The Nissan Altima is a familiar face on America’s roads, as it’s consistently one of the 10 top-selling vehicles in the U.S. It might be easy to dismiss that as a lowest-common-denominator, priced-to-move result, but we found out there’s a lot to like about the Nissan’s midsize model.
You have a wide range of choices with Altima, a handsome sedan offered in four-cylinder, V6 and hybrid powertrains, and a muscular coupe, available in four- and six-cylinder models.
While the temptation is to test a fully loaded V6 with all the trimmings, we restrained ourselves with a four-cylinder 2.5S with a few choice options—and were surprised at what a great little car the Nissan Altima is.
For 2010, the Altima got a little facelift that freshened the looks, keeping it looking contemporary. Not as racy as the new Hyundai Sonata, it’s sportier than a four-cylinder Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.
Sporty is also a good way to describe the driving experience. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pumps out a respectable 175 horsepower, and is smooth with a nice little purr through its dual exhaust pipes.
The thing the separates the Altima driving experience for us is the CVT automatic transmission. Nissan continues to develop this “gearless” transmission that’s super smooth, and can hold the engine at a steady rpm for best power or economy.
On some smaller Nissans this can be kind of raucous when accelerating, but on the 2.5L four-cylinder, the CVT hits a sweet spot with an eerily smooth and quiet drive that just glides around town and slinks up to speed. If you want to drive more aggressively, a manual mode for the transmission lets you nudge the lever up or down for more control. With up to 32 mpg on the highway, it’s quite efficient, too.
When the road begins to turn, the Altima offers nice steering feel and confident cornering, making it one of the most fun cars to drive in its class. On the Interstate, it’s a comfy and quiet cruiser.
The Altima interior makes any of those drives more comfortable with a nicely designed cockpit, with clear gauges and quality materials. Standard on the 2.5S is Nissan’s Intelligent Key, which lets you unlock, get in, start up and drive off while leaving the remote in your pocket—a surprisingly upscale touch that spoils you for anything less. The seats are comfortable and well shaped, and the standard split-folding rear seat is handy as well.
Best of all, the Nissan Altima is a good value. The 2.5S starts at just $22,060 and includes power windows, locks and mirrors, A/C with microfilter, Intelligent Key, pushbutton ignition, 6-speaker audio system with input jack for iPod, six airbags, ABS, stability and traction control. Our tester had the Convenience Package with eight-way power driver’s seat, alloy wheels, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio controls. We also had the optional moonroof and dual-zone climate control. All totaled, it came in at just over $24,000.
It adds up to one smart package. Handsome, fun-to-drive, super smooth and a nice value for the buck, the 2011 Nissan Altima rightly deserves its place as a best seller, and should be on the shopping list of anyone looking for a great midsize car.
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Read our 2010 road test review of the Nissan Altima sedan.