It seems like lately I’ve developed a habit of reviewing vehicles on the verge of being replaced by a brand new generation. And by habit, I mean one review. But it seemed fitting when the local Enterprise location handed me keys to a “Full Size” and it turned out to be the soon-to-depart, current-generation Nissan Altima.
With a new Altima already unveiled, promising more/better/faster everything, is there anything to miss about the outgoing model? After a week living with one, I can definitely say there might be.
The chromed letters on the back of this particular Altima said “SV,” which puts it right in the middle of the Altima lineup. Starting with the S for just over $23,000, Altima tops out with the V6 SL trim at $33,630. An SV will set you back $25,910, though numerous options are available from both factory and dealer. This Altima had exactly one option: carpeted floor mats in the front and in the trunk ($235). Adding the destination charge of $885 brings the MSRP to $27,030.
The fifth-generation Altima has been with us since the 2013 model year and received its current modernizing facelift in 2016. A common sight on the roads in any color, but black and silver say “rental” particularly well. Blending into traffic was assured, and when I saw another Altima I checked the side window for an Enterprise information sticker. You’re never alone out there in a rental Altima.
Bland jokes aside, it seems Nissan doesn’t try as hard as it could with its middle-market full-sizer. It’s easy to walk around the exterior and pick out orange peel in the paint, unable to hide in flat black. Particularly egregious in this example, there was consistent orange peel across the entire roof line above the doors — and more on the rear flanks. The hood doesn’t have struts, and closes with a cheap latching sound as gravity pushes it back into place. Trunk closure makes a similarly cheap sound, which is in harmony with the plastic clicking noise the door handles make when used.
The Altima’s general shape is familiar and has aged into place well enough in Nissan’s current design language. Said design does not include folding side mirrors — a detriment to owners intending to park frequently in close urban quarters. Even the Versa has folding side mirrors, so the oversight here is odd.
Plus marks for the sporty 18-inch wheel design on the SV model. The black and polished effect works nicely with the black paint, and does a decent job making the SV stand out over the lower trims.
A Heart of Darkness
The exterior color scheme (or lack thereof) is mirrored inside, where black covers almost every surface. Dash materials are hard plastic, though a rubber pebbled material covers the instrument binnacle and extends to the dash on the passenger’s side. The door panels have nicely padded arm rest areas with a leatherette material for all outboard passengers, and the front two share a comfortably padded center console lid.
Instruments are easy enough to figure out, with speedo and tach clearly presented in large, bright numbering. A center screen presents several pages of information to the driver, which is configurable and accessible via a wheel-mounted button. The other buttons on the wheel are fairly self-explanatory, though I’d prefer if the up/down Enter key on the left were a bit more secure in its housing. It wiggled left and right in a loose and carefree fashion.
The center stack is also self-explanatory, and comes with minimal buttons. Radio information is displayed by itself on a small screen, while dual-zone climate controls are separate. The design works, as it’s not necessary for the stereo’s screen to do double duty in displaying climate info. Stereo quality was fine, and Bluetooth connected easily to my phone for music streaming. The stereo’s screen is a bit low-resolution, but that’s to remind an owner that they didn’t spring for the navigation package.
Looking around the interior, the word which comes to mind is acceptable. Nothing is standout, and there are some low-rent materials upon which someone may lay a hand. The material in the shift gate is particularly flimsy, and the silver metal-effect plastic trim across the dash wouldn’t fool anybody.
Seating surfaces are covered in a patterned black cloth (beige is an option), which will likely age well and resist wear, given its texture. Once seated, all passengers have exceptional legroom. Adjusting the front seat rearward to suit my six-foot height, I had three or four inches of knee room in the back seat. When I was back there, I noticed the lack of rear passenger vents. That’s right, you have to step up to the $29,110 SL model to provide rear passengers with vents. Silly. At least rear door openings are of generous proportion, and there’s no need for foot contortions when alighting from an Altima. Also generous is the trunk space, which can swallow many suitcases if need be.
The air conditioning system performed very well. Temperatures were between 85 and 92 degrees, with high humidity. Black paint never helps in the summer, but the air conditioning managed things with relative ease. Remote start is a standard feature, and it should get the car heading towards a desirable temperature (in any weather) before any humans cook/freeze themselves.
The vast majority of Altimas come equipped with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that propels the SV. Producing 179 horsepower, power travels through the front wheels via Nissan’s ubiquitous CVT. Though the Internet Car Enthusiast likes to hate on the CVT, it’s very useful in a lot of applications. For a non-sporty large sedan for the masses, it works. By a seat-of-pants estimate, I’d have guessed the Altima possess closer to 200 horsepower; at no point did power feel lacking. The CVT works smoothly, and 70 or 80 miles an hour is a breeze. Push it hard enough, and the CVT responds with an artificial and sporty stepped gears program.
Once at highway speeds (or above) the Altima is completely without drama. The 2.5 loafs along at 80 miles an hour at 2,000 rpm without much effort or sound. But that’s partially down to the tire noise permeating at all high speeds. Factory tires are Continental ContiProContacts. On highway stretches, it’s immediately apparent that the Altima’s cabin would be incredibly quiet if not for the rubber hitting the road.
Standard on Altima are the Zero Gravity seats Nissan developed using tips learned from studying NASA’s homework. While fine for shorter distances, I found my right leg started to hurt after a couple of hours. There was not enough adjustment in the seat to correct for the lack of thigh support. The headrest’s placement was also a bit aggressive, and pushed my head forward (no tilt adjustment). A special note for people with back of head hair: The headrest’s material is the same as the seats. That means it’s grabby cloth, and latches onto your follicles.
Driving around town with messy hair, the CVT shifts smoothly and complies with acceleration requests in short order. The only time it was flummoxed was in quick on/off throttle situations, like heavy traffic. In those instances, the CVT generated an engage-disengage feel with some slight shuddering.
Aside from a bit of low-speed tire noise, the cabin is quiet. The suspension is on the soft side, and the majority of bumps are dealt with easily (though you’ll feel body roll in quick corners). There is some thump over larger bumps, and over the No Maintenance Lifestyle of Pittsburgh’s roads, rough going eventually slips through to passengers. In areas with average to good roads, most drivers should find the suspension comfort perfectly fine.
In tight city driving, the Altima’s size takes some getting used to. Passengers sit down low in the cabin, as high door panels reach for the sky and obstruct vision of the world around, as well as the corners of the car. When the scale of the car is under control, attention eventually turns to the numb circle in the room. No, not your spouse — the steering wheel. For a sedan billed by Nissan as exciting, there’s absolutely no steering feel. Turn left, turn right, back to a (firm) center feel. It’s really very boring, all the time. Excitement can be created with the brake pedal though, as they grab sooner than one might expect, and with more force. Touchy.
Speaking of braking, the Altima comes standard with blind spot monitoring and radar assisted emergency braking. The blind spot monitoring works as expected, and seemed fairly accurate; the emergency braking was less so. Some false warnings occurred as cars far in front slowed for turns and the Altima’s speed was maintained. When a storm on I-71 caused low visibility, the center display showed a message about the sensors being blocked, then deactivated the system after a loud beep. In these instances an orange symbol appears in the instrument cluster, illustrating two cars crashing. In a time of greatest need, the emergency braking took a time out.
The place where it’s hard to find complaint is in regard to fuel economy. With a rating of 27 city and 38 highway, the Altima’s 18-gallon tank could put 684 miles between home and the fuel station. After 892 mixed miles of driving between Ohio and hilly Pennsylvania, the average came to 31 miles an hour and 31.9 miles per gallon. This was mostly in 90-degree weather, with constant air conditioning use and highway cruising around 80 mph. That’s some impressive consumption for this size of car.
At the end of the day, the Altima is an affordable large sedan for the non-enthusiast and fleet manager types all across America. It won’t attract any attention, it won’t consume a lot of fuel, and it won’t put a big dent in the wallet of an owner who tries to maintain it. This outgoing model is some car for some people. If that doesn’t sound appealing, then this particular helping of some car is not for you.
[Images: Corey Lewis/TTAC]