Rental Review: 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 CVT

W Christian Mental Ward
by W Christian Mental Ward

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

W Christian Mental Ward
W Christian Mental Ward

School teacher, amateur racer, occasional story teller.

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  • TDIGuy TDIGuy on Apr 02, 2015

    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.

  • Swilliams41 Swilliams41 on Apr 03, 2015

    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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