2002 Nissan Altima
2002 Nissan Altima. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase; photos courtesy Nissan

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When the Nissan Altima replaced the Stanza as the company’s mainstream family sedan for the 1993 model year, it stood out in a sea of average-looking Accords and Camrys as a stylish and fun four-door. That trend continued in 1998 with the introduction of the second generation Altima. But despite its long list of virtues, the four-cylinder Altima never quite got the attention it deserved, thanks to its big brother, the V6-powered Maxima.

The 2002 Altima’s base engine was a strong 2.5-litre four-cylinder making 175 horsepower, and for the first time, an optional 240-hp V6 was offered, a detuned version of the same award-winning 3.5-litre engine used in the Maxima, the 350Z sports car, and a plethora of other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. For 2004, V6 Altimas gained five horsepower for a total of 245; that motor got five more ponies again in 2005, for 250. The 2005 lineup also brought a high-performance Altima SE-R, which boasted 260 horsepower, big 18-inch wheels and a stiffer suspension. The 2005 Altima also got a new interior, redesigned in the face of criticism of the low-rent feel of earlier third-gen Altima interiors.

2002 Nissan Altima
2002 Nissan Altima. Click image to enlarge

In early versions, the four-cylinder returned good fuel economy: 10.1 L/100 km in the city and 7.4 L/100 km on the highway. The V6 is relatively efficient too, despite its heady power output. It’s rated at 11.2 L/100 km and 8.2 L/100 km in city and highway driving, respectively. Later Altimas got better highway consumption ratings: 6.9 L/100 km for the four-cylinder and 7.3 L/100 km for cars with the V6 and five-speed manual transmission. Consumption is a little higher with the automatic, as well as in the SE-R.

Watch out for engine problems in 2002 four-cylinder cars: common issues include bad catalytic converters, oxygen sensors and excessive oil consumption. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine used in the Altima is known for self-destructing close-coupled catalytic converters (known casually as the “pre-cat”) used with the 2.5-litre engine. The converters innards go to bits (likely due to unburned fuel making it into the converter), and small pieces can be sucked back into the engine, where they damage the cylinder walls.

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