Nissan Altima Sedan Test Drive Review

If you haven’t paid attention to the Altima since Bill Clinton was president, know it’s grown from a compact economy car into a powerful, confident-handling, midsize, entry-level luxury sedan that maintains Nissan’s sporty flavor and, especially for 2010, offers assertive styling.

The four-door Altima Sedan comes as the 2.5 CVT, 2.5 S and 3.5 SR CVT. Also, under the Altima umbrella is the Altima Coupe and Altima Hybrid sedan. (We’ll leave the coupe and hybrid sedan for future reviews.) Here’s how to decode Nissan’s model nomenclature. The “2.5” indicates the car is fitted with a very strong 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder. The “3.5” means it enjoys the awesome 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. All Altimas are fitted with a “CVT,” which stands for “continuously variable transmission.” More on CVTs later. Prices start around $20,000 and go to almost $30,000 for the gas-engine cars.

If you’re looking for an affordable, very roomy sedan, consider the 2.5 CVT. If you’re willing to pay a bit more for Nissan’s sporty feel, the 2.5 S CVT is an excellent choice. Those who like to go BMW hunting in the stoplight Grand Prix or on a curvy back road will be very entertained by the 270-horsepower 3.5 SR CVT.

Changes for 2010 feature a more assertive hood, grille and front bumper cover. Inside, the Altima received new fabrics. Electronic stability control, which Nissan calls VDC, now comes on all Altimas, but that’s not too newsy as it will soon be government-required on all passenger vehicles. The 3.5 SR CVT (formerly called the SE) now comes with high-intensity discharge headlights.

Rather than physically changing gears like a conventional automatic, a CVT uses a belt and pulley system. It’s designed to keep the engine at its most-efficient speed for the task required, regardless of whether that’s optimum fuel mileage during highway cruising or maximum acceleration for merging into traffic. Few drivers will notice a difference between a CVT and a regular automatic, except for improved fuel economy and strong acceleration. Gearheads: The Altima’s CVT also employs a small gearset to increase its effective ratio range. Don’t take this too hard, gearheads, but the CVT does a far better job of maximizing the engine’s performance than you could with a manual transmission.

The four-cylinder delivers 23 miles per gallon in the government’s city driving test and a very impressive 32 mpg on the highway. The V6 is rated at 20 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. Altimas are made in Tennessee and Mississippi.

The 2010 Altima received “Good” crash safety ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in both front offset and side impact tests. In the government’s crash test studies, the Altima Sedan scored high marks—five stars—in both driver and passenger frontal impacts, as well as side driver impacts, and four out of five stars in the rollover category and side rear passenger impact test.