2011 Nissan Altima 2.5S (USA)

Ever since the closing years of the twentieth century, two family saloons have vied on an annual basis for sales leadership in the vast American market: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Neither model has dared to stray far from being utterly conventional and unadventurous, and both have been updated on a 5 yearly cycle. For ten years now, Toyota has been the winner and second prize has gone to the Honda. Not so in 2011, where on losing 27% of its previous sales volume, the Accord dropped down the rankings and another car in this class, the equally conventional Nissan Altima came within a whisker of grabbing the sales crown from the Toyota. Nissan’s offering is available as a four door sedan and a two door coupe, each with a choice of either a 2.5 litre 4 cylinder or 3.5 litre V6 engine. Until the 2012 model year, selected States were also offered a Hybrid model which shared its technology with the dread rival Camry. The last time I drove an Altima was in 2005, and that was the previous third generation car. It left me favourably impressed, so given the ever greater significance of this car on the market, I was well overdue an experience of the latest car. These cars are currently a staple in the Hertz fleet, so it was not difficult to source a test vehicle.
The test car was the volume selling 2.5 litre model in S trim. It is available with a standard 5 speed manual or, as fitted to the test car, a continuously variable automatic transmission. There is a remote start feature, so as long as the key fob is in range, such as in your pocket, you simply put your foot on the brake pedal, and press the start button located to the right of the column. The four cylinder motor develops 175 bhp which is about average for this class of car, and is sufficient to endow the Nissan with reasonable performance. The engine is very smooth and refined and it revs willingly enough if the need for an extra burst of speed arises. Nissan seem to have done better than most at eradicating the most annoying characteristics of continuously variable transmissions, as the one fitted to the Altima was generally smooth in operation. The Altima burned through 6.1 US gallons in 200 miles of testing which equates to 32.78 mpg US, or an impressive 39.1 mpg Imperial. Admittedly the test mileage was not that arduous, as I managed to avoid the worst of the urban crawls that can afflict the LA freeways, and there was only a modicum of freeway cruising. There was plenty of stop/start up in the canyons though, for photography and with lots of ups and downs, those roads are not going to yield the best consumption figures. The steering is light, with just enough feel for me not to throw the proverbial brickbat at the Altima, but I would have welcomed more weight and sensation from the set up. Quite a proportion of the test distance was up in the hills above LA, so I got a good feeling for how it handles the bends, and the answer is that whilst this is not exactly a sports saloon, it’s not bad. It also rides quite well, proving comfortable without being unduly soft. There were no issues with the brakes, which were smooth and progressive in operation. There is a foot operated parking brake, which is pressed harder to release. Visibility was generally good, though the door mirrors were a touch on the small side, limiting the range of vision a little. Even so, this car was easy to manoeuvre, and I experienced no difficulties in judging the extremities when parking it.
Although the interior of the Altima is utterly conventional, it has been well thought out and everything is clearly presented and easy to use. A mixture of brown hues provide some colour to the passenger cabin, with a velour like material covering part of the seats and being used for some of the door trim. Many of the plastics used are soft to the touch. Fit and finish are to a high standard. There are three dials, grouped together under a single cowl. The central one is the speedometer and this is slightly larger than the outer pair, which are a rev counter to the left and a dial containing fuel gauge and water temperature to the right. The centre of the dash contains three air vents, below which is the audio unit which comprised not just AM/FM reception but also connectivity to MP3s and an auxiliary port for iPods. It did not have XM satellite capability, though. Below this are two large rotary dials and a series of buttons for the air conditioning system, which proved easy to use and effective. Chunky column stalks handle lights, indicators and wipers. The only buttons on the steering wheel spokes are for the cruise control system. Everything feels very sturdy and well made and is very easy to use and neatly presented. The tinted shadeband on the windscreen came down far further than is normal in most cars, and the edge was right in the line of sight which I found quite annoying, as it meant that your eyes had to contend with things with two different levels of shading to them.
There is ample space in the back of the car for two adults, and it would not be an undue hardship for a third passenger to join them. My head did not quite touch the roof or rear screen, and there was plenty of rear leg room. The boot is of a decent size, too, with a large lid making access easy. Oddments stowage provision in the cabin is particularly good, with a massive glovebox that stretches back a long way augmented by door pockets, and a large lidded cubby at the bottom of the centre console. There are three cup holders in the centre console between the seats with a further two in the upper surface of the drop down rear seat armrest.
Four trim levels are offered: Base, S, SL and SR. As well as using the 3.5 litre 257 bhp V6 engine, the SR trim brings 17″ alloys on the sedan and 18″ wheels on the coupe, a leather wrapped steering wheel, an 8-way adjustable driver’s seat, heated mirrors, and automatic lights. The difference between the Base and the S amounts to remote cental locking and an AM/FM and CD audio unit., along with the keyless starting and the option of the automatic transmission. The Hybrid was a separate model, which lost out on the split folding rear seats, and had different gauges to show the use of the hybrid system. It has been discontinued for 2012. Base models start at $20,270. The 2.5 S lists as $22,430, and there is a premium of $2680 to get to the 3.5 SR car.
Although there is no way that the Altima can be described as exciting, it is still a very competent and likeable car. During my tenure of the car, I met up with a friend and colleague who has had an Altima Hybrid for a couple of years now, which replaced a Cadillac CTS. She loves her Altima, saying that it does everything that she needs, and being the Hybrid is supremely economical. In two years she has not had a single problem with it. I liked it, too, finding no significant weakness of any sort. That leads to the sales figures with which I started this report. Although the gap closed a lot, in 2011 this car was outsold by the Toyota Camry. Having driven a Camry only a few days previously, I have to say that if people would only try both cars, they would realise that the Nissan is the better car. And that was before the launch of the 2012 Toyota which appears to have been attacked by the Ugly Stick. A new Altima is rumoured to be en route, probably for 2013. If it improves on the standard set here, whilst it probably still will not set the enthusiast’s pulse racing, it will be supremely capable family transport, which is exactly what it sets out to do.
2012-02-19 09:18:59

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *