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by Tony Whitney
Nissan’s popular Altima model was the car that really turned the company around. Although Nissan has produced all kinds of fine models over the years, the 1990s were plagued by financial problems which were ultimately solved by a merger with French giant Renault. Under shrewd Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, Nissan (and Infiniti) came up with a deluge of new models, many of which won international awards.
Nissan has now decided that “the car that started it all” – the Altima – will be updated for 2005. The cars should arrive at the dealerships this month.
The Altima was certainly one of the best products to emerge from Nissan for some time, even if the automaker has produced lots of very worthwhile, if rather unexciting, sedans over the years. The old Altima, which came only with a rather modest 4-cylinder engine, was a decent enough product, but few would place it in the front rank of vehicles in its class. The new car was different in every way and Nissan might well have been wise to come up with a new name for it, though the public seems happy enough with ‘Altima’.
For 2005, the car has been freshened with an enhanced interior design, including a new instrument panel and centre console. There are new trim finishes, including that increasingly popular metallic look, and new seat and headliner materials. This time around, buyers will be able to order a DVD-based navigation system which fits neatly into the upper part of the central dash area.
On the outside, there are changes to the hood, smoked headlights and taillights, a new grille and another five horses for the V6 versions. Although we’re becoming used to it now, the car’s styling is truly outstanding, upstaging anything we’ve seen from a Japanese automaker in recent times. While there are some very prominent design cues, especially in the multi-lensed headlights and rear lights, it’s really the Altima’s sleek overall shape that sets it apart from more conservative rivals.
Overall, the car is bigger than either Accord or Camry. The bodywork is more than just a cute styling job and features 65 per cent better torsional rigidity than the original Altimas. The hood and trunk lid are fabricated from aluminum, resulting in a 55 per cent weight saving compared to steel components.
While there’s still a 4-cylinder engine available for the Altima – a 2.5-litre 175 horsepower unit – it’s the new V6 that’s getting most of the media attention. Of 3.5 litres displacement, it now develops a substantial 250 horsepower and 246 lbs/ft of torque. This is a very satisfying powerplant indeed and is very quiet and refined in addition to providing sports sedan performance.
To match these powerplants, Nissan is offering a 5-speed manual transmission with reduced shift effort and a 4-speed automatic with “auto-hold” function to reduce shift hunting on hilly roads. All Altimas have 4-wheel disc brakes and some models come with ABS. Altimas with ABS also have Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), which optimizes rear brake performance, and Brake Assist (BA), which can cut emergency stopping distances by 10 – 15 per cent.
The suspension is independent all round and this results in a car that handles as well as it looks. Again, extensive use of aluminum reduces weight and enhances suspension performance. The standard wheels are 16-inch with the 4-cylinder and 17-inch with the V6.
The cabin is roomy and offers excellent visibility, thanks to large areas of glass. The doors open wider than hitherto, which will please business users who have to get in and out of the car a lot. The instrument panel, and its associated controls, looks very trendy and high-tech, but it’s a practical and well-thought-out layout. Trim can be in cloth or leather. There’s a new charcoal seat fabric available, a padded front centre armrest (leather or cloth depending on trim choice) and bright, titanium interior accent colours for all models. Drivers fighting boredom on long trips will like the available 8-speaker Bose sound system, which includes a 6-disc in-dash CD changer and speed sensitive volume control.
Nissan has been hailed as one of the great automotive revival stories of the past decade or two. The 2005 Altima improves on an already excellent product and deserves close scrutiny from buyers who always thought the quality affordable sedan world began and ended with Camry and Accord. Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for the 2005 Altima have remained the same or slightly higher, depending on the trim level. 2005 MSRPs are as follows:
- Altima 2.5 S, 5 man – $23,798
- Altima 2.5 S, 5 auto – $26,998
- Altima 2.5 SL, 5 auto – $29,698
- Altima 3.5 S, 5 auto – $26,998 (new trim level)
- Altima 3.5 SE, 5 man – $29,098
- Altima 3.5 SE, 5 auto – $30,598