One of the constants in the automotive landscape is the Japanese mid-size sedan. The Nissan Altima is one of the best known in this segment. Since the late 80's buyers have flocked to their models because of their quality, dependability and re-sale value. Historically car buyers have paid thousands more for a well known Japanese sedan than a similarly equipped Korean or American model. But like so many things these days the car market is changing rapidly. The Japanese manufacturers are feeling the heat from the up-start Koreans and the re-invigorated Americans. The modern buyer will often be as likely to buy a Hyundai as a Nissan these days. The real question here is how does the 2012 Nissan Altima stack up to its competition?
On the outside the 2012 Altima has somewhat dated, but pleasant styling. There is a noticeable absence of such features as fender vents, projector headlights or LED tail lights. Some more conservative buyers may think this is positive. The Altima looks the way most mid-size sedans have all ways looked; sleek but with nothing that makes it unique in the market place.
On the inside the Altima isn't too exciting to look at but the materials are of a good quality. Our test car had nice suede-like materials on the arm rests on the doors and the centre console. The seat is comfortable with a good range of adjustment. The centre stack and dash look dated compared with many of the new entries in this segment. While the quality of materials is good the hardware is out-dated. One of the worst examples is the non-graphic low resolution display for the radio, this unit is on all models not equipped with navigation. Heating and ventilation controls are simple to use but again lack any unique touches. Our car had a leather wrapped steering wheel that has a nice feel to it. The available sunroof is a standard size, not panoramic like the Kia Optima. The back seat has enough room for most adults. The trunk has a convenient large opening with ample space and split folding back seats for added versatility.
On the road one of the first things one notices is the good rear visibility blind spots are all most nonexistent. Acceleration on our 175 horsepower 2.5L 4 cylinder model was lackluster, probably mostly due to the CVT automatic transmission. While known for returning excellent fuel economy in the city the CVT is not known for performance. Handling is sharp and well composed but the Altima is still nice to steer at low speeds. The Nissan takes corners very well, better than most cars is this class. Cabin noise levels are average for a vehicle of this class. The engine gets a little noisy when pushed under acceleration. Over all it must be said that the Altima still feels slightly more solid that its Korean or American competition.
The bottom line: The Nissan Altima is still a good car, but with strong competition coming from all sides Nissan needs to price the car aggressively.