may want to consider a lightly used 2012 Impala, which can be had from Carmax for less than $14k instead of new and consider the 2013 Altima as well.

      I have test driven a 2013 Accord LX (base model) and was blown away by the car. Have not driven an Altima (current or 2013 model).

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker


        Thanks for the advice on the used ’12 Impala. I’m also going to shop the ’13 Accord. I ast in the back seat of a co-workers new ’13 before the holidays and was blown away by the leg room in the Accord even behind the driver who had his seat pushed back.
        It’s going to be a difficult decision.

  • avatar

    It was fun watching those ads.

    The Altima’s growth over the years is amazing and it’s now definitely better than the Camry. However, the Altima still doesn’t have “it” to be the best selling car.

    2013 looks to be very exciting now that the playing field has been leveled between the midsize sedans… no more disasters (hopefully), low inventories, transitioning phases, etc.

  • avatar

    “In fact, the V6 equipped 2002 Nissan Altima would be even more powerful and spacious than the 2002 Nissan Maxima.” The 2013 Altima is significantly bigger than the 2013 Maxima – 102 vs 96 cu. ft and 1 inch longer.

    Great article and it is good to see more about Nissan since they do seem to get comparatively little attention on TTAC, Edmunds and elsewhere whilst selling well. They are also the only mainstream company I can think of selling in all segments in the US – minivan, full range of cars, full range of SUV’s, trucks and oddballs (Cube, Juke). No-one else offers all that, whether that is good or not!

  • avatar

    “The interior materials in the Altima are far less luxurious than any full-sized or entry level luxury model. But with a $7,000 to $9,000 price advantage, that’s not too much of a sacrifice. A lot of you may scoff at the thought. But I can see the new Altima heartily chipping away at both markets.”

    Much better interior than some other vehicles in the same class though…

  • avatar

    At my recommendation, my mother bought a 1993 first year Altima. It was a great car. The interior had a satin-like cloth finish that looked much more expensive than the competitors. The outside was styled like the Infiniti J-30, a much more expensive car. The Altima was comfortable, practical, and it drove well. The 150 HP was matched with a like amount of torque, and with a 5-speed manual, 0-60 was in the 7’s. That was quick for the day, quicker than most V-6 sedans. In 1995, I bought a 1996 Altima. By this time, the interior fabric had been downgraded, and there was some other decontenting that i can’t remember, but the car now had dual airbags instead of just a driver’s bag and those crazy automatic belts. The 1996 was a good car but it didn’t have the character of the 93. These days the first generation Altimas are about the best car you can get for under $3,000.

  • avatar

    The ’94 Altima was my first and only new car I’ve purchased. Great car, decent handling and a 5 speed, mediocre mileage, but then, gas was $1.25/gallon, so operating costs were low.

    Other than brakes, tires, oil and a new battery, the car needed nothing in 94k miles. I then bought a used car with my heart – a ’95 530i. Much more fun, but crimeny, the thing was expensive to maintain, and all sorts of things just went wrong.

    I do miss the simplicity of the Altima, but the new ones aren’t so simple, are they?

    • 0 avatar

      I had a very similar experience. My first new car post-college was a ’94 Altima base model. Other than maintenance and wear items, it cost me nothing over 4 years and 120k kilometres of driving. Great highway car – rock solid stable and the “sweet spot” was right around 130 km/h. Only sold it because I wanted a car with AC, power windows and locks, etc.

  • avatar

    Bought the Kia Optima Turbo instead, never looked back. At least it has some style about it. I just cannot get past the Nissian take it or leave it approach.

  • avatar

    The ’02 Altima was a true “game changer” for Nissan and for the midsize segment. While that gen of Altima looks tame now, it really stood out at the time, thanks in part to the cliche clear tail lights. The 240hp number was quite impressive for the time as well. That car really made a splash.

    I thought the following gen (the outgoing one) looked good as well, though a bit puffy. A buddy has one of these and I find the interior quite lacking, lots of cheap plastics, that awful orange lighting, and lots of rattles.

    Good to hear they’ve fixed up the interior in this new gen. But I’m just not feeling the exterior. It looks really big, fat and heavy, and the view from the back makes it look like the car was rear-ended and is bowed out in the back. It just doesn’t look upscale to me.

    I have a hard time connecting with the current-gen Nissans. They seemed to have a sporty soul in the early 2000s that kind of made up for the crudeness of the interiors, but it feels they’ve now been clinic-ized and sterilized to the level of Toyotas and Hondas they used to stand out from. That commercial above for the second-gen Altima was funny with the gold Camrys…Ford could easily do the same commercial today with the line “But perhaps the best reason to buy a Ford Fusion…it’s not another white Altima.”

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    I still cannot get over the new Altima’s styling. It just screams awkward to me. Between the proportions and the detailing I just cannot feel anything except loathing. I think just about every other car in the segment looks better…

  • avatar

    It’s anecdotal, but I’ll submit that I’ve personally known of more 300k+mile first generation Altimas than just about any other car except for the 1987-90 Sentra.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s another anecdote for you: I own a ’95 that I bought in ’97. There are two other Altimas on my street, a ’93 and another ’95. Every six months some guy leaves a note on our windshields saying “If you want to sell this car, call Tom at XXX-XXXX”. Mine was in the best shape (with fading paint) until a guy backed his F150 into it in a parking lot.

      The other ’95 has dents on all four corners and the ’93 has rust out behind the rear wheels and above the windshield. Being ten miles from cheap Mexican body shops probably makes a difference, but the 2.4 engine with a timing CHAIN is probably the biggest reason.

      The first generation may have never topped 200k in a year, but over five years, the total makes parts easier to find. I was quoted $2400 for a used bumper, trunk lid and left tail light assembly, plus ding removal and a full paint job. Now I’m debating whether to do that plus struts and tire replacement, or buy a loaded, perfect ’93 Le Sabre with 73K an elderly woman is selling nearby.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure my 96 altima will reach 300K as the odometer doesn’t always function, but I have 276K+ miles right now on the original clutch. No rust, still quick enough, and the a/c blows cold. Other than a fuel pump there has been no unscheduled maintenance in the last 120K miles. You can’t beat the cost of ownership on this car. Someday I will fish my “Rush” cassette out of the cassette player.

  • avatar

    The early 90’s ones seemed a lot more upscale than the redesign in the late 90’s.

    I remember a colleague at work got a new one for a song, but I couldn’t believe how cheap the interior felt.

    I’m always amazed what some car companies do to cut costs on interior appointments when you get so much for your buck. A little higher quality plastic and a little extra sound deadening is probably a rounding error in costs, yet it makes all the difference in the world.

  • avatar

    I’ve had literally dozens of these things as rentals, in all of the various permutations, and a good friend has owned one of each generation bar the brand new one. I guess they ARE sportier than a Camry, but so is a wheelchair. My friend’s first two were bulletproof basic transportation. The latest one is a V6, and is about to get it’s 4th dealer installed under warranty CVT with less than 90K on it. Pure quality. He’ll never buy another one. I actually just sent him this article through IM, and he is laughing his head off back at me.

    I must have missed the generation of Accord that was “sporty” too.

    Slightly different shades of beige, all of them.

    • 0 avatar

      What is your friend doing to the CVTs? My parents own a 2007 maxima I’ve driven on occaison when I visit and it’s a great car. The CVT feels turbo-ish as the band tightens but they’ve had no problems in 60K and my mother is still a lead foot.

      I’ve checked out Nissan boards and they seem to not bemoan CVTs too much.

      • 0 avatar

        My experience with the JATCO units mostly goes along with krhodes’ anecdote. They don’t hold up all that well.

      • 0 avatar

        Drives back and forth to work. He is a pretty gentle driver too. I think the most telling thing is that the dealer keeps the transmissions in stock – in and out in a day. His car is actually there right now – he took it in for an oil change today, and took with him a video he made of the latest strange antics it is doing. Nissan asked to keep the car so the field engineer can come and play with it tomorrow. So he has my car for the night.

  • avatar

    It seems like for a car of similar weight & power the CVT yields about a 1-second 0-60 time advantage over a conventional 6-speed automatic, and a little bit more over a 5-speed automatic. For unskilled drivers, the CRT is probably faster than a manual transmission. Nissan deserves credit for making the CRT if not “reliable”, at least not “notably unreliable.”

  • avatar

    Very nice piece. I always liked the Altima-based Infiniti J growing up, it was a very elegant, non-showy design.

    I only take exception the statement “2012 Altima would break through the 300k barrier and unseat the Accord as the second best selling midsized sedan in the United States.”

    According to Tim Cain over at GCBC, while the ’12 Altima broke the 300k barrier, the Accord still beat it by a margin equal to the total number of Mazda6s sold last year:

    2012 Accord Sales (Crosstour excluded): 331,872
    2012 Altima Sales: 302,934

    • 0 avatar

      The Infiniti J was not Altima-based. It was RWD with the VG30 V6 and based on the Nissan Leopard from Japan. The Tennessee-built Altima back then was 4-cylinder only and FWD.

  • avatar

    My mom got a 2002 Altima 2.5S in 2010, with only 70k miles on it – very clean. Now it has 73k on it (she doesn’t drive much).

    It’s a great-running, great-looking car, and very comfortable to drive.

    My only problem with the 02-13 Altima is that the styling – while quite pleasant – has been evolutionary. Only a trained eye can tell the differences among all these model years.

  • avatar

    I always used to regard Datsun/Nissan as Japan’s Chrysler to Toyota (GM) and Honda (Ford).

    Nowadays I don’t think of them at all.

    I rented an Altima for a business trip almost two years ago. It was a 4 cyl. Not a bad car, but nothing to recommend buying one. The interior was very bland and the seats/comfort level was terrible for me, but not bad-looking on the outside.

    Still, I understand Nissan makes a good car.

    • 0 avatar

      Datsun was the first Japanese import to US shores. Somehow in the Datsun to Nissan conversion era they really lost the mojo and Honda became a real automobile company. Remember the early Honda cars? Datsun was on a roll in the US, 240Z, 510, pickups. Toyota was always the boring, reliable one, Datsun and then Honda a little sportier.

      The Altima/Maxima thing never made sense to me. Camry and Accord grew and added V-6 options, leaving Nissan with a smaller, cheaper Altima and bigger more expensive Maxima with no product in the “sweet spot”.

      • 0 avatar

        “Datsun was the first Japanese import to US shores”

        Amen to that…. I remember standing in a student parking lot at the U of Iowa in 1975, astonished at the sea of blue & yellow Datsun B210s surrounding me.

  • avatar

    the 98-01 altima has to be one of the most generic, anonymous looking cars ever. but I like how the ad for that model was attacking Toyota’s now infamous sea of beige in a very direct way (by showing a sea of beige).

    and i was always amused by the design similarities between the infiniti J30 and the 2nd gen Altima, even though they weren’t similar cars.

    i’m not really finding anything by Nissan, even though I LOVE japanese cars, other than the GTR has any appeal to me. their design is almost Korean with all the flair and accentuation. i’m finding more to like about Toyota’s direction away from curves and back towards more sharp, squared-off lines.

  • avatar

    I have been a diehard Nissan fan since I bought my first Datsun truck new in 81. I am amazed that I have an S10 instead of a Nissan pickup but it’s doing fine and I have no real regrets. Our main car is a Nissan cube and I like it well enough to argue back when it gets routinely bashed here and CC.

    We tend to get over 200k on everything as our driving is two lane blacktop mixed in with short stretches of freeway. What I do not know is if Nissan has managed to build a CVT that will make that kind of long haul. Our current six speed is going to do it, I think. Our main car would do better as an automatic thanks to my wifes clutch knee.

    How say you Steven? What is the state of the CVT?

  • avatar

    The first Altima was the Nissan Primera in Europe, and typical for Europe, was designed for a world where small does not equal cheap. The first ones were more of a world car…the latter more for “us”.

    In hell, my daily driver is a Camry Solara.

  • avatar

    I’ve almost exclusively preferred Nissan’s cars of the last 10 years over the comparable vehicles from Honda or Toyota, with the exception of the last generation Sentra (save the SER spec-V). They almost always offered slightly better appointments with more sporting powertrains.

    I agree the leap forward was the ’02 Altima. Before that car, Nissans weren’t even on my radar.

    I’m not a fan of CVTs, but Nissan makes them work reasonably well.

  • avatar

    I drove a ’12 Altima for a few days while my ’12 WRX was in the shop for a ding and some maintenance.

    Overall, I liked the Altima. It was a decent car. Of course acceleration with CVT’d 4 felt quite silly after a WRX and so did the handling but it’s not a sports car so it’s an unfair comparison. Even the base model had a decent amount of technology. I wouldn’t mind buying one if I can have it with V6 and stick.

  • avatar

    The KA24DE in the Altimas was a super-workhorse too. They had a problem with valve lash so they sounded terrible after a while, but they were super-reliable from my experience.

    • 0 avatar

      Was it valve lash in the KA? I had an SR20DE (in a ’95 G20) and they were famous for stretching timing chains. Granted, mine ran perfectly at 210k so I could easily excuse it for a few rattles and belches here and there. In my experience (owning and anecdotal), the ’95-99 Maxima and ’93-97 and ’98-01 Altima are the most reliable cars of the ’90s. The mechanicals are there on the Accords, Camrys, and Avalons from the ’90s but the rest of the car falls apart around it. The Nissans don’t seem to have ANY problems.

  • avatar

    The Altima is a very good rental car, but even with heavier incentives, it won’t come close to the redesigned Accord’s sales. Retail, excepting Accord supply issues, they were never close.

    I doubt Honda has the capacity to produce enough Accords to unseat the Camry as best seller this year, but if it does, it will.

  • avatar

    We bought a new Altima in 2007 and just bought a 2013 last month. There is no comparison between the two in interior quality. Best seats ever!! Mileage is good in the 2007 but fantastic in the ’13. First full tank last 610 miles! Computer says it is getting 28.6 in mostly town driving. I believe it.

  • avatar

    I love my 2009 Altima. Fun to drive, great mileage, and excellent reliability. Exterior styling is nothing to write home about, and some of the interior bits are a bit too cheap. But unlike some other makers who go cheap accross the board, Nissan knew where high quality parts would pay dividends and where it might get away with cutting corners. I would have preferred another $300 in price to upgrade all the materials but Nissan did a great job. And I was never a Nissan fan…

  • avatar

    I saw a white 3.5 SV today. Looked like Rosie Perez in a white leotard. “That chick looks kind of strange but damn if she ain’t sexy… look at the curvesss”

  • avatar

    My first job out of high school was washing cars for Budget. This was in 1993/94, so the Altima was brand new. We were always driving the rental cars here and there, shuttling people and what-not, and if there wasn’t a Maxima on the lot we always jumped in an Altima. The wood grain might have been fake and the seats might have been genuine mouse hair, but we loved those things! Given the choice between that and almost anything else on the lot, we always went with the Altima.

  • avatar

    The ’02 Altima was the best looking of the mainstream midsize sedans and the one after that tweaked some elements (mainly headlights/taillights) which improved upon the look.

    The new Altima is just an unmitigated mess design-wise – too many lines going in all different directions.

    While the Camry and Accord (the Accord at one time used to outsell the Camry by a good margin) remain in the no.1 and no.2 slots saleswise, they no longer dominate the segment as they used to (where each would sell multiples of the competition).

    The Altima, the Sonata/Optima cousins and (likely once production/supply is in full swing) the Fusion are/will all be nipping at the heels of the Camry and Accord.

  • avatar

    The Altima is decent enough…but man, you mention the SE-R (first gen, please), and my mind goes back to the 1992 SE-R I owned straight out of college. Now THERE was a fun car, in a tidy and unassuming package.

  • avatar

    Let’s not forget that the platform also spawned the new Infiniti JX (QX60) and Nissan Pathfinder, which are stretched Nissan Muranos, which is a wagonified Nissan Altima.

    And there are also the venerable VQ and VR engines, which do duty in the vast majority of Nissan’s products…

  • avatar

    The 94-97 Accord was sporty? LOL. As ridiculous as your baseless claims that every Camry produced since 97 is utter junk.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      When compared with the competition of that time (Camry, Altima, Lumina, Taurus, Concorde, Galant, etc), the Accord was definitely the most rev happy and best handling car in the midsized market.

      Here’s a flashback…

      The Camry is not junk. I even bought a new one not too long ago for my 75+ year old mom. But starting in 1997 there was a far greater focus on cost containment, and now the interior materials are just plain cheap and uncompetitive.

      • 0 avatar

        Being the sportiest car in the mid-size biegemobile market is precisely the same thing as being the sexiest chic in the leper colony…

        I completely agree that the Camry is not junk though – it is the very definition of dull but worthy. Just like a plain white refrigerator or basic washer and dryer. Gets the job done without having to think about it.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven scores of Altimas as rental cars. Seeing them on so many rental car lots across the US & Canada doesn’t give me warm fuzzies about the vehicle. However at National where I can pick my own car I do often take it over the Malibu or Sonata. Usually was a tossup if I’d go Altima over Fusion. Ford usually had the Sirus radio that I like when traveling.

    Which brings me to my point, the market is more than just the Accord, Camry and Altima. The ’13 Fusion is several steps better than the Altima, especially in better trim with the 2.0L engine. I’d no longer take an Altima over the Fusion given the option.

    I’m no fan of the ‘bu but it can compete. Sonata/Optima, they are pretty good, no? Simply put, the Altima has come a long way but so have a lot of other vehicles.

    Meanwhile my ’99 Accord keeps soldiering along with it’s many many many miles. Although it’s the model that is noted as being more luxurious and “big” it’s anything but when compared to the modern equivalents. I often park next to a co-workers Altima and it’s a beast by comparison. The entire market segment has changed drastically, and although there are more “good” options out there I’m not so sure it’s for the better. This should be a short history about how far Honda and Toyota have fallen and not how Nissan matched their competitors and read the crystal ball of a changing market.

  • avatar


    -I took driver’s education in a ’96 Altima GXE.

    -I owned a ’98 Maxima GXE 5-speed that was absolutely wonderful to own and drive, and was bulletproof in reliability (owned from ’04-05 and 117-132k).

    -My above-mentioned ’95 G20 was an absolute joy to own and drive, as well. I replaced a water pump, a punctured cold air intake (don’t worry, I found an Infiniti OEM part for super-cheap on eBay), a worn shift-interlock switch, and salt-damaged engine mounts. Owned from ’09-11 and from 200,336 mi to around 211,000. The body and engine support parts of the frame were very rusty, or I would still be driving it. The above-mentioned parts were all replaced for the first time since it had left the Oppama factory in ’94. It was very fun to drive, if tail-happy in the wet. Unfortunately a 4sp auto, but considering the size and age of the thing, it could move quite well, thank you. Every light and power feature worked on it, except the ABS motor (which still technically worked, but once a month would switch on by itself when the car was parked and off and drain the battery, so I removed the fuse).

    -If something were to happen to my beloved, 209k Avalon right now, I’d probably shop for a pre-’02 Altima specifically, as they seem to be less abused than similar-year Maximae (sp?), don’t suffer as much rust as ’90s Hondas and Mazdas, and don’t carry the relatively undeserved price premium of a “T” on the grille.

  • avatar

    I remember the QR25 debacle was a real black eye on the Altimas. Massive oil consumption followed sometimes by engine fires. Ouch.

    Rare for a recall campaign, I remember they actually shipped unsold units back to the plant for repairs and sometimes engine replacements.

  • avatar

    I really liked the original Altima inside and out, and I thought the ’98 restyle was bad news.
    It was as if every component was uglified on purpose.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The Altima is a good example of how quickly the car market can change. I owned a 96 Camry 4cyl and have driven a family member’s 96 Altima. The Camry shamed that Altima in every way except engine hp. Refinement, room, interior materials, noise levels, everything was light years ahead in the Toyota.

    Fast forward to ~2003 and the choice wasn’t quite as clear. Altima had distinct advantages in powertrains and handling, but was still a bit loud & unrefined compared to a Camry, and the interior was dressed in truly horrible cheap plastics.

    Now, there really isn’t any reason to get a Camry over an Altima. I don’t think the Camry does anything better, except provide a vague notion of marginally better durability.

  • avatar

    My only memories of the 1st gen Altimas is seeing how utterly trashed they got here in Texas after a few years. Failing paint, shredding interiors, lost hubcaps, and trashed bumpers were normal. Now you only see them in the lower-income parts of town where the cockroach of the road factor is high. Sure they may be mechanically reliable, but they descended into beaterdom pretty quickly.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “The 94-97 Accord was sporty? LOL. As ridiculous as your baseless claims that every Camry produced since 97 is utter junk.”

    Actually MUCH more sporty than the competition….check any period review….

    Memories from my time
    1. The 1985 ‘square’ Maxima was a grand slam in the market place and quite the road terror, followed by the
    2. 1990 Maxima, the 4DSC. They cost a premium on the market.
    3. The next generation Maxima was very popular as well.
    4. The massively changed 2002 Altima made the Maxima pretty redundant. Similar or even larger, great handling, costs less.

    With the new generation, it appears there is no longer a need for the Maxima as it currently is.

    • 0 avatar

      With the upsized Altima, the Maxima no longer is needed. Yes it’s a nice car, but I feel there’s no room in the market for it anymore.

      I always thought the Altima to be the Civic/Coronary competitor and the Max the Accord/Camry challenger.

  • avatar

    The Maxima ‘competes’ with the 300/Avalon/Charger group. There is room on the market for a big cruising car. I’d pick the Charger over the Maxima anytime though – and that’s the problem for the Maxima.

    It’s too bad – it used to be a really nice car – a real tranny and a powerful engine with a decent interior for a low price. The Altima OTOH is NOT a nice rental car. Vague steering – and while its fast enough the tranny actually ‘lags.’ Sometimes you get alot of response (like from a standstill) other times you try to accelerate and nothing happens until its too late (like a highway on ramp)..

    Terrible car – I much prefer the Jetta rental despite that cars hilariously slow engine.. (It has the 2.slow).

  • avatar

    Until a couple years ago, I drove a manual ’99 Altima until ~200K. Good car. Still in the distant family and running with a 2nd clutch. I think rust will probably kill it soon…
    Current Altimas? Meh… I like smaller cars with a manual…

  • avatar

    My buddy had a ’92 CantStanza. With a manual transmission, it was very enjoyable to be in and drive; like a mini Maxima. The little 4-banger was very torquey and the suspension seemed about right for my tastes. It was still in great shape when the engine stopped working for (probably) electronic reasons in ’05, but it didn’t have a lot of value left and the poor guy was broke and living in a big city apartment so he couldn’t work on it himself and couldn’t find a good mechanic for it (the Nissan dealership didn’t seem to want anything to do with an old, uncommon car with a strange problem). He was also paying $3600 a year in insurance due to a bad driving record so he just let it go and shared the wife’s Mazda3 whenever he needed something more than a motorcycle.

    I test drove a new Altima in ’04 and it felt way too big and floaty for me. I much preferred both the Mazda6 and Accord I drove the same day. All were 4-cylinder models. Maybe the V6 SE had sportier suspension, but I wasn’t willing to spend the extra up front or in future fuel costs right out of university so I didn’t drive it. I haven’t been in an Altima since.

  • avatar

    I worked for the local Infiniti dealership in my city from 1991-93 and so had a lot of experience driving the first-generation P10 Primera-based Infinit G20 with its excellent SR20DE engine. The owner of the dealership also had a Nissan dealership next door, so I remember getting to drive a brand-new Altima when they came out in late ’92. Compared to the G20, the Altima seemed redundant- similar in size, but almost completely different and to me, inferior. I liked the styling, the engine, and the handling of the G20 much better than the Altima. In the subsequent years, I owned three first-gen G20s and exactly zero Altimas.

  • avatar

    My first car was actually a 1996 altima GXE. It survived 3 years of being flogged by a high school student, after 3 years of being flogged by my father who destroys everything he touches.

    I know I had no real comparisons at the time, but in retrospect, the power was good, the interior was solid, and the 5-speed was one of the better ones I’ve used. I liked the car enough that I almost went back and bought a ’97 5-speed when I graduated college before I splurged and bought my RSX-S instead.

    My parents have been Nissan people ever since, with my mom in an ’06 Altima and my dad in an Xterra currently, and I’ve always been impressed with their products, save for the ’12 Altima I had as a rental car last year. I really like my mom’s car with the SL package, the leather quality is very decent, and the 4-banger does almost as good a job as my old Altima’s did considering the heft of the 02+ models.

  • avatar

    Wondering how much of the Altimas sales numbers include fleets, because I’ve seen a lot as rental cars from all providers. Does a lease count as a “sale”? I imagine it does, because I can’t think of the last time I saw a Nissan ad that didn’t feature the Altima S at somewhere between $0 down or 3000 down and about $200 month (not including tax,etc.)

    My own Altima is a lease. A 2010 2.5S that sat, along with 20 identical line mates, on a local Nissan lot for a year before I bought it in March of 2011. They sat for so long the dealer was offering a Sign and Drive lease deal outside of what national program Nissan was offering. So as long as you liked white with a tan interior and no real options to speak of, it was quite a deal over the identical 2011’s.

    I wanted a car with a warranty because I had two month old twin boys and I didn’t want to drain my meager bank account on purchasing a 5-7k used car. A lease was fine because I didn’t want anything long term, in case our 08 Mazda5 turned out to be a problem or not big enough.( More of the latter for the Mazda. For around town it’s fine, but on trips, not enough space, although 28-30 mpg isn’t bad. Not many issues, but the 5 has only 28k. But I digress…)

    I shopped the $10 a month cheaper Sentra and it wasn’t worth it. The lack of refinement, the obnoxiousness (on many levels) of the 2.0 and CVT, all told me no.

    This dealer also carries Hyundai and the the totally new Elantra was just out on a lease special. I had the same problem with the Elantra that I have with all Korean cars. Nice equipment, decent price,unbeatable warranty and I like the styling. But they just don’t have a comprehensive feel to them. You sit “on” the seats than “in” them, the steering is kind of abrupt off center, yet numb at the same time. And the suspension is kind of harsh yet not sporting or soft. This is 3 model years ago now and the first production run of Elantra, so maybe things have changed.

    But I felt like I was driving an update of the 2001 then totally new Elantra I owned. And traded after 8 months on a Focus ZX3 ( Many lessons learned there but the Focus was a drivers car if nothing else..)

    Many leases were available when I shopped. Fiesta (too small) Mazda 3 (too old, MPG not favorable for size,missing equipment), Cruze was new. Went to the auto show and looked them all over. And then I looked at the Altima.

    Hadn’t considered the Altima until then. My first experience was the first gen cars as a car prep at Enterprise. Ok, nothing special and tiny compared to all but the contemporary Contour. The 2nd gen was the bland mobile as discussed. 3rd gen was impressive except the interior, which was really cheap looking and feeling.

    I sat in the Altima and realized Nissan did a lot to fix the cheap interior problem. Still not a class leader, but not bargain basement anymore. Lots of standard equipment for the price, decent seats. Lots of room. I liked ( now love) the Keyless Go. Driving the Altima proved it to be a very good car. It was more athletic then our 06 Accord LX, but it was quieter. The 2.5 wasn’t(and isn’t) nearly as refined as the 2.4 Honda, but it’s OK. There’s no perfect car,right?

    The CVT was the only real drawback and to this day, I consider it the only thing I really don’t like about the car. I enjoy passing with it and that it will loaf the engine at 2300 rpm at 80mph. I don’t enjoy the drone of the engine or CVT above 3500 rpm. I don’t like that in the hills in which I live, the CVT,engine and my right foot are at odds about the amount of power needed. A small prod of the pedal for a bit more power can give you a lot more power than you wanted. This causes you to ease off, but that drops the power too much. This can make climbing a long hill annoying, the CVT equivalent of “hunting” through the gears.

    This is much longer than I wanted it to be, but I felt the need to explain why I was an Altima convert. Yeah, price had a lot to do with it, if someone else offered a zero down and drive off loan, I might not have gone with the Altima. But if I could do a manual (or V6 car) with leather, I’d get another Altima over its competitors.

    • 0 avatar

      Just had a 13 Altima as a rental. The CVT is much improved, much more responsive and less “rubber band” than my ’10 car. The interior is a dramatic improvement, gone is the orange gauge lighting that Nissan has had for years. Some upgraded plastics and soft touch stuff, but the HVAC controls and the radio controls felt cheaper. Seats are a bit better. Car seems a bit sharper overall. I maintain that I’d get another if the same deal came around or if I wanted a V6 midsize sedan.

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