15 March 2007

Blast From The Past- Mags And The Altima

Another older review.


2.5S Altima with Convenience Package.

Black on black.


The new ride.

Americans seem to get a convoluted mix of convenience packages for the Altima- in Canada there is but one, and it's offered on the 2.5S only. The convenience package adds a host of things to the base Altima, most notably 16 inch rims, heated seats, leather wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, 8 way power drivers seat, and one touch up and down passenger window control.

I'm coming from a G6 GT. Let's see how things stack up. Oh, and I'll post some pictures tomorrow or the day after, depending on if I remember to bring my camera out with me.

The Outside
Nissan, having finally made a splash styling wise with the Altima in 2002 with the 3rd generation, decided to play it safe this time around, but with a few neat touches. The greenhouse is very familiar, as is the upward character line running along the side of the car. Notable changes are a revised front end featuring the new corporate look and headlights (some rigamarole called a T-bar grille), a new back end featuring even larger Altezza style lights, dual chrome tipped exhausts out back (for all models) and a far smoother and more integrated ass end with distinct 'hips' in the character line that pays homage to the big brother Maxima. The base 2.5 comes with blocky plastic covers, so they're inherently shitty. The convenience package adds the same rims as found on the 2.5SL model- 7 spokers that are inoffensive.

These subtle changes make an overall positive difference to the vehicle, positioning it lookswise at least, in the mold of its big bucks Infiniti cousins the G35 and the M35/M45- the car definitely looks expensive and can be mistaken for an M if you're just glancing- pictures really don't do it justice because the rear especially has got some very nice curves. The only blandish aspect to the restyle is the front end- I have no issues with the new grille, but overall it's a little too plain, and will probably be the subject of a mid-cycle refresh, much like the 2005 was to the 2002.

Fit and finish is superb all around, but the paint shows some noticeable orange peel effect around the doors- whether this is because black paint really shows such things, or it's endemic to the model I'm not sure.

Does it look better than my previous ride, the G6? I really thing they're styled too differently to make a valid comparison- where the G6 goes for a sporty pseudocoupe look, the Altima makes a styling move upmarket. Different strokes for different folks.

The Inside
Nissan was slammed hard for the interior of the Altima in 2002, and it was fully deserved. I lived with one, and I can report that it was stuffed full of cheap and hard plastics, and the switchgear moved with the fluidity of a seized bolt. The interior refresh in 2005 addressed many of the interior quality concerns, but they had to play with the hand they were dealt and couldn't exorcise all of those demons.

For 2007, Nissan has quite obviously made the interior a priority, and it shows.

Here's the quote to sum it up- the 2007 Altima has the best interior quality and finish in the class, surpassing even the Accord, my personal favorite to this point.

Much like the recently released Aura, the entire dash is composed of soft plastic that has a lot of give. Furthermore, the grain will make you do a double take to ensure it's not leather. No joke. Nissan has also disposed of the sickly orange gauges of the past and replaced them with some BS marketing gimmick called Fine Vision. They look a lot like the gauges in the Infiniti line and are very bright and clear- a welcome change to the previous style. The center stack is laid out logically and is reminiscent of the Accord, and the stereo head unit is clear and legible even in direct sunlight, even including an AUX in port for the iPod heads and MP3 CD capability.

Storage is abundant in the car, especially when compared to my previous ride. A large cubby resides underneath the center stack along with a deep armrest bin and sunglass holder. The side map pockets include cupholders and have enough room to hold more than a few scraps of paper. And speaking of cupholders- the Altima features FIVE in the front seat area alone, including what appears to be an industry exclusive- bottle cap holders.

Although the Altima measures up almost identical to the G6, it has a lot more usable room in the front, mostly due to the style of the dash. Where the G6 is a tighter fit, the Altima lets you stretch out a bit. Seat comfort is top notch and there is a TON of headroom in this car without a sunroof. Trunkwise, the Altima features a SMALLER trunk on paper than my G6, but I emptied the contents of my G6 out into the Altima when I got it, and ended up with more space left over in the Altima- how does that happen? Well it's all about usable space, even with a full sized and rimmed spare- and the Altima features a low liftover, and a nice wide and tall opening.

Cool standard feature- Intelligent Key. No need to have a key in your hand. Simply walk up, push the door button and in you go. And once inside, press the brake, push the button, and watch things light up.

Issues are few.

A weird design decision was made to cover the door armrest in cloth. It's not bad, and in fact it's comfortable, but it looks very out of place. The tilt and telescope feature of the wheel is a pain in the ass to engage and set. And the trunk would have even MORE usable space if Nissan didn't decide to stupidly use gooseneck hinges AGAIN in the Altima. Even the new Sentra has hydraulic hinges. Go figure.

The Drive
With 175 HP and 180 lbs/feet of torque on tap compared to my G6 which had a V6 rated at 200/220, I was expecting the engine of the Altima to be the weak point. What I didn't realize is that the Altima has a 300 pound weight advantage over the G6. And this evens things up almost even according tomy scientific assometer analysis. The modified QR25 engine revs willingly up to its redline and has a nice growl to it. It's a welcome change from the thrashiness of my previous ride.

A point of contention among many in the media has been the CVT. Nissan has decided to move their bread and butter car completely to 6 speed manuals and CVT transmissions. I'd driven a Caliber a couple of months back and was underwhelmed by the DCX tranny. Same with a Ford Five Hundred CVT 2 years ago. So this was my biggest worry with this car. Luckily, it would appear that not all CVT transmissions are created equally. Nissan has 'stepped' this transmission with 6 speeds, and it makes for a seamless drive. The only time you know you're driving a CVT equipped vehicle is when you mash the pedal- the car immediately goes up to about 5500 RPM and just stays there, right in the heart of the peak horsepower. At first it's disconcerting, but the push you get in the peak of the power is great...and even better, it's sustained. The CVT also comes with a manumatic function as well, which is pretty much a pain to drive with. It shifts jerkily and constantly 'corrects' you if it thinks you're in the wrong gear. The G6 was much simpler and much more fun to drive. in manumatic.

The ride of the Altima errs on the side of cushiness in 2.5S trim. It is definitely geared towards comfort, and the suspension does a commendable job of soaking up road imperfections and noise. It's interesting to note that this does not come at the expense of body control however, as it felt far more stable at speed and over wavy high speed turns than my previous car, and better even than the Accord, which incurs more of a ride penalty. All of this occurs in spite of the fact that the Altima rides piece on shit Continental tires as original equipment.

Braking has no issues and pedal feel is great.

Steering is variable power assist and is governed by speed. In a parking lot situation it is WAY too light. Finger light. Like a feather. This I don't like. At highway speeds it's too touchy. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground here. It's easy to place the nose and to toss around, but in general it feels a little too much like a video game.

And So
The only other issue I can come up with for the Altima is price. In normal trims, it is right in line with everything else out there. A decently equipped 3.5SE will set you back about 33-35k CDN, and a 2.5S with the convenience package and the CVT will run you about 28k. There's even the value proposition in the 3.5S, which is more or less a 2.5S trim level with the big engine and CVT, for 29k CDN. That's a HELL of a deal. The issue though is when you start adding the goodies- granted they are more or less exclusive type goodies in this segment, but Nissan will make you add a host of other things before you can add the tech package for example... and this can drive the prices way up, very quickly. Tick off every box on a 3.5 model and we're talking 39k CDN folks. That's G35 territory.

One last thing- I took a 3.5 out for a drive in SE trim. With the sport suspension, the ride tightens up considerably, and the vehicle feels akin to an Accord. With the 3.5, it screams.

In 2.5 guise, the Altima is an almost perfect midsize family hauler. It has handsome and upscale looks, a fantastic and spacious interior, and a powertrain that has given me 35 mpg in my first tank of fuel. With a heap of standard features, the availability of Bluetooth, navigation, dual zone climate control and a host of other goodies, it has something for everyone, and at the present moment sits atop the midsize sedan heap.

The Ranking


So there you have it.

No comments: