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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.
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.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new Nissan Altima page.