In the affordable family sedan sales race, Nissan is usually in a very strong third place position when compared to its arch-rivals in the field-the nefarious Toyota Camry and the wickedly talented Honda Accord. With the three of these all-star family cars playing a seemingly never ending game of one-upmanship, how does a 2010 Nissan Altima S compare with the top two industry stalwarts after a week of testing it around Southern California? Well, you are about to find out.
The Value Equation
With prices starting at just $19,900, the Altima is a screaming bargain. And that isn’t for a stripped out model with crank windows and a hand fan to keep you cool. That basic Altima comes with a powerful 2.5 liter 4 cylinder with 175 horsepower/185 lb. feet or torque, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, push button start, 60/40 split rear seats, keyless entry, an excellent 6-speaker audio system with aux-jack, 6 airbags and VDC (Vehicle Dynamic Control) which helps keep you from getting into an accident.
My test S model was priced a bit over $24,000 and came with power driver’s seat, CVT automatic transmission, a moonroof, steering wheel mounted audio controls, automatic headlamps, Nissan’s Intelligent Key system which lets you open the doors with the key in your pocket, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather wrapped steering wheel and much, much more. A 3.5 liter V6 is available for under $25,000 and you can even add luxuries like navigation, Bose audio and surprisingly supple leather upholstery. Nissan really is one of the best mainstream automakers when it comes to the quality of their leather.
Exterior/Interior Styling and Quality
Compared to the competition, the Nissan Altima is nothing short of classically handsome. Really, for the more style conscious family sedan buyer there really is no other choice. The exterior styling makes the 2010 Altima look more expensive than it is and panel gaps are impressively small if not as exacting as you might find on a Honda.
The interior is a huge improvement over previous generation Altima models which sometimes used subpar plastics. The current generation has an attractive control layout and everything really does fall easily to hand. It may not be exactly a ground breaking interior design but it does the job and feels built to last. All the doors and even the trunk close with a satisfyingly tough sounding thud.
Although the sound a car door makes when it closes tells you absolutely nothing about how mechanically reliable it will be over the long term it still has this powerful ability to instill a sense of well being in the owner. Nissan engineers obviously know this well as even the glovebox, center console and inner door handles move with a pleasing, oily precision.
Altima models equipped with the CVT and 4 cylinder return 23 city/32 highway while 3.5 liter V6 variants return 20 city/27 highway. That figure for the V6 is mighty impressive given the fact that this engine packs quite a whollop with 270 horsepower and 258 lb. feet of torque.
How Does it Drive?
The standard 2.5 liter 4-cylinder, although a bit gruff sounding at times, never lets you down when it comes to power as it is available up and down the rev range. The CVT (this kind of transmission has no metal gears like a normal automatic) also deserves a special award for possibly being the best of its type on the market.
Some CVT units are poorly calibrated with the motor and can cause an odd “moo-ing” noise to emanate from the powertrain. (Note to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals): No cows are harmed in the manufacturing or use of CVT automatic transmissions. Sometimes CVTs just make it sound like one is being harmed under the hood of your car.) The CVT in the Altima never really feels much different than a regular automatic and even has a function where you can manually change into five different gear ratio settings for added control.
The Altima makes great family transport thanks to its hugely comfortable ride that thankfully never wallows or gets fidgety over uneven pavement. It’s not tuned quite like a 370Z (the best car I have ever tested) but it can be fun when pushed to its surprisingly high limits.
Steering feel is a bit light but tightens up nicely when you take the 2010 Altima on twisty roads like the Ortega Highway in Southern California that I use for testing. I would say that over the course of the drive handling lagged a bit behind the more sportily sprung Mazda6 I recently tested but is very similar to the Honda Accord and far less marshmallow-like than a Camry LE.
The interior of my 2010 Altima S had very sturdy feeling fabrics and plastics that appeared they were ready to withstand all of the abuses a family could throw at the car over the course of, say, a 10 year ownership experience. There is plenty of head and legroom for those over six feet even in the back seat and the 15.3 cubic feet of trunk space puts it at or above the size of what Honda and Toyota offer.
Where it takes a real lead is in the fact that the Altima has a positively huge 20 gallon gas tank. Many gas guzzling SUVs I could mention don’t have tanks that big so this is a great road trip car. You may, however, need to make some pit stops on a long trip as the Altima has a whopping 9 (!) separate cupholders in the cabin.
This, in and of itself, proves that Nissan designed the Altima with Starbuck Venti Latte obsessed North Americans in mind. Even the cupholder in front of the center armrest in unique in that at first it looks like the outline of Mickey Mouse’s head but it is really designed this way so you can put two coffee mugs in the holders with room for the handles. That’s a very clever design trick there Nissan. Or maybe Nissan engineers just really like Mickey Mouse.
Aside from the fact that some of the plastics appear somewhat scratchable, the rear perch in the Altima appears big enough for two full size canines and the trunk could be used to bring home a year’s worth of kibble. So yes, dog friendliness is well represented here.
The family sedan market moves at a lightning quick pace but even taking into account the fact that the Altima has been on the market a while in this iteration, it still is hugely competitive. The Altima is a great value, is efficient, spacious and fun to drive. I just can’t wait to see what Nissan comes up with for the next generation Altima. And who knows? Maybe Accord or Camry will be moved down to the number three position.
Vehicle Tested: 2010 Nissan Altima S
Base Price: $19,900
Price as Tested: $24,265
EPA Economy: 23 city/32 highway
As Tested Economy: (29 miles per gallon)
Engine: 2.5 Liter 175 Horsepower 4-cylinder
Transmission: CVT Automatic
0-60: 7.2 seconds (estimated)