The Altima was very reliable early on, but as it aged, needed many more costly repairs and fixes. At ten years and less than 100,000, it has cost $600-1500 per year for the last five years to keep it running (not including tires!). My mechanic says there a few fundamental design flaws that show as this car ages that are costly (because they are labor intensive) to fix.
The handling of this car in turns is execellent. Every other similar type of car I test drive seems wobbly in comparision. I always feel in control while driving due to good steering, wheel traction, and general stability.
Long term maintenance record. For 97,000, this car has had too many $900 repair bills. I wish I could keep it longer, but it is too expensive to maintain.
I have had this car for 9 years. I have had transmission problems. It's on its 2nd one. The alternator and brakes have been replaced. Overall it has been a really good reliable car. It needs to go in the shop about once a year. It's been on a few road trips. It's a great car for city driving.
It's a nice size and has enough power for city driving.
I got this car as a graduate student in 2000 already with 100000 miles on. 7 years later and now at 253000 miles, it still runs like the first day I got it! I've only started to use premium maintenance parts on it 6 months ago (synthetic oil, good filters, good spark plugs which I doubt played any part in the reliability). It is still giving me up to 36 mpg hwy!! It has no rust - tiny spots on the front due to stone chips easily fixed with a tiny scraper and a touchup paint pen. Engine uses timing chain, superb reliability. Major maintenance in the 7 years was a starter, a clutch, a muffler, CV joint (shaft). Usual parts: batteries, brakes, fluids and oil, filters and struts.
Engine - super reliable, ample power and sips gas slowly. Body rustproofing - holding up very well at 10 years old! 4 wheel disc brakes w/ABS - works great up here in New England snow. Extremely affordable to buy and own! Expect to get 500,000 miles out of it with no major problems.
Change out mediocre sound system (easily done). Awkwardly placed cupholders blocks radio. Plastic headlight lens tend to fade with age. Polishing with a lens polish helps.
I just handed my 1997.5 Altima down to the kids with 158000 miles on it and expect many more good miles from it. The car has been very comfortable and reliable over the years. I did all the scheduled maintenance and the car has been great. I upgraded to the 2007 Altima and the kids are happy to have my old faithful. It should get another 100k miles easy.