Used 2002 Nissan Altima Review

Edmunds expert review

Revolutionary comes to mind, and that's a word not often applied to midsize family sedans.

What's new for 2002

The all-new third-generation 2002 Altima represents a total revision and rethinking of Nissan's midsize sedan -- it brings a level of design and performance that currently does not exist in its class. With a choice of a 240-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 or 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an all-new four-wheel independent suspension, the Altima offers spirit with state-of-the-art technology. An aggressive new exterior design with increases in all major dimensions and a driver-oriented interior with myriad convenience and luxury features set the Altima apart in the highly competitive sedan marketplace.

Vehicle overview

After years of slugging it out (and ending up on the canvas) with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, Nissan's Altima is ready for a rematch. A "training" program for 2002 has resulted in a bigger, stronger and more attractive Altima, and Nissan is confident that its middleweight is ready to take on the best in its class.

Four models will be offered: the base 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SL and 3.5 SE. As with the naming of most German cars, the Altima's numeric nomenclature refers to the engine size in liters. Thus, the 2.5s are powered by a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine, while the 3.5 SE has a 3.5-liter V6. Both engines are potent -- the four-cylinder engine puts out 175 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque while the V6 cranks out 240 horses and 246 lb-ft of twist. As of this writing, the Altima's underhood muscle crushes the competition, whose fours top out at around 150 horsepower and whose sixes develop around 200 ponies. The new engines are environmentally sound, as well; the inline four qualifies as an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV), and the V6 rates as a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV). Transmission choices for either engine are a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

The new Altima has been increased in virtually every dimension, leading to more interior room for occupants. Borrowing an idea from Audi with its different "Atmosphere" interior schemes, the Altima is available with three distinct choices for interior decor. Charcoal, Blond or Frost cabin colors are accented by simulated wood or faux titanium accents on the dash and door panels.

The dashboard features a sporty three-pod instrument layout and an uncluttered center stack with the stereo placed high to provide easy access. Thoughtful and uncommon features in this class include a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, a power point inside the center console (ideal for charging a cell phone) and, on higher-end models, steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and a trip computer. Feature highlights include leather seating, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink universal transmitter, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, a power sunroof and a Cold package that comes with heated seats and outside mirrors.

In terms of safety, the Altima offers the latest technology in occupant protection: side-impact curtain airbags. These roof-mounted bags provide protection for rear-seat occupants as well as those riding in front and are combined in a package that includes front seat side-impact bags. Other peace-of-mind features include dual-stage front airbags, optional traction control (for automatic V6 models), optional antilock brakes that incorporate state-of-the-art technology and child-seat anchors.

Nissan engineers also gave the suspension a serious overhaul. The all-independent design uses aluminum components to save weight, and the rear suspension is a multilink arrangement borrowed from the Skyline, Nissan's home-market supercar. Big rubber is standard on all Altimas: Four-cylinder models wear 205/65R16 treads, while the V6 version gets 215/55R17s on alloy wheels.

In nearly every aspect -- power, features, handling and styling -- the 2002 Altima is a drastic improvement over the previous model. If you're looking to purchase a fun-to-drive family sedan with enough toys to make the neighbors jealous, the new Altima deserves serious attention.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.