The Nissan Altima has been sold for nearly two decades, starting out as a smallish midsize sedan and maturing into the full-fledged family sedan it is today. There have been five Altima generations thus far, with the third generation marking the key shift to mainstream dimensions and specifications. Nissan likes to emphasize the Altima's fun-to-drive character, a trait we've come to appreciate in road tests over the years. Significant evolutions in features, finesse and frugality have made the Altima a perennial top pick in this popular segment.
Current Nissan Altima
The Altima is available with one of two engines. The standard 2.5-liter, 182-horsepower four-cylinder returns an impressive 31 mpg combined, while the 3.5-liter, 270-hp V6 achieves a respectable 25 mpg combined. Both are equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
There are seven trim levels to choose from, designated as either 2.5 or 3.5 depending on which engine's under the hood. The base 2.5 model gets you steel wheels along with nice perks like keyless ignition/entry and Bluetooth streaming audio, while the 2.5 S adds a power driver seat and an upgraded stereo. The 2.5 SV includes alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control and a touchscreen interface. The fancy 2.5 SL boasts leather upholstery and Bose audio.
Note that the 3.5 S gets many of the 2.5 SV's features plus larger alloy wheels, and the 3.5 SL tacks on xenon headlights. All SV and SL models are eligible for a Technology package that includes a bigger touchscreen, a navigation system, voice controls and a collection of electronic safety features like blind-spot monitoring.
In reviews, we've been very impressed with the Nissan Altima. Most of its competitors are certainly worth a look, but this Nissan has all the makings of a benchmark. It does all the little things right, and goes the extra mile with its rewarding driving dynamics and high-end cabin. Passenger space is also quite good, though some may find backseat headroom a bit lacking.
If you're having a hard time choosing between the four-cylinder and the V6, consider that the four offers a rare combination of excellent fuel economy and relatively swift acceleration. In Edmunds testing, a four-cylinder Altima accelerated to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, which is pretty impressive given its high fuel economy. Of course, we clocked the burly V6 at just 6.2 seconds, so if power's a priority, the 3.5 model range is a nice option to have.
Used Nissan Altima Models
The current, fifth-generation Nissan Altima debuted for the 2013 model year. The latest Altima benefits from overhauled styling inside and out, with a focus on a more upscale look and feel. Fuel economy is markedly better for both four-cylinder and V6 models, while updated suspension and steering systems maintain the Altima's reputation as one of the market's best-handling family sedans. For that debut year only, the previous-generation Altima coupe continued to be sold alongside the redesigned sedan. The coupe was subsequently discontinued.
The previous, fourth-generation Nissan Altima sedan was produced from 2007 through 2012 and marked the arrival of the now-ubiquitous CVT. It is in many ways similar to its successor, so a used one could be a good budget-friendly alternative. A coupe version debuted in 2008 and was produced in modest numbers through 2013. A limited-production Altima Hybrid was also available in some states from 2007 through 2011.
The fourth-generation Altima went without major changes for most of its run, though used car shoppers should note that there were some styling tweaks for 2010, along with the addition of an iPod interface and enhanced audio and navigation systems. Both the sedan and coupe were broken into 2.5 and 3.5 model ranges. The 2.5 models had a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produced 175 hp. The 3.5 SR (originally called SE) models had a 3.5-liter V6 that produced 270 hp. Though these powertrains are similar to those of the fifth-generation Altima, they were considerably less fuel-efficient. A CVT was mandatory on the sedan, while the coupe got a standard six-speed manual transmission with the CVT as an option.
We mostly praised the power and handling of both the four-cylinder and V6 Altima models in our reviews. The 3.5 models were more sporting, of course, thanks to their effortless acceleration and sport-tuned suspensions. But even the most basic 2.5-liter four-cylinder was one of the more rewarding family sedans to drive, while still providing a comfortable ride. The CVT was one of the best examples of its breed, and we would choose it over the coupe's six-speed manual, which was unrefined and difficult to use.
The third-generation Nissan Altima, produced from 2002-'06, set the stage for the Altima we know today. Radically different from the previous car, this enlarged model put Nissan smack dab in the middle of the family-sedan wars. It was about 6 inches longer than the previous generation, and its new suspension design and stronger body made it both better to drive and more useful for families. At the time, it was one of the most powerful family sedans available, offering either a 175-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 240-hp 3.5-liter V6, the latter a shot over the bows of the weaker Camry and Accord V6 models. Both engines offered a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, with four-cylinder Altimas limited to a four-speed automatic versus the V6's available five-speed auto.
The third-generation interior was widely criticized for looking and feeling cheap, but the Altima had a particularly lively feel for a front-wheel-drive family sedan. Our editors concluded that the Altima had gone from wallflower to genuinely desirable sedan overnight. For driving enthusiasts, the 2005-'06 Altima SE-R was the way to go. This specialized model came with a firmer suspension, a bit more power and an exclusive six-speed manual transmission whose slick operation was a cut above Nissan's unimpressive norm.
The first and second generations saw the Altima trying to find its groove. All models of this vintage were powered by a reasonably peppy 150-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Introduced in 1993, the original Altima fell somewhere in between the compact and midsize categories, and American car shoppers weren't overly impressed. We found the second-generation Altima, sold for the 1998-2001 model years, to be a decent handler, but its overall design was simply too bland, and its odd size remained an issue. Mainstream success would have to wait for the blockbuster third-generation model.
Read the most recent 2014 Nissan Altima review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Nissan Altima page.