Nissan's Altima sedan combines practicality and driving kicks.
Nissan is successfully concentrating on high-volume practical sedans such as its subcompact Sentra, compact Altima and mid-size Maxima.
None are blah, and the sporty Altima SE model I drove especially shows Nissan knows how to inject motoring fun into a four-door model.
All the curvaceous, front-drive Altimas have the solid, refined feel of a costlier, larger car and provide impressive performance. Four 6-footers comfortably fit in the quiet interior, but elbowroom isn't generous and narrow rear door openings impede entry in back. The roomy trunk has a small opening.
Altimas range from the $15,649 base XE model to the $20,999 GLE. Even the XE has dual air bags, power steering, tilt steering column, rear defroster, reclining bucket seats, sports sedan instrumentation and fairly wide 60-series tires.
The raciest Altima is the $19,299 SE. It adds a sport suspension, sport front seats that provide superb grip, a rear spoiler, all-disc brakes for surer stops and alloy wheels - but not lower-profile tires. You also get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, AM/FM/cassette, air conditioning, cruise control and power windows and locks.
Anti-lock brakes are a $999 option for all Altimas.
The SE always was eager to whisk me quickly and safely to a destination - thanks largely to the strong 150-horsepower four-cylinder, which powers all Altimas. The 2.4-liter engine gets loud when pushed hard, but has goodies such as dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. It propels the Altima from 0-60 m.p.h. in 8.1 seconds with the standard five-speed manual transmission, which works with an easy clutch and shifts fine as long as you don't rush it.
An available four-speed automatic - standard on the GLE - doesn't hurt acceleration much, but order the manual for the SE for maximum driving enjoyment. Economy is an estimated 24 m.p.g. in the city and 30 on highways with the manual and 21 and 29 with the automatic.
Quick, precise steering and a supple all-independent suspension provide sport sedan agility, and the brakes stop you quickly and surely.