2012 Nissan Altima 2.5S

The ultimate commuter, road tripper yet economical, practical, fun to drive, and is a Nissan.

Yes, yes… we are Nissan fans and we might be bias toward everything with the word Nissan on it. We can’t help it though. Nissan is in our blood. Nissan is a brand that we can trust. A brand we could understand its car building philosophy. Why you may ask? Nissan offers good driving dynamics and makes the driver feel they are part of the car, having control of it. Nissan is an innovative company from the vast use of their CVT, and intelligent keyless system. It represents technology and performance without costing an arm and a leg. When it believes hybrids are a joke, it didn’t follow the trend to must develop its own hybrid system.

In 2008, right in the middle of great depression while Honda was pulling out of F-1, Subaru was killing its WRC program, and Toyota was, well, being a Toyota went back to stone-age to do the moonshine run in the ovals (NASCAR). For Nissan, it rolled out the “Godzilla” GT-R to re-establish being Japan’s ichiban supercar manufacturer. Then in later part of 2010, the 100% plug-in electric, Leaf was released to the public.

It is Nissan who’ve got the greenest and quickest product under one roof. That’s not much more we have to say how good the Altima must be.

Background – We know Altima better than our own body

The Altima sedan was introduced to the North America market in 1992 as a 1993 model when the Nissan Stanza was due for replacement. At the inception, the new model was named Stanza Altima – a traditional Nissan nomenclature. During a model name transition, Nissan tends to combine old with new, for instance, in the early 1980s, when Nissan Motor Corporation phased out the Datsun name they incorporated the “Datsun by Nissan” emblem. Similarly, in 1983, the 810 model name is officially changed to Maxima, prior to this change “810 Maxima” was used in 1981.

The 1st generation Altima (chassis code: U13) was essentially a Nissan Bluebird SSS, well known in Japan, but the Altima was assembled in Nissan North America Manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee for the North America market. In Japan, the SSS equipped with Nissan’s SR20DET high output engine and state-of-the-art ATTESA all-wheel-drive system.

The North American model, however, shares the SSS platform, suspension design, and body. The only engine available was Nissan’s KA24DE inline-4 with 150hp mated to either a 5-spd manual or 4-spd automatic transmission. The Altima competed in the same segment as the Honda Accord, late Mazda 626, and Toyota Camry look-a-likes.

The 2nd generation (L30) was released in 1998. Under a different body and stiffened chassis, the L30 shared significant mechanical components as the U13 – same engine, transmission, suspensions, and brakes. In the same year, the 300ZX was being killed off for the North American market due to unfavorable foreign exchange rates. Nissan was lacking a product that could represent the brand image, not to mention, Nissan was in the middle of a financial turmoil.

Having corporate, global issues, and the aging L30 design all lump into one great chaos, the 3rd generation Altima (L31) carried a lot of weight on its shoulders for not only capturing the sales volume to put Nissan’s bank account back into black but it had to also incorporate Nissan’s philosophy in car building. In doing so, it had changed the bread-and-butter mid-size sedan market by injecting better styling, performance and fun-to-drive aspects into the segment. The L31 was released to the market in 2002. It earned the “2002 North American Car of the Year” title. It also fulfilled Nissan’s need for increase in volume. The L31 was the 4th bestselling vehicle in the U.S. in 2005. To catch up the demand, together with Smyrna plant, the Canton, Mississippi plant also begun producing the Altima.

The L31 was developed on the brand-new FF-L platform. Base engine was a 2.5L inline-4 (QR25DE) generated 175hp and an optional 3.5L V6 (VQ35DE) 240hp engine. A high performance model, SE-R, was released in 2005. The SE-R VQ35DE generated 260 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, capable of reaching 0-60mph in 5.7s. It came standard with sport suspension, upgraded brakes, high-flow exhaust, and unique 18” wheels.

The fourth generation (L32) was debuted in 2006 New York Autoshow, and went on sale as the 2007 model. According to Nissan, “The 2007 Altima builds on these (L31) strengths, protecting Altima’s hard-fought standing as the sedan of choice for discerning, enthusiast buyers. And now, as a true competitor rather than just an alternative, we predict the new Altima will find an even wider audience.”

In contrary to the size increase trend, the L32 has 2.5 inches shorter wheel base (189.8”) and by moving the cowl forward and rear glass back, wheelbase is only 0.9 inch (109.3”) shorter yet retains the same passenger compartment volume and trunk space as the previous model. The overall width is marginally wider (70.7”) and retained the same height (57.9”).

In 2012, Nissan Altima is available in three models: 2.5 (Base), 2.5S and 3.5SR all with standard continuously variable transmission. Both 2.5 model equips with 2.5L engine, while the 3.5SR comes with a 3.5L (VQ35DE) 270 hp, and 258 lb-ft of torque engine.

The 2.5S includes Intelligent Key, push button ignition, AM/FM/AUX input 6-speaker audio system, driver and front-passenger seatback map pockets, driver’s footrest finisher, power windows with driver side one-touch auto up/down as standard equipments. Special Edition Package is available with auto on/off headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted audio and ASCD controls, aluminum-alloy wheels, fog lights, rear spoiler and “Special Edition” badge. Also Convenience, Convenience Plus, SL and Premium Audio packages can be added.

Our tester is the 2012MY 2.5S in Ocean Gray. It was assembled by Nissan North America Manufacturing in Canton, MS with MSRP @ 23,490.00.

Impression – Nissan has been the benchmark, IMHO.

The Altima was referenced in our previous Mitsubishi Galant test drive review for comparison purposes since in our humble opinion the Altima has been the segment leader. Prior to the Galant review, we drove both the L32 3.5 SR with the awesome V6, and a similarly equipped 2.5S extensively. This is our third encounter with the L32. We also had broad and lengthy personal relationships with the U13, and L30 models. Also drove quite a few L31 as well. We are no stranger to Altimas.

Here is the spoiler; the preliminary conclusion is that out of the Mazda 6, and Mitsubishi Galant, you guess, we still prefer the Altima better. Galant is an antique (Laser disc in the Bluray world). Although the 6 has double wishbone suspensions on all four corners but on the daily use standpoint and the nature use of this type of vehicle, you can‘t really tell the difference between that and the MacPherson.

Ride and Handling – FWD, RWD, AWD, 4WD… Nissan has them all under its own roof.

In speaking of suspension, supporting the front end is Nissan’s traditional Macpherson struts with aluminum control arms mounted on the subframe. The rear consists of independent multi-link setup derived from Nissan’s 370Z. The shock absorbers and springs are mounted separately to minimize friction and allow the shocks to be in line with the center of the rear axle to provide better geometry for damping control, ultimately, reducing ride harshness. Front and rear stabilizer bars are fitted; 23 and 17.3mm, respectively. The 2.5S has 60.8%/39.2% front and rear weight distribution.

Under spirited driving, the Altima offers communicative handling. Turn-in is sharp. The chassis remains agile through the corner and can sense the weight transfer in action. Body control, steering response is responsive to the driver’s input. The car feels light on its feet and connected. The confidence in handling is provided by a set of Continental ContiProContact P215/60R16 tires. These tires are Nissan’s standard issue for a lot of its products; Versa has been using them since its release in the summer of 2006. The 215 width is a lot of tires for a car in this class. Thus allows you to throw the car into any corner, and sustain hard cornering while remain clued to the road. The ContiProContact has better grip than its, Grand Touring All-Season rating suggested since they remain predictable and don’t squeal easily under hard cornering.

For those who observe suspension movements, it is easy to spot the negative camber gain at the rear wheels as the rear suspension compresses during cornering from utilizing multi-link design to provide more contact between the tire and road.

Suspension tuning is very typical Nissan’s overinflated tires feel. Ride is quite stiff. It might feel a little harsh over bumps from time-to-time. The Infiniti G35 and G37 rides about the same in term of stiffness, but not as harsh as the ones with sports suspension. So we won’t say the Altima is being uncomfortable. Car enthusiast like us calls it compliant.

This nimble suspension setup is supported by Nissan’s D-platform, derived from the slightly larger FF-L platform. The D-platform utilized ultra high strength steel at strategic locations such as at the upper cowl X-type structure to increase body rigidity, reduce NVH and allows for a 30% weight reduction in the frontal body structure. The L32’s white-body is only about 55 pounds heavier than L31.

The twin-orifice hydraulic powered vehicle-speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering system has 2.83 lock-to-lock, and overall ratio at 16.2:1. The steering provides good road, and on-center feel at high speed without compromising the steering effort at parking lot speed.

Torque steering in a torquey front wheel drive is a natural heritage but we didn’t notice its existence even when we were attacking the twisties in the Angeles Crest Highway. The four-point (2 liquid filled, 2 solid with anti-torque rod) engine mounting secures the engine in the rigid engine bay structure. The engine is now mounted 30mm lower than L31 which not only allows the equal length drive axles to be nearly parallel to the ground to help eliminate torque steer but lowers the center of gravity. CVT also buffer out some of that torque steer as well.