Join Date: Mar 2001
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Altima 2.5S (CanadianDriver.com)
Test Drive: 2007 Nissan Altima 2.5S (CanadianDriver.com)
After spending a week in an '07 Nissan Maxima last year, I thought I'd seen the best Nissan had to offer, short of moving up to an Infiniti. Turns out I was wrong.
How about moving down a model, to the company's other mid-size sedan, the Altima? No offence to the Maxima: it's a fine car but its looks are somewhat off-putting, and its front-wheel drive layout invites all kinds of torque-steer when all of its V6's thrust is invoked.
What I'm getting at is that this new Altima - completely redesigned for 2007 - makes me wonder what the point of the Maxima really is. Sure, the Maxima is Nissan's flagship and comes with most of the luxury appointments one expects from a top-end model, but at a starting price of about $37,000, it's only three grand cheaper than the Infiniti G35: a car that looks better, has more power and whose rear-wheel drive layout is better suited to a powerful high-end sedan.
While the Altima has been redesigned, the changes are largely an evolution of the third-generation car that debuted in 2002. That was the first Nissan sedan other than the Maxima to offer V6 power and it was a whole heap bigger than the car it replaced, which meant lots of interior space, even if the interior wasn't all that appealing to look at.
My Altima tester was a rather basic 2.5S model, which was surprising enough in itself, as auto manufacturers are infamous for foisting fully-loaded models on us unsuspecting journalists. While that gives us a nice car to drive for a week, it makes it difficult to gauge what a car would be like in a less-opulent trim level. On to the other surprise, which was how refined this new Altima was, even in this relatively stripped-down, four-cylinder-powered form.
The 2.5S comes with an MSRP of $24,398. My tester had what would probably be the most popular options: the $1,200 continuously variable transmission (CVT) that replaces the traditional four-speed automatic that was paired with last year's four-cylinder motor, and the $2,000 2.5S Convenience Package, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a power driver's seat, heated seats up front, leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter and an auto up/down function for the front passenger window. It also gets you front windows that can be operated with the keyless remote, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, and I-can't-believe-it's-not-wood trim with the lighter interior scheme available with certain paint colours (more on that last bit later). With options and freight charges, my tester carried a sticker price of $28,998.
Not bad for a car that's nearly whisper-quiet on the highway, despite wearing winter tires, which aren't known for their quiet ride characteristics. Even the brisk winds blowing when I took the Altima to Montreal and back caused little noise inside the car. Things only got noisy when I was in a hurry: the 2.5-litre four-cylinder motor - which makes the same 175 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque as last year - sounds coarse when revved but settles down to a muted hum at idle and when cruising. The four-banger is powerful enough for everyday driving, but the CVT doesn't always let the motor run to its redline at wide open throttle; sliding the shift lever over to the manual shift gate allows the driver a bit of control over the CVT's actions and makes the car more responsive to sharp stabs at the throttle. Nevertheless, leadfoots will no doubt appreciate the V6's 270 horsepower. It's worth noting that both engines are available with a six-speed manual as standard.
The Altima's responses are decent, with nice, direct steering that actually sends a bit of road surface information up to the driver's hands, despite the super-hushed highway ride. If the brakes are a bit touchy (they are), they're at least strong and haul the Altima down from highway speeds with confidence. Given the wintry conditions that dominated during my week with the car, I didn't get a chance to test the Altima's cornering abilities, but the car tracked straight and felt very stable at highway speeds, even in strong crosswinds.
Interior fit and finish is terrific, with tight, even gaps between dash panels, and the controls all work with a pleasant, fluid feel. If there's a complaint, it's that the all-black-all-the-time interior is depressing; a little bit of brightwork (other than what's on the steering wheel and surrounding the shift lever) wouldn't hurt, guys. For the record, there are two other interior colours available - two shades of grey - and either of those would certainly liven things up on the inside.
Interior space is very good too, despite a wheelbase that's an inch shorter than the outgoing Altima's. There's lots of headroom all around, and the only complaint from one rear-seat passenger was that the seatback angle back there was a little too reclined for his liking. The rear seatbelts were universally reviled, however, for their propensity to lock up for no reason and the buckles back there also tended to fall between the seat cushions when not in use. I think the belts came close to causing an international incident, but cooler heads prevailed.
The seats themselves were covered in a faux-suede material that I guess was meant to mimic Alcantara, but I'm not sure it works. It does work well on the front seats to help hold occupants in place in corners, but the side bolsters did a good enough job on their own. The same material covers the centre and door armrests, where it was better suited.
The gauge cluster is one of the best this side of a Honda Accord. The dials are large and the numerals easily legible, and the raised white markings inside of the orange ring around the three dials are a nice touch. My biggest ergonomic gripe about the interior is the location of the remote trunk release, which is tucked away down low, to the left of the steering wheel. It's all but invisible from the driver's seat, but the cancel switch for the remote trunk inside the lockable glove box is a nice touch. I'd also have preferred a hand-operated emergency brake, rather than the fogey-ish foot-operated one that apparently comes with CVT-equipped cars.
The interior redeems those niggles with lots of handy storage spots. The most obvious one - the glove box - is huge. There's an airplane-hanger of a compartment behind a nicely-damped door in front of the shifter, and a deep console bin, plus the requisite door pockets.
Trunk space, though, is only average, with big intrusions for the rear wheels and old-style hinges that threaten to squish your cargo every time you close the trunk.
What Nissan's done is created a car that should appeal to a wide variety of import sedan shoppers: the Altima has the sportier feel and responses of the Honda Accord and the kind of quiet interior most would associate with a Camry, but comes with a more attractive price-tag than either of those cars. With freight, an Accord SE automatic comes in at $29,060 and a Camry LE with the Package B option group is worth $28,615, according to Toyota Canada's website. The Accord, at that price, doesn't get a power driver's seat or heated front seats, though it does get a power sunroof. The Camry gets a power driver's seat, but otherwise, that B package brings mainly exterior embellishments like splash guards and alloy wheels.
It can be argued that the Altima doesn't have the same reputation for durability as the others, and getting power to the ground through a CVT instead of a traditional automatic isn't for everyone. But in terms of initial impressions, it's hard not to like a car that's this impressive both on paper and in person.
The Maxima may be the flagship of Nissan's car line-up, but I'd argue that the Altima, with its surprisingly high level of refinement and value, makes the pricier Maxima easy to forget.
Pricing: 2007 Nissan Altima 2.5S
Base price: $24,398
Options: $3,200 (CVT transmission, $1,200; Convenience package, $2,000)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $29,098 (Canadian Dollars)