Thumbs Up: A comfortable and affordable midsize sedan, refreshed for 2010
Thumbs Down: Option packages quickly drive up the price
Buy This Car If: You want a little more fun out of your daily ride
A lot of midsize sedan buyers simply want a car that will get them from point A to point B with as little fuss as possible, which explains the popularity of the Toyota Camry. At the other end of the spectrum are hardcore enthusiasts, who don’t care a bit about ride comfort, only acceleration, braking and grip; enter the Subaru WRX STI. In between lies a significant population of buyers, who want a bit more sport than a Camry, but more creature comfort than the WRX STI; smack dab in the middle of that segment sits the 2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR.
Freshened up for the 2010 model year, the new Altima sports a revised front fascia, which ties the car to the performance flagship 370Z. That’s not to say that the Altima is a four door Z, because that’s simply not the case; instead, you can see the family lines in the nose, fenders and headlights. From any angle, the Nissan Altima is a pleasantly styled car, it’s just not drop dead gorgeous. In a way, that will help the long term appeal of the car’s styling refresh. Buyers may not be drooling over them in Nissan showrooms, but clean lines age well; in ten years, the 2010 Nissan Altima won’t look dated (aside from the Altezza style taillights, which are already dated). Even the “sporty” touches, such as the rear spoiler, fog lights and 17” wheels are conservatively styled, and nothing about the car screams “boy racer”. Nissan sells a lot of Altimas, in both the four cylinder and six cylinder versions, and the car’s conservative good looks go a long way to help move inventory.
Inside, Nissan’s kept things conservative as well, but that’s a good thing. Too many cars try to sell themselves as something they’re not, and I give credit to Nissan for not going down the “faux sport” or “faux luxury” path with the Altima’s interior. The Altima doesn’t need sport seats, so Nissan included wide, comfortable seats (leather in my tester) without a lot of bolstering. The Altima isn’t a luxury car, so you won’t find a lot of aluminum colored plastic or fake leather inside the car, either. I’m not crazy about the fake woodgrain door switch trim, but at least there isn’t acres of it across the dash. Speaking of the dash, I like the nod to the heritage of the Nissan Z with the instrument surround and the three cabin vents. Most people won’t notice, but I thought the styling cue linking back to the Z was pretty cool. I also appreciated the foolproof climate controls and the quality of the Bose audio, which is available as part of the Premium Package. As you’d expect, the steering wheel is leather wrapped (as is the gearshift) and has controls for audio, cruise control and Bluetooth phone integration.
Instruments are clear and easy to read, and the cluster is dominated by a large, centrally mounted speedometer with a vehicle information display. To the left is a tachometer and to the right is a combination fuel gauge, temperature gauge, odometer and gear display. The 2010 Altima sedans only come with the CVT transmission, but at least it includes a feature to manually select a simulated gear. I’m not fan of CVTs, but Nissan builds the best I’ve driven. It still wouldn’t be my first choice, but I wouldn’t cross Nissan off a shopping list just because of the CVT.
As previously mentioned, the front seats were roomy and comfortable enough for day-long stints behind the wheel. They lacked noticeable hip and side bolstering, but this really isn’t an issue since I doubt many Altima sedans will see track day or autocross duty. If you opt for the Premium Package the leather front seats are also heated, enhancing front seat passenger comfort when the mercury drops.
Some people have panned the Altima for a lack of backseat room, but I didn’t find that to be an issue. The seat is somewhat narrow, so I doubt two adults would want to travel coast to coast in the back of an Altima, but it’s more than comfortable enough for daily use. One strange thing is the lack of adjustable rear headrests: those in the Altima are fixed position, which isn’t good for rear visibility or for taller passengers. If you own a dog, there’s no way to put a rear seat sling in the Altima, unless you can rig something up with the child seat anchors.
Trunk space is ample, but the Bose audio system’s amps and speakers intrude on overall trunk room. This is no big deal for carrying luggage or groceries, but you need to pay attention if you’re loading tall cargo in the the trunk so you don’t damage the audio components or wiring. The rear seats split and fold in 60/40 fashion, so the Altima swallows up oversized cargo without any drama.
On the road, the 270 horsepower, 3.5 liter V6 gives the Altima plenty of acceleration. It’s not a sports car, but it is capable of a seven second run from zero to sixty, even with the CVT. Shifting the transmission manually doesn’t produce better results, but it does eliminate the “slipping transmission” feel of the continuously variable transmission. Handling is surprising, with good steering feedback and only moderate understeer when pushed hard. You’ll get to the tire’s limits (and the seats limits) long before you’ll get to the limit of the chassis or the motor. The EPA rates the 3.5 liter Altima at 27 mpg highway and 20 mpg city, and my 21.8 mpg average in mostly city driving supports those numbers.
My 2010 Altima 3.5 SR had a base price of $25,240, including destination charge. Options on my tester were the $175 Floor and Trunk Mat Set, the $2,380 Premium Package (Leather Seats & Shift Knob, Power Adjustable Driver’s Seat With Lumbar Support, Heated Front Seats, Bluetooth Phone Integration, Bose Audio System, XM Satellite Radio, USB Port, iPod Integration, Rearview Monitor, Auto Dimming Rearview Mirror With Compass, Homelink Transceiver, Rear A/C Vents) and the $2,370 Sport Package (Rear Spoiler, Fog Lights, HID Headlights, Dual Zone Climate Control, Power Moonroof). Total sticker price came to $30,165, which puts it on par with other midsize sedan competitors loaded up with content. A comparable Honda Accord V6 would run $29,855, a comparable Toyota Camry would cost $30,235 and a comparable Ford Fusion would sticker out at $30,625.
Is the Altima worth it? In terms of build quality, comfort and performance, the answer is yes. Nissan’s option packages quickly inflate the price of the car, and you could drop thousands of dollars off the price if you were willing to sacrifice the Sport Package. At a sticker price above $30,000, I’m not sure the Altima does it for me; shave a couple thousand dollars off that price, and it’s a whole different animal. If you need a midsize sedan that’s not too big, not too small, not too bland but not too sporty, give the Altima 3.5 SR a look. You may find that it’s just right for your needs.