The Nissan Altima has been sold for more than 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 typically made the Altima a perennial top pick in this popular segment, although the latest model is getting dated compared to fresher rival sedans.
Current Nissan Altima
The Altima is available with one of two engines. The standard 2.5-liter 179-horsepower four-cylinder returns an impressive 31 mpg combined (30 mpg for SR models), while the 3.5-liter 270-hp V6 achieves a respectable 26 mpg combined. Both are equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), and four-cylinder SR models as well as V6-powered Altimas have paddle shifters that let the CVT emulate a seven-speed transmission.
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 such as keyless ignition and entry, Bluetooth and full power accessories, while the 2.5 S adds a rearview camera, cruise control and an upgraded stereo. The sport-themed 2.5 SR adds a sport-tuned suspension, alloy wheels and other sport-themed trim; the 2.5 SV does without the racy bits but adds even more creature comforts. The 2.5 SL is the top-of-the-line model with leather-trimmed upholstery. The 3.5 SR and 3.5 SL models largely echo the equipment of their 2.5-liter counterparts. Options include navigation, a sunroof, heated seats, and advanced safety equipment such as adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking, though some features are only offered with higher trim levels.
In reviews, the Nissan Altima comes away with mixed results. We like how the Altima's engines offer an impressive mix of power and fuel economy. And although the Altima's overall interior is unremarkable, its uniquely designed front seats remain as sublimely comfortable. But that's not enough to keep the Altima as strong of a contender as it once was. It's still adequate, but there's not enough to lift it above some of the top vehicles in the class.
Used Nissan Altima Models
The current fifth-generation Nissan Altima debuted for the 2013 model year, with a focus on a more upscale look and feel than previous Altimas as well as markedly better fuel economy for both four-cylinder and V6 versions. Updated suspension and steering systems maintain the Altima's reputation as one of the market's better-handling family sedans. For the debut year only, the previous-generation Altima coupe continued to be sold alongside the redesigned sedan; the coupe was subsequently discontinued. In 2016, a refreshed Altima showed off updated styling and added newly available active safety equipment and a sporty SR trim.
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 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; 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 Altima 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 to 2006, 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 transmission. Four-cylinder Altimas were limited to a four-speed automatic; V6-equipped models' had an 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 2005-2006 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 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 150 hp. 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.