Remember the '80s? You know — leg warmers, the Cold War, Punky Brewster? At the tail end of that let's-just-forget-it-ever-happened decade, Nissan introduced a revamped Maxima, the ads for which bore the well-known tagline: "The four-door sports car."
Fast-forward 18 years. Driving the 2007 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE, that old tagline keeps popping into the brain. And while real sports cars don't have automatic transmissions or front-wheel drive or even a backseat, it's obvious that Nissan has quietly made the Altima the spiritual successor of that tagline's underlying philosophy: Just because a car has four doors doesn't mean it has to drive like a dumpster.
Don't mess with success With Nissan's all-new "D" platform underpinning the new Altima, 2007 brings considerable chassis updates detailed in our 2007 Altima First Drive. The formula established by the third-gen Altima, introduced in 2002, remains intact for the 2007 model — solid performance, spaciousness and dynamic distinction.
And yet the 2007 Altima doesn't add up to the reinvention it was just five short years ago. Instead, it bears a close resemblance in size and style to its predecessor, bringing a little polish to the high points while addressing the complaints directed toward the interior. Just as the producers of the '80s sitcom Cheers knew better than to deviate from Carla's scathing one-liners or Norm's beer-drinking ways, Nissan is likewise shrewd enough not to meddle too much with a successful product.
New sheet metal blends shapelier hindquarters with a familiar — some might say bland — corporate Nissan face up front. It's not off-putting, but the subtleties of the new shape do little to differentiate it substantially from the previous-gen Altima.
Shift_transmission With a mildly updated version of the evergreen VQ35 3.5-liter V6, the Altima now sports 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. There's not much to say about this impressive engine that hasn't been said already — it delivers its husky, broad powerband without ruffling your Dockers, albeit with a clearly audible purr.
The real news in the Altima's powertrain is the so-called Xtronic CVT, a continuously variable transmission, offered in lieu of a conventional automatic. Row-it-yourself addicts will still opt for the available six-speed manual, which stickers for $500 less than the CVT.
Our test car was equipped with the CVT, and the consensus here is that you'll never miss the conventional slushbox — Nissan's CVT is a winner. It works better as an auto than many autos, and has a more useful manual mode to boot. Like all CVTs, this one is uncannily smooth, as it never interrupts the engine's power while changing ratios.
In theory, a CVT offers the best of all worlds, allowing the optimum gear ratio for acceleration and fuel economy, though in practice they're in the correct gear about never. This is where the Nissan's CVT really stands out. Around town, power is doled out responsively, all but devoid of the notorious rubber-band effect previously endemic to CVTs. Plus, the manual mode delivers useful engine braking rapidly — just bap-bap the lever and you're down two "gears" in a heartbeat.
EPA fuel-economy numbers of 22/28 city/highway are respectable, though during its short 800-mile stay with us it averaged 19 mpg.
Packing heat Instead of instantly winging the tach up to 6,200 rpm (where the big V6 generates maximum brio) like it ought to, Nissan's CVT instead forces the engine to creep steadily up its rev range until it reaches 6,200. The reasoning behind this strategy is to allow the engine's pitch to crescendo in lockstep with the rising speedo, emulating the feel of a conventional auto. As a result, some briskness is sacrificed on the altar of familiarity.
Still, it's faster in CVT mode than in manual mode, running to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.0 seconds at 94.9 mph. This performance dispatches every midsizer from our V6 Family Sedan Comparison Test, save for the Camry XLE V6 that blasted out in 14.6 seconds at 97.3 mph. For two cars of such similar layout, weight and power, a gap of 0.4 second and 2.4 mph in the quarter is pretty sizable. Unless the Camry slips through the air as imperceptibly as Small Wonder on the Nielsen ratings, its engine probably has more lentils than Toyota's owning up to.
"D" platform of choice The Nissan still manages to be a more engaging drive even if the Camry's acceleration is Ponch to the Altima's Jon. Higher speeds load up the steering's weighting nicely, and a welcome trickle of feedback from the road surface makes its way to the wheel rim. Steering effort is light at parking lot speeds, where whipping the wheel can briefly outpace the hydraulic assistance. On-center feel is excellent, and torque steer is somewhere between "just a hair" and "jack squat."
Well-honed body control helps to deliver an impressive 67.0 mph through the slalom, 2.4 mph faster than the fastest cone-dodger, the Accord EX V6, in our aforementioned comparison test. And it's not as though the Altima is relying on mega-grip to produce its slalom result, either, as it circulated our skid pad at a just-decent 0.81 g on its 215/45/17 all-season tires.
Best of all, the driving experience does not come at the cost of comfort or practicality. The Altima's ride is on the acceptably firm side of supple, and with 60/40-folding rear seats and standard cargo nets in the trunk — which measures a healthy 15.3 cubic feet — it's pretty versatile.
While few midsize FWD sedans offer the driving poise of this Altima, its braking performance could have been better. The Altima required 134 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is worse than all five sedans in our comparison test and 12 feet longer than the best-stopping Hyundai Sonata LX V6. The pedal's initial bite is positive, though, and no fade was encountered during testing.
Likely in response to criticism over the previous Altima's plasticky interior, Nissan went to the opposite extreme for 2007. Visually, the dark plastics are much richer-looking, even if the overall theme now borders on austere. Functionally well laid out, we appreciated the volume and temperature knobs. On the negative side, a few interior squeaks hint that the interior build quality isn't perfect, and rear-seat headroom is on the tight side for 6-plus-footers. Plus, the Altima's long rear doors hamper ingress and egress when something's parked next to it.
For best results, keep it light At its $25,115 base price (including destination), the Altima 3.5 SE is a strong package, as its solid driving experience and basic practicality are inherent. The extras will kill you, though — there just isn't much flexibility in the options. If you want, say, the premium audio, the price just went up by $5,300.
Here's the math. The only way to get the premium audio is to select a $4,400 Premium Package, which includes big-ticket items like comfortable (if a bit wide) heated leather seats, satellite radio, Bose audio, HID headlamps and a moonroof. But that's not all. Stability control — which is, oddly enough, bundled with a full-size spare — is a $900 prerequisite for the Premium Package.
Our test Altima 3.5 SE, inflated to $30,715, is knocking on Infiniti G35 territory. And it's not even fully loaded. That's a lot of coin, and as good a package as the Altima 3.5 SE is, it's considerably less tempting at nearly $31 grand. Go light on the options and the 2007 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE makes a strong case for itself. Call it a sequel with substance.
Managing Editor Donna DeRosa says: Here's how it went: I approached the 2007 Nissan Altima in the parking lot, walked around it and was impressed by its good looks. I slipped inside, played around with its eight-way power-adjustable driver seat and could never find a comfortable position. I released the emergency brake pedal, which felt oddly placed smack in the middle of the footwell. I used the push-button start and tossed the keyless fob into a cupholder.
Accelerating and braking were admirably smooth. The CVT kept up with my driving style nicely. Even on steep upgrades the CVT downshifted quickly. Is downshifting an appropriate term for a CVT? Anyway, it selected a more workhorse level without a moment's hesitation and evened out easily with the road.
The fluidity of the transmission was impressive and never left me feeling any lack of power, but the steering is too light. A weightier feel would be more suitable.
Nissan kills you with options on this car. Floor mats for $170? While the base price is under $25K, the expensive list of options on the window sticker bumped the car to almost $31,000.
Would I really want to pay for trunk lid trim? I continued to struggle with this thought and the Altima's seat controls at every stoplight. Not a car for me.
"I bought a 2.5S about 2 weeks ago. I had been waiting for-EVER for the car to come out, as I had pretty much decided on an Altima (after being unimpressed with the Sentra) but didn't want a 2006. I love it. I got the convenience package and BLACK. Oh man, it's HOT! I'm coming from a 2000 Ford Focus (which I did love) so it's a bit bigger and I can definitely feel that, though I'll get used to it in no time. Plus it's quieter, roomier. Sexier! I paid (apparently — I'm thinking there was some number fudging going on) $200 below sticker because the dealer I went to didn't have the car I wanted and I had a 'Friends and Family' coupon from another dealer. They laughed at me when I "bargained" with them, but I figured the prices weren't going to budge anytime soon — especially with the lots FULL of 2006s. And, I know it's just a silly feature but I friggin' LOVE the push-button start!! It's so cool, I feel like I'm starting up the Batmobile or something." — Vikarious, November 29, 2006
"I test drove one 3 weeks ago and took delivery of a 3.5 SE CVT this weekend. Great car. Instant power delivery, very comfortable, quick steering, and a surprisingly good paint job for a mass-produced vehicle. Prior to making the purchase I test drove an Accord, a Camry SE, a Legacy GT, a Pontiac G6 and the prior-generation Altima." — Tcl, November 27, 2006
"Finally sat in an Altima (did not bother to drive), and was amazed at how little headroom there was in the back, plenty of legroom, but I had to have my chin on my chest to sit back there, and I am only 6 feet tall. I guess this is the latest trend to slope the roof down, but kinda makes all that legroom a moot point. The Camry is similar but not as bad. Wish they still made more hatches — the Versa has enough headroom (barely). I would especially like to see a wagon version of the Altima or another similar-sized import." — "Dudleyr, November 22, 2006
Overall Grade: B
Bose stereo is part of the "Premium Package w/ XM"
Price if optional:
$4,400 (price includes a list of features such as foglights, leather and sunroof as well as the Bose audio system)
MP3, C-R/RW, CD-Rom, WMA and AAC but without text support.
Bluetooth for phone:
How does it sound: B In some vehicles, Bose sound systems offer excellent quality and premium sound. For example, we like the Bose system in the Cadillac DTS but in the Mazda CX-7 it's disappointing. Thankfully, the Nissan Altima's optional Bose system is one that sounds very good. It's included in a rather pricey package but that package includes plenty of non-audio-related equipment that more than justifies the price.
One thing the system does right is sound imaging. All instruments and vocals are well placed while at the same time excellent separation is maintained. Bass is both deep and tight, and that precise bottom end gives the overall listening experience a well-rounded feel. Details like slappy bass chords come through nicely and vocals sound especially good. On the other hand, the highs can be overpowering, and that's where a little distortion creeps in. Given that this Bose system is an upgraded option, we'd expect to see a midrange adjustment but it simply isn't there. The sound quality is such that the system can get pretty loud without sounding oppressive. However, at maximum volume, clarity is not maintained.
How does it work: B All controls are easy to use and well laid out. Although our tester didn't have the advantage of a navigation system screen, the head unit's display screen was large enough and the text was easy to read at a glance. We like the multi-CD changer's function where you access a certain CD by simply pressing the corresponding button on the dash. Audio adjustments are equally easy to use and they all make sense.
The steering-wheel-mounted audio controls have been greatly improved from the previous generation of Nissans and they are now arranged in such a way that you can use the various features and know what each button does just by feel.
Special features: Many new cars have dash-mounted auxiliary jacks but Nissan gets it right on two counts. First, the jack is mounted high on the dash and in plain sight. Too many times that input is hidden somewhere that's not readily obvious or easy to find even by feel. Second, the input jack lights up, making it easier to find and use at night. It's a simple feature that makes using the system to its full potential that much easier and points to the fact that someone at Nissan is looking at the details.
Conclusion: The Altima SE's premium package bumps the car's price up considerably. However, thanks to deep bass and excellent separation, the Bose stereo in this sedan makes the price of the package a little easier to swallow. — Brian Moody
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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