2012 Nissan Altima remains competitive
BY JEFF TAYLOR For Sun-Times Media January 12, 2012 2:46PM
2012 NISSAN ALTIMA S
ENGINE: 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic
DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 23 city/32 highway
BASE PRICE: $22,670
AS TESTED: $24,450 with options and $760 destination
The 2012 Nissan Altima is in a holding pattern in the high-profile and highly coveted midsize sedan market. Consider that both Kia and Hyundai have fresher midsize offerings, Toyota spruced up the Camry and Chevrolet just introduced the 2013 Malibu.
Ford recently unveiled the all-new Fusion midsize sedan at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which leaves Nissan left to soldier on with the current Altima (introduced in 2008) in the midpoint of its life cycle.
The defining spotlight in midsize people movers is fuel economy. Nissan doesn’t offer a hybrid Altima anymore, but it does give buyers a choice of four- and six-cylinder power – not every competitor does.
The starting point is a competitive 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder developing 175 horsepower. Nissan has allocated all its shifting duties exclusively to a continuously variable transmission automatic. You also have a choice of a potent 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine. My test car was the efficient 2.5-liter Altima S model. The key fuel economy numbers in today’s highly competitive midsize market are settling around 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. Unfortunately Altima falls just shy of both those numbers even with the four-cylinder engine.
Nissan indicates that the advanced Xtronic CVT is designed to create a true synergy between engine and transmission with smooth, responsive, fluid-feeling performance and efficient operation. The CVT transmission is efficient and returns 32 highway miles, but it tends to amplify the buzzy sound of the four-cylinder engine.
The Altima’s exterior wrapper is still good looking and contemporary. While the profile is not strikingly different than other midsize competitors the proportions are spot on. The greenhouse area is not too tall and the long hood short-rear deck is lifted directly from the sporty car playbook to give this sedan an athletic slant.
On the inside, the Altima envelopes passengers with a no-nonsense design that can look a little down market in base versions. For passengers, the amount of interior space developed on the 109.3 inch wheelbase is hospitable – not cozy like the outgoing Ford Fusion or the current Suzuki Kizashi – but not as cavernous as a Honda Accord.
The real issue with Altima is rear headroom as the sloping roofline cuts into noggin space; it’s worse if you get a sunroof. Looking at the interior design Nissan did try to inject a little sportiness. There are some chrome trim bright sports, but the Altima relies on hard plastic interior components – in this respect the Altima falls midpack in execution.
The cloth seats in my test car were comfortable but lacked height adjustment. The rear seats had stubby seat bottoms, but were 60/40 folding units. The trunk is fairly large with 15.3 cubic feet of usable space.
I do not prefer pushbutton start, but with the Altima, that’s all she wrote. My test car came fairly well-equipped with niceties like air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, tilt/telescopic wheel, cruise control, decent six-speaker audio system and plenty of storage areas and cup/bottle holders.
Options on my test car included a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, steering wheel audio controls, HomeLink Universal Transceiver, leather-wrapped steering wheel, compass, auto-dim rearview mirror, auto up/down passenger window and floor mats.
If you want to keep current with the wired crowd, there is an optional technology package available on the 2.5 S. It includes the Nissan hard drive navigation system with 6.5-inch color monitor. If you opt for the larger V-6 Altima 3.5 SR, a premium package includes leather-appointed seats, leather-wrapped gearshift knob, power driver lumbar support, heated front seats, Bose AM/FM/CD audio system with nine speakers, 4.3-inch color display, rearview monitor, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port with iPod connectivity, XM satellite radio (subscription required), MP3/WMA CD-ROM playback compatibility, radio data system, speed-sensitive auto volume, auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink universal transceiver, compass, mood lighting, rear-passenger air conditioning vents and metallic-texture finishers (charcoal interior). The amount of options available is fairly exhaustive and can add up quickly.
An area where the Altima really shines is ride and handling. The front-wheel-drive Altima features road-hugging handling that is more responsive and a bit sportier than most of its rivals. Some of the standard driving aids on my test car included vehicle dynamic control with traction control system that really bites quickly.
While Altima’s twin-orifice vehicle-speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system may seem a bit dated, compared to full electric systems it does provide better road feel at low and high speeds along with a balanced, on-center feel. Braking is stout via the standard four-wheel disc brake set-up with four-wheel, four-channel, four-sensor antilock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. All this hardware adds up to on-road behavior that is predictable; if you want more bite than the standard 16-inch wheels and tires there are several larger combinations available.
With the Chicago Auto Show coming Feb. 10-19, you can check out the Altima to see how it stacks up against the existing and fresh midsize sedan offerings available.
You Might Like
- Beetle Convertible debuts with sportier style
- Lexus ES350 maintains luxury feel
- Jeep Wrangler Sport a dual-purpose SUV
- Click & Clack: How to replace a car’s interior
- Chrysler Group makes substantial investment in Ohio machining plant
- Chevrolet Equinox a distinctive and comfortable crossover
- New Ford Explorer Sport a high-performance SUV