By Lou Ann Hammond, Wed, 29 Nov 2006 08:00:00 PDT
"It's all new" said Pete Haidos, Chief Product Specialist for the Nissan Altima in from Atsugi, Japan. Haidos didn't mean the mid-size Altima sedan that it first built in the United States in 1992, he meant since the last generation Altima.
As Haidos does a walk around of the 2007 Nissan Altima he points out that this is the 4th generation of the VQ engine for the V-6 Nissan Altima. Nissan is on the offensive. The first half of 2006 has not shown Nissan outstanding sales numbers, decreasing 5.2 percent, according to J.D. Powers, Power Information Network (PIN). Part of that is due to old product, part is due to the lack of attention to product.
There is only so much space given to automotive news, some of it is industry news, some of it is product news. The headquarters move from Los Angeles to Tennessee cost Nissan some key individuals and some product space. Carlos Ghosn is known for shaking it up, he himself being part of the industry speculation of mergers these days. At the Paris auto show Tracinda's Kerkorian made an announcement that sent reporters to Nissan's booth, not for the new product it was showing, but for any remark it might be able to gleam from Ghosn about the GM/Nissan/Renault alliance. Nissan is looking forward to some ink time for their new products.
The Nissan Altima is an important product in Nissan's line-up. Of the 5.43 percent marketshare that Nissan owns, the Altima is 1.36 percent of that share, down from 1.55 percent at the same time as last year, according to PIN. As of October, 2005 it was number 5 in the U.S. market, but as of October, 2006 it had slipped to number 6, behind the Chevy Impala. Will the new Nissan Altima bring the sales up and will it be able to compete against the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord , numbers 1 and 2 in 2005 and 2006?
Nissan's tag line for this generation of the Altima is evolution and revolution; evolutionary in design and revolutionary in its platform and hardware. Bottom line? Nissan made some aesthetic changes to design and some serious changes to the interior and platform.
Sean Blankenship, Nissan North America Inc. senior manager-model line marketing, says the Altima is based on the D-platform. This platform was developed jointly with Renault and is being used for the first time in the Altima. A high-strength steel improves body rigidity handling, noise vibration harshness. All of these were complaints of the previous generation. This D-platform shortens the wheelbase by about an inch, giving it the sportiness it needs to compete with the Camry and Accord.
When one says a car is shorter in the wheelbase, people think there is less room in the interior of the car. Nissan provided me with the numbers for the interior dimensions of the 2007 Altima, 2007Toyota Camry and 2007 Honda Accord. The Altima meets or beats the Camry and Accord in every interior dimension except rear head room, so if you're really tall don't sit in the back. Instead of putting the inches in the rear head room, Nissan put it in the rear leg room. Altima (39.5) beat the Camry (38.3) and the Accord (36.8) in rear leg space.
There are two engines, an inline 4-cylinder and a V-6, and three models for each engine. The 2.5-Liter, inline-4 with a 6-speed manual starts at $17,950, the Altima 2.5 S, inline-4 6-speed manual starts at $19,800 and the Altima 2.5 S, inline-4 with continuously variable transmission (CVT) starts at $20,300. The horsepower on the 2.5-liter depends on whether the car is Federal Tier two bin 5 (175 horsepower@5,600 RPM), or the Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles SULEV (California) (170 horsepower@5,600 RPM) emission certification. Because the Electronic Control Unit has to be tuned to emit less there is a decrease of 5 horsepower in the SULEV version. Feel good, you are emitting less. The torque changes as well; 180 lb.-ft@ 3,900 RPM for the Federal version or 175 lb.-ft@ 3,900 RPM for the SULEV version. The 2.5-liter inline-4 gets 23 city/29 hwy for the CVT and 24 city /31 hwy for the 6-speed manual. Not only does Nissan say this is best in class for the 4-cylinder version, but it takes regular gasoline.
The 2007 Altima 3.5-liter is a V-6 with three models. The Altima 3.5 SE 3.5-Liter V-6 6-speed manual starts at $24,000, the Altima 3.5 SE 3.5-Liter V6 CVT starts at $24,500, and the Altima 3.5 SL 3.5-Liter V6 CVT $ 28,400. The horsepower is 270 horsepower@ 6,000 RPM (up 15hp from the previous generation) and 258 lb.-ft@4,400 rpm of torque. This VQ engine is the same one that has been on ward's ten best engine list for the past twelve years in a row. The 3.5-liter, V-6 gets 20 city/29 hwy with the CVT and 21 city /27 hwy with the 6-speed manual. Add twenty cents a gallon for the premium gasoline the 6-cylinder takes.
New for Nissan and first in its class, the Altima offers XM NAVtraffic, with a free three month trial subscription. XM has NAVtraffic flow information that takes about a minute to activate. It has flow data that is indicated in the route of travel, with an arrow for direction. You can also see the surrounding area highway flow, shown by yellow if the cars are going 27-52 mph, green if the cars are going over 55, or red lines if the cars are going under 25. It makes looking for an alternative route easier.
XM traffic also shows road closure using NAVTEC, information collected from police, and road sensors. A yellow caution sign on the NAV system indicates there is a problem and you can find out what the problem is by touching the sign. The info updates every 3 minutes. 44 cities currently offer XM NAVtraffic and as more cities upgrade their road with sensors XM will offer NAVtraffic in more areas.
The new Altima has changed the little annoying things, like two levers to change your telescopic steering wheel instead of one lever that goes up and down and sideways. The torque steer was a big issue in the last generation and you can tell by the stiff but comfortable ride in the corners that Nissan worked well into the night to fix torque steer. Dual-zone air conditioning are standard on all models, a feature that all married couples love.
Maybe I've been watching too many Monk shows, but there is one detail I don't like; the push-button starter with a smart key. I don't mind the push-button starter, but the smart key would drive Adrian Monk mad. In case you are one of the few people that haven't seen the show, Monk is a private eye that is, well, obsessive compulsive. The thought that Monk would leave his car with the key, or not need a key, it would drive him crazy. It does me. We drove away in the car and had to have someone bring us the key to restart it, because we didn't have the key.
Monk would like the padded armrests, but he wouldn't like the cupholders. There are nine of them. Nine, not eight. Uneven. What Monk would like is the turning radius of the Altima. The turning radius on the 2.5 and the 3.5SL is 36.1 on 16X7.0 wheels, about the same as the Camry at 36.1 on 16X6.5 wheels, and the Accord at 36.1 on 15 inch wheels. The 3.5 SE, has 17X7.5 alloy wheels and that pushes the turning radius up to is 37.4, while the Camry stays at 36.1 on 17X7.0 wheels and the Accord goes up to 39.6, on 17 inch wheels.
The Camry and Accord are the number one and two best sellers of cars. With a new generation Altima out, Nissan can expect better sells. Toyota won't have much room for bragging rights when they bring out their Camry hybrid. Nissan is following with an Altima hybrid, with Toyota's hybrid system, in about a year.
Now we're talking product.