Nissan is well-known for producing some of the maddest motors in all of Japan. Yet over here, under the Nissan Yulon banner, the brand pushed forward "luxury" as its raison d'être.
This strategy might have worked if the products kept up with the times. But selling the Cefiro year after year with nothing but extra chrome, wood and gadgets as upgrades found the brand catering to a slowly dwindling senior demographic, without much hope for the future.
Now, under a unified and reformulated company, Nissan is rolling out a host of new products, aimed at winning buyers' hearts. I'd say this Altima here is the most important one, but that's silly. Buyers of big, powerful sports sedans are few and far between here. But, at the very least, the Altima injects some much-needed testosterone back into Nissan's staid old image.
The Altima shares much of its styling with the recently revamped Maxima and Sentra/Sylphy, with a long, low body punctuated by boomerang-shaped headlamps and taillights. Subtly muscular front haunches, a rising belt line and a sleek greenhouse evoke a feeling of speed.
The tall, curvy grille is certainly an acquired taste, although it's not quite as overbearing as the similar Lexus spindle grille. The 17-inch wheels, wrapped in 215/55 Michelin Primacy tires, seem kind of small on a car this size, but the racy aero spokes certainly suit the design theme well.
As opposed to the slate-gray and dark interiors of "sporty" sedans like the Honda Accord and the Mazda 6, the Altima has a distinctively two-tone interior, with dark gray and beige surfaces accented in chrome. You sink into the "zero-gravity" seats rather than sit on them, and they're well-bolstered and supportive. It's certainly very American in feel, although the beige perforated seat leather will require a lot of cleaning.
To keep things clean in the huge trunk, our car has an optional deep-lipped rubber floor mat--a Teana floor mat. Nissan may have dumped the name locally, but it's obviously still alive and well elsewhere.
The Altima's 3.5-liter V6 is a fantastic motor, and is mated to Nissan's equally fantastic CVT. The next time someone tells you CVTs are boring, drag him along for a ride in an Altima V6.
With the traction control off, the car leaves long, black stripes down the road, rocketing to the speed limit nearly as quickly as the more powerful Hyundai Genesis Coupe V6. And yet the long ratios allow the Altima to cruise at barely above idle, for 16-18km/L on the highway. Don't expect impressive economy in the city, though. But it isn't really all that bad considering the power on tap. There are wonderfully responsive paddle shifters, but they're mostly a conceit on a CVT-equipped car, which is fastest and smoothest in full auto.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The Altima sits in that pleasant valley between sporty and comfortable. Which is to say it isn't quite as "tight" as something like a 6 or an Accord. Neither the steering nor the suspension has that extra firmness and tactility of the other two. That said, the car is massively fun on a winding road--pointy, eager and grippy.
The suspension feels well-damped, and body control is excellent. There's some torque steer when you jump on the throttle, but it transitions harmlessly into tire squeal, and is all part of the fun. If there's one major complaint, it's that the brakes could use a bit more bite. A Brembo package wouldn't go amiss on this bad boy!
The Altima comes with excellent sound insulation, an integrated 2DIN stereo with a sharp nine-speaker Bose system, and more leather than Jim Morrison's closet. The driver gets the most goodies here, with a compass, front sunroof, heated seats, and steering-wheel audio and cruise controls.
Backseat passengers get AC vents and an armrest, but not much else. There isn't even a rear AC control, let alone the powered sunshades and rear radio controls you can get from other V6 executive sedans in this price range.
It should be fairly obvious, then, that the Altima is a more driver-centered option than its competitors. This is the result of its American origins. That might be a misstep in trying to steal customers from the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, but it's also an opportunity to chase a different, younger market.
Really, Nissan could have just changed the nameplate and called it a day. But the Altima does justice to its sporting name, tempting customers who would like the excitement of a Genesis Coupe or a WRX, but want a bit more luxury and comfort.
Is it as complete a package as the Accord? Unfortunately, no. Is it more fun? Definitely.
SPECS: NISSAN ALTIMA 3.5L SL CVT
Engine: 3.5-liter VQ35DE DOHC gasoline V6
Transmission: CVT with paddle shifters
Power: 266hp @ 6,400rpm
Torque: 340Nm @ 4,400rpm
Drive layout: FWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo