By on March 31, 2015


Well, it’s well into 2015, and time for another Nissan Altima review. My Casamigos hampered research tells me TTAC has done a review of the Altima every year since 2006, except for 2011. Go ahead, search for Nissan Altima, I’ll wait. You are the B&B and you’ll probably find the review I missed.

It looks like I was the first one this year to lose rental car roulette.

I spent 2013 in the Middle East. My default vehicle was a capable and reliable Toyota Fortuner, but those in a lesser position were saddled with a CVT equipped Altima. On an outing where I didn’t drive because I was hammered, looking to enjoy local culture, we usually took a Nissan of questionable maintenance.

Out of the gate, I loathe this car. I know hormonal teenage One Direction fans amped on Diet Mountain Dew more capable of making a decision than the Nissan CVT transmission.


This is my opening mindset before I spent an hour in line at the Dollar Counter at Houston’s William F. Hobby Airport to get my reserved full size car.

I was told I could take any car along line “M.” I surveyed my choices, a gray Nissan Altima, a black Nissan Altima and a white Nissan Altima. Apparently Dollar Rent A Car does not read TTAC or they would realize that it is a midsized car.

Dear reader, I share this with you to place you in my state of mind when I climbed into the Altima. Yes, I allowed emotions and previous experience to cloud my analysis of this car. My neutral journalistic aspirations could use some training, but my integrity is fully intact.

I left Dollar’s parking lot en route to my hotel in 20 miles away. My first observation is the lack of a USB port. Petty yes, but a Chevrolet Sonic rental comes with Bluetooth and USB.

Once in motion, the CVT transmission did not disappoint. It was the same rev-happy, indecisive collection of rubber bands I remembered. I took stock of the interior. The seats are terrible, flat and hard; I fiddled with the controls for most of the trip. I suspect that was mostly the mileage. I would bet there was more than one occasion that the window had been left open during a rainstorm.

At dinner, I parked in front of a Chevy Malibu. Visually, the dimensions aren’t that far off. The Malibu is marketed as a full-sized car in some rental fleets, so I may have been judgmental. My mood improved with some calories and on the return I tried the “S” setting on the transmission. Nissan should re-label this “T” for tolerable. It ‘s not sporty, but seems to be more agreeable.


Interfaces aside, the stereo is not bad and capable of annoying the next car at a stoplight with a Foo Fighters tune.

Before dawn I was back in the Altima, in a better mindset. I knew the secret to the transmission was “S” and the seats were bad. Maybe I had been a bit harsh on the old gal.

Nope. I was still right. Not quite hormonal fans of One Direction, but certainty hormonal teenage level. Freeway on ramps are an absolute conflict of perception and reality. The engine is revving for all its worth giving indications of what should be a neck-snapping launch. The reality is more 80’s Hyundai speed for the on ramp and a “please have mercy on me” merger.

For all of its sound and fury, the Altima’s sensation of speed was like an 80’s VW diesel. The numbers tell me this car hits 60 a gnat’s hair under 8 seconds. That makes it quicker than a Camry base and places it on par with an entry level Accord. So I have to logically conclude this is my flawed perception, due in large part to the transmission and the noises from the engine. Which ads credence to this car being better than I will admit.

The obvious advantage of the CVT transmission is the fuel economy, for which I am ashamed to say I cannot give a solid observation. I was in Houston for a very rainy race and the racecar’s fuel consumption was half of what was planned, so my tank was filled at the track in an effort to empty the team’s transfer tank. Driving 20 miles from the airport to the hotel, then another 18 to the track barely moved the gas gauge. After the tank was overfilled, I drove over 20 miles to dinner, 20 back to the hotel,  then almost another 20 back to the rental car counter. This did not deviate the needle from the “F” on the gauge. So that was almost 60 miles, with a probably “sticky” fuel gauge, but at any rate, I cannot complain about the MPG. In fact, its pretty impressive.

So for all of my venom, I honestly cannot call this a bad car. As I get farther from my time with the Altima I am forced to judge it on merits rather than impressions and it stacks up better than I would have admitted last weekend. But there is a reason it was all that was left in Dollar’s lot. It is simply an uninspiring car, long in the tooth, due for a refresh and the folks at Nissan have gotten lazy with the needed upgrades to keep it competitive with Honda and Toyota.

If you are looking for a capable comfortable sedan, and your waistline has expanded a bit since you graduated, you’d be very happy in an Altima. If you spend a lot of time in rush hour traffic, the transmission would undoubtedly yield superior returns on MPG. It’s not expensive, but not cheap. My internet search produced consistant prices of $23,5 for the 2.5 base, but a limited selection at most dealers in the Atlanta metro.

But you are the B&B. You willingly operate old slant 6 Darts, and Ford Flex’s. You are discriminating consumers and deserve better. You know Kia and Hyundai offer a superior product for less and you enjoy vehicles with at least some impression of a personality and dare I say, soul. While I cannot call Altima a bad car, I am comfortable saying that if you have bothered to read this far, then the Nissan Altima not the car for you, and that includes as a rental.

Christian “Mental” Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, still loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and an actual Yamaha Vino scooter, so this wasn’t his first CVT transmission. Follow him on Twiiter, Instagram and Vine at M3ntalward

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46 Comments on “Rental Review: 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 CVT...”

  • avatar

    Regarding your full-size/mid-size comment, I remember one time reserving a “full size” car at the St. Louis airport and I got a Malibu Classic. I questioned that and was told it was in fact considered a full size. I could be wrong, but it seems as though the same rental car company will classify cars differently depending on the airport. Crazy.

  • avatar

    Not an accurate description of base model car. It’s missing the 22″ rim option.

  • avatar

    For some reason I feel like if there were a USB hookup, Nissan would put it in the center arm rest storage area. Is it not an option on the Altima at all?

    I rode in a rental Altima last year, and found it pretty buzzy and numb. I was not impressed with interior materials or particularly any build quality. It was just some car. I WAS however, impressed with the amount of leg room for front and rear passengers. In the front passenger seat, I could put my legs all the way out, and still I was not at the firewall. And I’m six feet tall. I asked the person behind me if I needed to scoot up, because surely they had no room – my seat must have been all the way back. Nope, they had room too.

    • 0 avatar

      I had same Altima as a rental twice last half a year and in both cases and both did not have clock and did not have USB slot. I attached my mp3 player to aux play podcasts instead. I connected phone to the info system but voice command system useless – it sends you from one menu to another if of course it can recognize you commands which is almost never (saying it coming from Fusion where it is implemented perfectly you just say one phrase and it calls the person to asked to call).

  • avatar

    All the rental agencies are playing fast and loose with their classifications.

    A Sonic is a compact.

    A Corolla or a Cruze is a midsizer

    A Fusion or Altima is a fullsizer.

    A Fusion or Malibu is a “standard” car.

    I had Hertz in Orlando try to convince me that a Malibu was a “premium” car. I called their customer support in front of the rep – I ended up with a free “upgrade” to a Suburban. Didn’t want something that big, but sure beats rolling in a ‘bu for “premium” car money.

    • 0 avatar

      Was the Malibu a LTZ? Sometimes at Enterprise/National a few option packages will be the only difference between premium and full-size. I think Epsilon Impalas, for instance, are full-size with the four and premium with the V6.

      • 0 avatar

        No – LT – couldn’t tell you if it was LT1 or LT2.

        If it was an LTZ with the turbo 4 and a sunroof and navigation I could see the argument – sort of.

        When I select a car in category usually I’m selecting by size. So for example if I select a premium car and I’m handed the keys to an Epsilon II Impala in poverty spec, I’ll be a little, “WTF,” but the size works.

        We’ve booked a convertible for next month and I’m very concerned they’ll hand me the keys to a Fiat. It wouldn’t be earth shattering but we do need the storage a trunk offers. I’m fingers croseed for the ubiquitous Ford Mustang or Chevy Camaro. Praying they don’t hand me the keys to a dogged out mult-year old Sebring – rental agencies are holding onto cars much longer I’ve noticed.

        Ten years ago if I got a rental with more than 30K miles on the odometer, it was an “old” car. I’m seeing more and more rentals now at 40K – 50K.

        • 0 avatar

          Then that agent was just out of premium cars and trying to blow smoke up your ass instead of offering a resolution. This is why I like picking my own at National.

          The last few convertibles I’ve seen in rental lots have been Mustangs and Camaros. But I’m sure there are still a few 200s hanging around.

          • 0 avatar

            Yup – know the game – that’s why I called their number. I told the counter agent if you’re out of the class I booked and you got nothing, you don’t downgrade me and charge me the same price. You downgrade me and offer me something or you upgrade me.

            It’s not my problem if you’re out of fullsize and the only thing you have left are BOF fullsize utes and luxury cars.

        • 0 avatar

          The last car I rented (which may or may not be the subject of a review on this very site,) had something like 62k when I got it, if memory serves.

          It was clearly a bit worse for wear, and I definitely did not help the situation.

          • 0 avatar

            I almost always select “subcompact: Hyundai Elantra or similar” on the internet reservation and then trust my luck with whatever I end up with. I never seem to get a Fiat 500 though. That car is like my Eleanor of rental cars…

    • 0 avatar

      I remember Dollar rent-a-car handing out Suzuki XL-7s as full size SUVs in the early 2000’s. Never went back to them again.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a solution to this. Rent from National, choose from the Emerald Aisle. It may top out with an Impala if you hit it at a bad time, but at least you’ll have the choice, and won’t be playing Car Class Bingo every time you hit the airport.

      • 0 avatar

        I once had a reservation from Dollar at ATL and requested/paid in advance for a Full Size. They tried to give me a HYUNDAI ELANTRA. I complained and got a Ford Escape.

        A Malibu, maybe can be a full size rental car in the right light, but an Elantra? No friggin’ way.

        • 0 avatar

          Dollar is probably the worst of the US national chains that are “on airport.” You can absolutely do worse with regional agencies and off airport rentals.

          The Dollar at Denver was horrific. I got a dogged out Ford Fusion with 44K miles on the odometer, airbag light on, driver seat belt twisted up so bad it would have been functionally useless in an accident, scratched and dented (admittedly small dents) from the front bumper to the rear, both sides, balding out of balance tires in poverty spec trim.

          At Denver they also do the flat rate $39 for the toll booth technology in the car, regardless if you’re generating $3 in tolls or $300. Which I guess is a win if you’re running back and forth the airport over and over again, but a general huge bust otherwise.

          My company was paying – but I wrote a blistering review on Yelp and tip on Four Square to run for your life from them.

          • 0 avatar

            Electronic tolls- oh, that reminds me!


            Just in the last few years the electronic EZ-Pass and similar brands have been sprouting inside rental car windshields. They usually put the box behind the rear view mirror. That’s a good place for it, but picking up a rental car in a dark parking garage it also makes it easy for you to miss it (if you’re not looking for it or if you’re not used to having one like in your own car).

            So watch out for the automatic electronic toll thingie because it’s probably set to “armed.” A $1 toll turns into a lot more with the stupid service fee tacked on. And the rental company and the toll company don’t care.

    • 0 avatar

      Once I was upgraded from Camry (which I refused to take for obvious reasons) to Maxima which they called premium. It was a huge car – typical barge, I was kind of nervous driving it because felt like a ship. Next time I will take Camry over it – I am done with Nissans.

  • avatar

    I don’t mind the CVT at all in this application. It’s not like you’re going to have driving fun, and the CVT enables smooth driving when you have geriatric relatives in the back (which I often do when I’m renting a car on personal trips).

    The interior size/fuel usage ratio is truly excellent, and I’ll often seek rental Altimas out for that reason even though I agree with many of your other criticisms. With a light foot I can get 25+ in the city, 30 mpg in suburban driving, and 40 mpg on the highway.

  • avatar

    I have a rental Sentra while the Genesis is in the shop after hitting a black trash can in the street at night; the right hand mirror is history.

    If the CVT in the Altima is anything like the one iin the Sentra, it is a pit. Most of the time, it is tolerable if in sport mode, but it gets totally confused at times which results in big lurches.

  • avatar

    I don’t know about buying a Nissan with a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder.

  • avatar

    Sheesh it looks like my combination of V6/6MT is the only way that an Altima can be made tolerable. Too bad that species went extinct in 2009.

  • avatar

    I kinda wish prior to a car review, the authors would drive for a week in a ’99 Malibu, just to set the benchmark for awfulness.

    My car is a grumpy old man special ’97 Tacoma with air conditioning and that’s it. The Altima I rented felt like a spaceship. The only thing I disliked about the Altima was the microfiber interior, which I felt was going to rub off before I got the thing back to Lambert.

  • avatar

    Altima – ex-Pontiac owners have to drive something!

  • avatar

    Spent a week with the same generation ’13 Altima Coupe rental, 2.5 and the CVT. Ergonomics were only so-so, and the CVT was awful exactly as described. It was particularly bad in city traffic, I felt like it took forever for the ratios to kick down. I ended up driving it like a much larger, slower vehicle–there was no nimbleness to it at all.

  • avatar

    I think the price estimate of $23500 is nowhere near real world transactions, I’d peg those closer to $18k for a basic “S” with cruise control and A/C.

    There’s a reason these sell so well, they stack them deep and sell them cheap. Of course, if I could get a Camry LE for the same price or maybe $1000 more, I’d get that, or simply splurge and get an Accord LX for $20k. Another factor in impressive sales numbers though might be easier financing from the Nissan folks.

    Unfortunate to hear that the seats are uncomfortable, they made a big deal about the “zero gravity” seats upon the car’s release in 2013.

    Is this car really “long in tooth?” It came on the scene in 2013, same as the Accord!

    The most recent CVT Nissan I drove was a 2014 Versa Sedan, which was terrible and noisy, and back to back with that a 2011 Sentra 2.0S, which was quite tolerable when driven ‘normally’ with reasonable acceleration but never jamming on the gas pedal. I think the difference was torque: if the engine makes enough power to keep the RPMs low, the CVT strikes me as totally inoffensive. In the Versa with the 1.6, keeping that little engine on the boil constantly soured my opinion of the whole car. Re-driving one recently with a stick shift totally reversed my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I test-drove a Versa CVT a couple years ago and came away impressed with its responsiveness, which I’d call second only to an EV. But I don’t know if I could live with the constant drone in real life.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh I agree, that Versa really scooted with the CVT, I was actually rather impressed. But like you I was less than happy with the cacophony of engine noise throughout acceleration.

    • 0 avatar
      GS 455

      This is the base Altima, it doesn’t have the zero gravity seats. I drove an Altima SL with them and they were quite comfortable. The CVT on the other hand is the work of the devil.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife just got a 2015 Juke. The CVT is quite smooth and responsive, but I’m betting they’ve tuned the transmission differently then they would for an Altima.

    • 0 avatar

      Seats are okay. I did not have problem with seats. I drove it for one month so may be I just get used to it. What I would complain about though – steering was loose – you have to do lot of corrections when driving on freeway – it always revs or does not move. Brakes are too grabby. suspension is not comfortable. Interior sucks. Otherwise it is okay car for someone with low income. Essentially it is a new Mitsubishi. I remember though that Mitsu Galant was better car than the same year Malibu Classic or Chrysler Stratus. Now Altima is solidly a new “Malibu Classic”. I wonder why it did not get MT COTY.

    • 0 avatar

      Continental Nissan (near Chicago) has these things advertised on their website for $17k. If someone is looking for basic, no thrills transportation, I guess it’s ok. I don’t think anyone in their right mind, save for maybe some hardcore Nissan fanboys who pretend its the cousin of the GTR, would spend anything close to the MSRP on these things.

  • avatar

    Honestly, the Altima is just about the perfect car for Houston. Houston traffic is flooing and breaking. The Altima scoots along pretty well.

    Having driven a 2014 rental recently, I thought the CVT was ok. It was nothing to write home about but it served its purpose well enough.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The current Altima has been getting worse reviews than its predecessor, which we own and which was considered one of the better driving midsizers. I guess that’s changed. Our 2012 is nothing to truly brag about, but for a four cylinder midsizer it really does move well, the CVT is smooth and responsive, and the steering actually has some feel to go with the accuracy and modest body lean. That said, the engine is thrashy and seats are thoroughly mediocre.

  • avatar

    Pretty much mirrors my experience with an identical rental, except for the seats, which I found perfectly comfortable over several hundred miles (maybe I had the upgraded seats?). As a rental at least, I could tolerate the disconnected steering and spongy handling, but the CVT really was infuriating. Keeping it in Sport and using the throttle aggressively helped, but even as a rental the car was a let down. Though I will say that cabin space and comfort were very good.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    My rental-foo must haven been off last summer – I put 1500 miles on an Altima S and was somewhat impressed. It did have a power seat (always a must in a Japanese car), CVT was fine, mpgs impressive (35-40 mpg mostly highway with 2 tweens aboard), handled decently.

    I can see how these sell, especially if they’re dealing 15-20% off MSRP…

  • avatar

    I don’t understand all of the hate for the Altima either. I had one in S trim again just last week and have always found them to be responsive and relatively engaging compared to other rental car fodder like the Camry, Prius, Sonata, bland domestics (I.e. Not the Ford F cars, Impala, Buicks, etc). My main criticism, as was already mentioned, was the lack of a USB port (since I forgot my mini jack cable) and general poverty spec for the S trim. I figure that they can be had on the very cheap though and would make a great car for someone Interested in basic, reliable transportation who would never miss those modern features thought to be essentials these day – my in-laws for example. The Altima has always struck me as a car that is somewhat narrow for its length, but I’m not sure if that’s just a perception thing. Oh, and it is impossible to tell where the end of the car is and my seating position to get proper alignment with the controls was much too low for my liking. I guess I had more criticisms than anticipated but I still enjoy the car overall.

  • avatar

    The Altima with the 2.5-liter gets excellent fuel economy, but I agree that the fuel gauge was probably sticky. My Jetta SportWagen’s gauge does not budge for the first 100 miles of a tank, moves to a quarter of a tank for the next 200 miles, and then swings quite precipitously toward empty for the last 300 miles.

  • avatar

    I had a 2010 Altima 2.5S for a three year lease. I didn’t want to blow what little I had in the bank on an older used car with twin boys on the way, so I wanted a cheap lease. I drove the Elantra (which was all new then) and wasn’t impressed. The local Nissan dealer had a bunch of 2010 Altima that were apparently a fleet deal not delivered, as they were all the same: White with beige interior, power seat delete and no options. No money down and under my budgeted amount by a long shot, I drove the Altima home. I was unsure of the CVT at first, but it didn’t seem as awful as the last time I experienced it, in a Rogue AWD when it was new.

    The car was pretty quiet, at least until the 2.5 began its braying at about 3500 rpm. At WOT, it was awful, so much noise and not good noise. The ride was fairly smooth and composed. The handling was OK, not as sharp as the 06 Accord we had, not as dull as a normal Camry, but not SE Camry either. I could hoon the Accord a bit and have fun, not the Altima.

    The CVT and hills were not made for each other. And I live with a lot of hills. You’re going up a hill and need a bit more power. Fine, add a little pressure with the right foot. Not doing anything, add more pressure. Now, the revs shoot up, but it’s more than you want, so you ease off. Too much, now it’s slowing down again. Once I got used to the car, it was just an annoyance and takes away from some of the supposed smoothness of the CVT (no shift shock right?).

    Pulling away from a stop, let’s say to get out of an intersection could be a challenge. Flooring it from a stop was almost like driving a turbo, you had movement, but not much, then WHAM, lots of noise and power rather suddenly. Not fun and neither was traction control with a CVT. I HATE FWD with traction control any day, but the CVT didn’t help.

    When the lease was up, we needed a minivan. I wouldn’t even consider a Quest because of the CVT (among other things). My wife might have hated the CVT more than me.

    I’ve had a Nissan, it fulfilled the letter N on my alphabet list of cars. That is all. Maybe if I could somehow afford a GT-R, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon

    I have experienced the newer car in rental form too. All the points made by the author ring true in the new car and old one. The new car is a bit more refined in NVH, the CVT a little quicker and smoother. But not enough to consider ever having one again. I did drive the car on the highway quite a bit and it was fine there. On a long, flat highway, this car wouldn’t be terrible. Lots of hills,ugh.

    BTW, I have experienced the newer car with leather and it made a large difference in comfort of the seats. The new interior is better on some ways, not in others. And yes, the lack of USB is not acceptable in any car anymore. My aux plug was loose by the end of the lease, not unlike the abysmally built first year Titan my Dad had.

  • avatar

    Well, my sister is currently negotiating with the local Nissan Dealer for an Altima. A leftover ’14, with no miles on it. I’m going to guess it’s going to be some awful color, like so many of her cars have been. Dog Shit Brown will be my bet. She’s incapable of buying any decent color car. Shit Brown, bronze, fly ass green (Better than brown, IMH0) are some of her past choices. Most of these cars were sitting on the lot, due to color or being base cars with almost no options.

    In Toledo, the Altima seems to be the choice of timid and stupid drivers. My sister used to be timid, now she’s aggressive as hell. Maybe a gutless car is a better choice for her..

  • avatar

    My company would always book us a “full size” car, but since I traveled so much, I qualified for a free upgrade. As I learned from Hertz in Atlanta, “premium full size” is only one model. A Grand Marquis. I checked, it was the only model in that category. They didn’t have anything I could downgrade to, either. Now to me, there is something about rental cars that makes you stick out like a sore thumb, but at least driving/floating down to Florida in this boat, we blended in with locals.

  • avatar

    I like National and Avis, they have an interesting selection and National lets you pick from a selection of vehicles.

    Then I like Silvercar, not budget priced but reasonable and you know what you get and its definitely not poverty spec.

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