The new four-door's addressed many of the previous car's shortcomings--a price-sensitive interior and below-par safety gear chief among them. But it's also struck a new balance that puts a premium ride and quietness above the old Altima's leaner, tauter feel.
The new Altima begins life with a new shape, which Nissan says comes from an emotional take on styling, and some advanced manufacturing techniques that enable some complex surfaces on the attractive new body. The front end wears some of the angled, arrowed cues of other Nissans and Infinitis at the headlamps and taillights, while the side glass tapers gradually to a tasteful backstop. The fenders swell out in ways that recall Nissan's compact Juke crossover. The interior's a big contrast: it's conservatively drawn, with straight lines dividing off the center stack of controls from the driver and the passenger. There's also more space left for larger LCD screens for more advanced infotainment systems, a selling point where the Altima's lagged behind the Koreans and Americans.
The standard powertrain is a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Tuned here for higher mileage than ever, Nissan's aiming for an EPA highway rating of 27 miles per gallon city, 38 miles per gallon highway, putting it on par with some hybrids and above leaders like today's standard Hyundai Sonata, rated at 35 mpg highway. It's plenty of power for the point-A-to-point-B school of driving, though the drivetrain can be loud at the higher reaches of its range. Premium Altimas will continue to offer a quick-footed 3.5-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, rated at 22/30 mpg. They'll also be fitted with the CVT, but with standard paddle controls and a manual shift mode that simulates the gear ratios on a conventional automatic transmission.
All versions of the Altima sedan will continue to ride on an independent suspension, and it's upgraded to Sachs shocks for better ride control and a more luxurious feel, Nissan says. They've hit that goal--and coupled with a switch to fancy electrohydraulic steering, they've polished the Altima's road manners to a quiet gloss. The Altima now has excellent compliance over most every surface, but the tightly controlled ride and eager feel dialed into the old hydraulic-only steering have gone AWOL. We miss the more immediate feel already, because it's long disappeared from cars like the Honda Accord.