2012 Nissan Altima Review

2012 Nissan Altima - Best-selling midsize sedan gives good shoppers a good reason for consideration.


Vehicle Tested
2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 S
Base Price: $22,570
As-Tested Price: $24,450
Built in Symrna, Tennessee.

Value Package
Splash Guards
Floor and Trunk Mats
Trunk Floor Organizer
Aluminum Kickplates

2.5-Liter I4
CVT Automatic
Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive
No vehicle better represents America's values than the midsize car. It commands the lion's share of sales, is the most-hotly contested automotive segment and, for many automakers, the breadwinner of the lineup. There are at least 18 unique entries in the class and that doesn't count wagons or coupes.

Perennial best sellers include the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. But there are also other significant players like the Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Mitsubishi Galant, Subaru Legacy and Suzuki Kizashi. The one common trait all of  these vehicles have is the ability to service the typical American family.

All are front-wheel drive and come with either four-cylinder or V6 engines. All seat five and have four doors and a traditional trunk. By sheer volume, they make up nearly 20 percent of the market.

The current Nissan Altima was introduced in 2007, making it one of the oldest vehicles in the segment. But that doesn't seem to be hurting sales as the Altima trailed only the Toyota Camera in overall sales this past February. (Though it should be noted that combined Chevrolet Impala/Malibu sales trumped all midsize entries.)

Altima is available as a four-door sedan or two-door coupe. Three models are offered on the sedan: 2.5, 2.5 S and 3.5 SR. The coupe comes only in 2.5 S and 3.5 SR trim. While the four-door rides a 109.3-inch wheelbase and is 190 inches long, the coupe sits on a four-inch-shortened chassis that's just 180 inches long. Both use the same engines.

Standard on the 2.5 and 2.5 S is a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. 3.5 SR models get a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Both engines mate to a continuously variable transmission and drive the front wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is available only coupe models.

Standard safety features offered on all models include four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, stability control, include traction control, front-seat active head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, emergency inside trunklid release and dual-front, front-side and curtain-side airbags. A rear-view camera is available. Park assist and blind-spot monitor are not offered.

The 2.5 lists for $20,550 and includes air conditioning, interior air filter, tilt-telescope steering wheel, cruise control, front bucket seats, center console, split-folding rear seat, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, variable-intermittent wipers, trip computer, outside-temperature indicator, rear defogger, theft-deterrent system and 215/60R16 tires. Note the 2.5 does not come with an audio system.

The 2.5 S sedan come in at $22,710, while the 2.5 S coupe starts at $23,780. They add to the 2.5 keyless access and starting, AM/FM/CD player with digital-media player connection and on the coupe 215/55R17 tires and alloy wheels.

The 3.5 SR sedan lists for $25,570 and the coupe starts at $28,710. They add to the 2.5 S eight-way power driver seat, driver-seat lumbar adjustment (coupe), leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, heated power mirrors with turn signals, sunroof (coupe), illuminated visor mirrors, automatic headlights, fog lights (coupe), sport suspension, alloy wheels. Sedans get 215/55VR17 tires and coupes get 235/45R18 tires.

Opting for the manual transmission on the 3.5 SR coupe will set you back $30,940, but you'll also get dual-zone automatic climate controls, leather upholstery, heated front seats, Bose AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with USB port and satellite radio, Bluetooth cell-phone link, rear-view camera, automatic day/night rearview mirror, compass, universal garage door opener and HID headlamps.

A hybrid model is offered in California but not offered in Chicagoland. The Altima has a destination charge of $780 and is built in either Smyrna, Tennessee or Canton, Mississippi.

Get Up and Go  The four-cylinder engine found in the 2.5 and 2.5 S offers surprisingly good acceleration and passing punch. It feels a little sleepy off the line because the CVT takes a second to jump to optimum power range, but once moving the four-cylinder feels quite energetic. Expect it to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds-better than average for four-cylinder cars in this segment.

The V6 has great power and a measure of smoothness that few in the class can match. It mates even more impressively to the CVT and will push the Altima 3.5 from a stop to 60 mph in a scant 6 seconds. Impressive to say the least.

The Altima is unique in the midsize class in offering a continuously variable transmission as the only automatic. True, Subaru offers a CVT on the Legacy, but it's only available with the four-cylinder engine.

Nissan can get away with offering only a CVT because its unit is so proficient. You hardly notice the unique train-like smoothness and just feel instant acceleration. In addition, there's a manual mode that emulates the stepped gears of a traditional automatic. Kudos to Nissan for getting the CVT right and sticking to its guns.

EPA fuel economy ratings with the four and CVT come in at 23/32 mpg. Not as good as some smaller competitors, but on par or better with the larger midsize offerings from Chevrolet, Honda and Mazda. Altima comes with a large-for-the-class 20 gallon fuel tank and both engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline.

Given a light throttle foot and plenty of open-road cruising, you should be able to average better than 30 mpg in a four-cylinder Altima. Mixing in a fair amount of city driving, fuel economy drops to about 26 mpg overall. Still impressive for such a roomy car.

On the Road  Nissan engineers played it safe with Altima. 2.5 and 2.5 S skew toward comfort and the 3.5 SR leans toward sport. That said, Altima rides with composure and comfort. The long wheelbase on the sedans provides better highway comfort than the shorter wheelbase on coupes. Thankfully, undue body motions are kept well in check on both body styles.

With accurate steering, nicely weighted brakes and minimal body lean, Altima feels more sporty than its size might suggest. That said, unless you are driving a 3.5SR, the coupe in particular, Altima sports traditional midsize understeer when pushed into fast turns or onramps.

Though some have complained about Altima engine noise, it's more a case of getting used to the CVT transmission. Ask for a little acceleration and the CVT quickly ramps up to provide it, with a little more than expected noise. Other than that, Altima is a quiet highway cruiser.

Behind the Wheel  Altima's interior is a model of simplicity and modernism. Most materials are covered in soft-touch materials and look appropriate for the class. Occasionally there was an annoying rattle/drumming noise from the headliner. Gauges are easy to read and controls are well-placed and nicely marked. Bluetooth integration is excellent and navigation-equipped models get an easy-to-program interface.

Front seats are soft and comfortable and head and leg room are good. Taller folks may want a bit more leg room. Outward visibility is good on sedans and adequate on coupes. Blind-spot alert and park assist, features found on many other midsize cars, are not offered.

Sedan rear-seat room is quite good for the class--on par with the leaders Honda Accord and Mazda 6. Seat comfort could be made better with a firmer seat cushion. Coupes have considerably less leg and head room, making the rear seats best left to small adults or kids. Getting in and out of the coupe is also quite difficult.

Trunk space in the sedan is exceptional, less so on coupe models. Trunk supports annoyingly intrude on cargo space on sedans but not on coupes where there are more-expensive hinges. Interior storage is class average and adequate for all but the obsessive horder.

Bottom Line  If you haven't guessed, Altima is a great midsize sedan--with the sales numbers to prove it. Offering peppy four- and six-cylinder engines, good fuel economy and plenty of passenger and cargo space make it a must see for the family shopper. Coupe is a slightly different proposition, but is still a strong contender amongst limited competition.

Specifications, 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 S
4-door sedan
Wheelbase, in.
Size, liters/cu. in.
2.5 / 152
Length, in.
Horsepower @ rpm
175 @ 5600
Width, in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) @ rpm
180 @ 3900
Height, in.
CVT Automatic
Weight, lbs.
EPA Estimates, mpg
23 city / 32 highway
Cargo Capacity, cu. ft.

Fuel Capacity, gals.
Manufacturer's Warranty
Seating Capacity
3 years / 36,000 miles
Front Head Room, in.
5 years / 60,000 miles
Front Leg Room, in.
5 years / Unlimited miles
Second-Row Head Room, in.
Free Roadside Assistance
Second-Row Leg Room, in.
Free Scheduled Maintenance

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.