What's New for 1999
All 1999 models get two new exterior colors, improved speakers and a new head unit for the three-in-one stereo combo. The GLE trim level gets alloy wheels added to its standard equipment list, and all alloy wheels now have a bright finish instead of a painted finish. All SE trim levels are now called SE Limited (SE-L) models and come with additional equipment.
When Nissan introduced the Infiniti J30-like Altima in 1993, it was an instant hit. The term affordable luxury became synonymous with Altima, and those who wouldn't have been caught dead in the Altima's predecessor, the unloved Stanza, rushed out in droves to buy this car. Five years passed before the Altima was redesigned, and although it had been a huge seller, it was beginning to show its age.
When Nissan embarked on the redesign, their primary task was to improve on the Altima's original design and to not screw anything up. It looks like they got the formula about half right. Although the second-generation Altima is better in many ways, it doesn't have the attractive looks and luxurious feel that the original car possessed.
First, the good news. The Altima's size has been increased in nearly every dimension. This means that those riding in the back seat are no longer eating their knees, and that there is enough room in the trunk for a family getaway to the mountains. Wood trim accents make the cars look more upscale, and CD players adorn the dash of all but the lowliest models. The interior layout of the Altima is quite functional with easy-to-use buttons and dials for most of the car's secondary functions.
The bad news is that the car no longer looks like a miniature J30. The arse-end of the Altima is now wedge-shaped and rather dumpy, making the car look fat from rear three-quarter angles. Build quality seems to be down a bit as well, the models we have driven don't feel as substantial as the previous model.
The Altima SE trim level has been renamed SE-L, and comes with an equipment package that includes new color schemes, titanium tinted accessories and extra comfort and convenience features.
The Altima is still fun to drive and offers more entertainment for enthusiasts than its less-than-exciting flanks may suggest. Its crisp steering, fully independent suspension with Super Toe Control, and peppy overhead-cam four-cylinder engine provide drivers with the tools to go fast and have a good time.
While the Nissan may exhibit good value, it doesn't necessarily provide even a hint of luxury. Luxury, to Edmund's staff, implies a sort of elegance and craftsmanship that the examples we've sampled didn't have. Nevertheless, the Altima is a good buy that will probably run forever. No one is going to call it a Jr. Infiniti anymore, though.