By Frank S. Washington
The Nissan Altima has turned into a rock solid reliable sedan. Over the years the car has grown a bit and Nissan added a coupe. Even though it is in its fourth generation and in the sixth year of it current design, Nissan's bread& butter car remains the best selling model in the lineup.
During my week-long test drive it was easy to see why. My Altima was silky smooth, it had ample power, the car was quiet, responsive to driver input and it handled well. In short, it was an easy car to drive. That's what you want in midsize sedan.
For 2012, the Altima sedan is available in three models. There is the 2.5 CVT and 2.5 S CVT featuring a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder and the 3.5 SR CVT with a standard 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. I had the 2.5 CVT S. The CVT stood for continuously variable transmission (read no gears or gear shifts).
Nissan has invested a lot of time and effort in its CVTs and it shows. These transmissions used to drone loudly especially under hard acceleration. They were disquieting for drivers because the vehicle never shifted gears. Thus, drivers thought something was wrong with the car. And there was a feeling that it wasn't accelerating relative to throttle input.
I saw a Nissan TV commercial while I was testing the Altima and one of the attributes it featured was Nissan's CVT. The automaker obviously feels confident in the transmission's operation. So I did some aggressive testing.
The CVT on my sedan still droned but only under hard acceleration. But what I took particular note of was the transmission, under that same hard acceleration, didn't sound louder than the engine. That used to be the disquieting part about CVTs.
The upside of a CVT is that it's much better on fuel consumption than a standard automatic gear box. The Altima 2.5 S had an EPA rating of 23/32 mpg in city and highway driving. More than 30 mpg for a midsize sedan with decent power is pretty good.
Acceleration was healthy and the car's response matched my throttle input. I didn't feel disconnected from the car and the car didn't feel disconnected from the gas pedal. That's why I think Nissan's transmission engineers have put a lot of effort into the company's CVTs.
The Altima's exterior appeared relatively fresh and that's saying something for a six-year-old design. Nissan said the sedan's has a "distinctive T-shaped grille, powerful front fenders, strong wedge character line, forward A-pillar and Nissan-family roofline."
What I found most alluring and comfortable about my test vehicle was its interior. It was cloth, there was center stack (they are becoming dated), but it was extraordinarily comfortable and spacious. Fit and finish were really well done. The front seats were comfortable and the back seats could carry a pair of average size adults.
A premium audio system, satellite radio, a moonroof with wind deflector, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, push button lock and unlock, as well as start and stop were among my test car's creature comforts. The car also had dual zone climate controls.
Undoubtedly, the current Altima will soon be replaced. Still, the current car is quality build, a reliable every day driver and it is comfortable and reasonably priced. The Altima 2.5 CVT S starts at $22,570. My test vehicle with its options and shipping was priced at $27,650.
And since the new Altima debuted recently at April's New York Auto Show, I expect these prices to come down as Nissan makes room for the new model. A great product for a reduced price is not a bad deal.