“You won’t see one of these winning Bathurst”- it’s motoring writer’s code – a polite way of saying that while a car might be good, it’s not particularly fast or exciting.
Which is true of the Nissan Altima we’ve just driven. Well, mostly true.
The only problem is, you very well may see a Nissan Altima winning Bathurst – I should probably explain.
There are actually two Nissan Altimas. Well, three if you want to be precise.
There’s the very nice but not very fast, four-cylinder model we’ve just driven for the past few days – known as the ST-L. There’s also the more expensive, more powerful, but still not terribly fast version, the six-cylinder Ti-S.
Then there’s the “other” Altima – the one you’ll see competing in the V8 Supercars series and, quite possibly, winning Bathurst.
It shares very little in common with the road-going versions you’ll find in the Nissan showrooms. The Supercar is really just a marketing exercise – a clever one, mind you – which Nissan has used to raise its Aussie profile and to launch the Altima brand onto the Australian market.
It’s an extension of the “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” mantra practiced by Ford and Holden – and countless other brands around the world.
But regardless of whether the Altima does much winning on Sunday, it’s got every chance of succeeding in the showroom. The model effectively replaces the Maxima in the Nissan line-up – and it does a very good job of it.
The irony is, it’s the least powerful version – the four-cylinder variant – that’s likely to attract the greatest number of buyers, regardless of how it performs with a V8 beneath the bonnet.
We tested both the four-cylinder and V6 models back to back recently and, while we enjoyed the flagship V6 Ti-S model, we concluded that the ST-L variant represents infinitely better value at a price almost $10,000 lower than its sibling.
It is, admittedly, a car not destined to win Bathurst. But it’s a comfortable, refined and quite impressive option for families looking for space, luxury and fuel-efficiency in a very affordable package.
While the V6 Ti-S starts as high as $45k, (about $50-grand once you get it on road); the four-cylinder model can be had for as little as $29,990 or a tempting $35,890 for the well-equipped ST-L model we tested.
Equipment levels on the Altima are generous and the high-end, high-quality feel we’ve noticed in most of our recent Nissan road tests is also evident. There’s no question the Japanese maker has lifted its game considerably of late and the Altima is another expression of that.
Standard fare on the entry-level model includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control air, keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, headlights and headlight washers.
Stepping up to the ST-L adds bigger wheels, satellite navigation, rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, premium BOSE audio with smartphone integration, leather wheel and gearshift and an eight-way electric driver’s seat.
Nissan’s “Intelligent Technology Suite” safety package – incorporating blind spot warning, lane departure warning and all-round view monitor – is optional on this model and standard on the Ti and Ti-S. The flagship model is the only one that gets the punchy V6 as well as wheel-mounted gearshift paddles.
The Altima’s seats are worthy of mention. Nissan boasts that they borrowed technology from NASA to develop its zero gravity design for the driver and passenger seats – claiming they position occupants in a posture similar to that achieved in a weightless environment. This, they say, makes them especially comfortable on a long journey – a claim we sadly didn’t get to test.
However the Altima showed itself to be a serene place to be on the open road on our shortish weekend trip.
In both engine configurations we found the Altima to be impressively smooth and quiet, thanks to unobtrusive engine performance coupled to a smooth-changing CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission) which Nissan calls Xtronic.
While I’ve been a critic of these gearboxes in the past, it seems to work very adequately in the Altima – particularly when matched to the V6 where the engine’s torquey power is seen to good effect.
In the four-cylinder variant, it’s equally smooth except when the car is asked to accelerate vigorously, which causes the engine to roar and rev more than seems necessary. Once up and rolling, though, the CVT combines smooth operation with a long-legged, loping feel when cruising.
That’s reflected in the fuel consumption – the V6 uses 9.3L/100km while the 2.5-litre four sips as little as 7.5L/100km. That’s impressive for a biggish machine.
The Altima’s cockpit is thoughtfully produced, if a little uninspired. A central touch-screen gives access to satellite navigation (standard on all models except the ST), a high-quality Bose audio system (also standard on all but the base model) plus various vehicle settings.
Instruments are clear and easily read, as is the trip computer which features a comprehensive range of information including instant and average fuel consumption, range, and, where appropriate, navigation directions.
Despite its reasonably sleek, elegant design, the Altima manages to deliver vast interior space. We were able to fit half of my son’s high school basketball team in without discomfort – including a rear-seat passenger who stands 2m tall (six-feet eight in the old scale). The boot is also usefully roomy, with ample width and depth for at least three full-sized sets of golf clubs.
So the Altima is well-suited to all manner of sporting pursuits – even if it never wins Bathurst.
DETAILS: Four-door, five-seat full-sized sedan with choice of four-cylinder or six-cylinder petrol engines, Constantly Variable transmission.
TECH STUFF: 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine produces 127kW, 230Nm; 3.5-litre V6 produces 183kW, 312Nm; X-Tronic CVT transmission has manual sport mode with gearshift paddles on Ti-S model.
FEATURES: Driver and passenger front, side and curtain airbags, Vehicle Dynamic Control, active understeer control, traction control ABS with electronic distribution and brake assist; alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, BOSE audio with seven-inch colour display, satellite navigation, electric seats, windows and mirrors, auto headlights and wipers.
THIRST: 7.5L/100km (four-cylinder); 9.3L/100km (V6).
VERDICT: Built for comfort, not for speed.
BOTTOM LINE: From $29,990; as tested $35,890 (ST-L); $45,390 (Ti-S).