Comedian Lewis Black jokes that the weatherman in San Diego, California has the easiest job in the world-day after day, you go on the air, and the essence of your forecast is that the weather is “nice”. I, however, disagree-the challenge would be to say the same thing in a different way, to seek out any nuance, just to offer something else to say. Which brings us to the subject of our review, the 2010 Nissan Altima. In simplest terms, the Altima is a very nice car, and nice cars are the hardest to write about.
Compared to the Camry and Accord, the Altima is a newcomer to the mid-size family car market, but now in its 17th year, the Altima is no rookie. The current, fourth generation Altima was introduced as a 2007 model, and for 2010 receives a mild styling revision. I cannot over-emphasize the word mild here, as most people would be very hard pressed to call out the differences between this and last year’s car. The Altima is pleasant to look at from any angle, with the most interesting view from the rear three-quarters. The Buck Rogers-style taillamps are cool without being overdone, and the dual exhaust is a sporty touch not often seen on cars in this class. The 17″ alloys wheels, standard on our SR model are new this year, and give the Altima a sporty, sophisticated look.
The Altima’s cabin is bright, airy, and modern, and my pick for the best interior in its class. Controls are more straightforward and better placed than an Accord’s, and the quality of materials is a step above the Mazda6. The seats are nearly as flat as the Great Plains, but offer decent comfort. Visibility is excellent, almost negating the need of the rearview camera our car was equipped with. As a family car, the Altima has plenty of cupholders and interior storage. Gauges are clear, simple, and easy to read, even with sun glare.
Our test car featured a nine-speaker Bose audio system, which offered good sound quality, with heavy bass in typical Bose fashion. A USB port with iPod connectivity has one of the best iPod interfaces I’ve used. But to access the XM Satellite radio, it’s hidden in the AUX button (where you also go for your iPod). Most automakers have a dedicated SAT button on their stereos, just as you would AM or FM. A colorful, slick 4.3″ color display looked nice, but the fonts used are so tiny, it is difficult to read at a glance, and if you open the sunroof, the screen is unreadable.
The Altima is available with two engines, plus a hybrid. The base 2.5 and 2.5S Altimas share a 2.5L four cylinder, rated at 175hp, while the top-spec 3.5 SR has a 3.5L V-6 rated at 270hp. A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is the only transmission available. Power delivery is smooth and linear, and the V-6 offers enough passing power to get you out of trouble. For most drivers, the CVT is fine, and people won’t give it a second thought. If you are a car guy like me though, a CVT throws a wet blanket on the fun of driving. Nissan attempts to make up for this with a Sport mode, and the option to shift faux ‘stepped’ gears, but it just isn’t the same. Nissan’s V-6 engines are highly regarded, and in driving the Altima, you can feel the tranny always trying to pull the revs down. If ever an engine deserved a proper, 6-speed automatic, it is the Altima 3.5SR. Defenders of the CVT will tell you the purpose is for better fuel economy. To them, my answer is this: a Honda Accord with a V-6 and a 5-speed automatic weighs over 225lbs more than an Altima, yet gets 2mpg more on the highway.
The Altima handles well, and never surprises. The ride is firm, but not harsh. All in all, the Altima is a predictable, if not particularly engaging car to drive. Cruising at 80mph, the Altima is relaxed, quiet, and composed, and could cruise all day without taxing driver or passenger. It’s worth mentioning the Altima is shorter than the Accord or Mazda6, and I found this an advantage. While the Accord often felt like a large car, the Altima felt “just right”, and with no perceptible trade-off in interior or trunk space.
Our well-optioned Altima 3.5 SR had a sticker price of $30,185USD, the only feature lacking was navigation, which is part of the Technology Package, a $1,780 option. While I enjoyed the Sport Package features (moonroof, xenon headlights, dual zone auto climate control), I take issue with calling it a Sport package if it doesn’t make the car go faster, handle, steer, or stop better.
The Altima is Nissan’s best selling car in America, and that isn’t by accident. There is a lot to like about the Altima, and I would recommend it to anyone in the market for a mid-size family sedan. My complaints are minor enough to be nit-picks, and not major enough to detract from the overall driving experience.