Nissan has launched its new Altima sedan to compete against some of the big guns in the Australian mid-sized sedan market. The name Altima has become familiar to Aussie motorsport enthusiasts with the entry of two teams into the 2013 V8 Supercars Championship. These cars are heavily modified versions of the road going Altima and – no doubt to the disappointment of its fans – buyers won't get the option of the racecar's V8 engine.
With large passenger cars sales continuing to slide downwards Nissan feels there's an opening for Altima in the medium car segment. The Altima is marginally longer than the discontinued Nissan Maxima and has the same choice of four and six-cylinder engines.
While the Nissan Maxima was up against the locally-produced Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, Altima will take on fellow Japanese rivals such as Toyota Camry/Aurion, Mazda6 and Honda Accord, and perhaps steal some sales from the big Holdens and Fords as well.
PRICE / FEATURES
The Altima kicks off with the ST 2.5-litre at $29,990, followed by the ST-L 2.5-litre at $35,890, the Ti 2.5-litre at $40,190 and the top-spec Ti-S 3.5-litre for $45,390. The first three levels get four-cylinder engines while the flagship Altima Ti-S has a V6 engine.
Standard across the Nissan Altima range are Bluetooth telephone; cruise control; tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment; dual zone air conditioning; push button engine start; rear seat centre armrest; rear cargo tie-down hooks; speed-sensitive windscreen wipers; headlight washers; automatic headlights; and LED taillights.
The ST-L adds a larger dashboard display (7-inch rather than 5-inch); satellite navigation; rear view camera; Bluetooth audio streaming; leather steering wheel and seat trim; powered front seats; and front and rear parking sensors.
All Nissan models come with a three year / 100,000 kilometre warranty with 24-hour roadside assist and capped price servicing for the first 12 x 10,000 km service intervals.
Altima matches the stylish looks that made the Maxima such an eye-catching car. The front is dominated by the big, aggressive Nissan grille with the swooping rear profile giving Altima a sporty look.
Inside there's a nicely laid out cabin and good leg and head room. Altima is slightly wider than Maxima and this brings it closer to a three-adult rear seat. Seats are comfortable and supportive with a luxury ambience that belies the sub-$30,000 starting price.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The four-cylinder Altima engine has marginally less power (127 kW) compared to the 134 kW of the Maxima 2.5-litre, but slightly more torque (230 Nm against 228 Nm). It's a similar story with the respective V6 model with the Altima (183 kW / 312 Nm) in the same ball park as the 3.5-litre Maxima (185 kW / 326 Nm).
Both engines are mated to continually variable transmissions (CVT) with the Ti-S having a six-step manual override mode with paddle shifts. Nissan was one of the pioneers of CVTs and that experience shows with the latest X-Tronic system much quieter, so less likely to annoy driving purists.
Standard features in all Altima models include the comprehensive safety gear we expect: multiple airbags, stability and traction control, ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution.
Isofix child restraint anchorages are also standard as is Active Understeer Control which uses the stability and traction control systems to control braking and reduce the risk of understeer.
The top-specced Altima Ti and Ti-S models add an Intelligent Technology Suite (ITS) which, dare we say it, assists the careless driver by providing blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and moving object detection.
The Altima launch drive program combined a 250-kilometre road route to the east of Melbourne capped off with a special treat – a couple of quick laps around the Phillip Island racetrack led by Nissan Motorsport driver Todd Kelly as the two teams prepared their cars for this weekend's V8 Supercars round.
Like Maxima before it Altima is a commuting car with no real sporting pretensions and it does this supremely well. It will come as no surprise that the V6 has more punch and refinement than its four-cylinder sibling but the latter will provide more than enough performance for the city commuter who's not keen on the price surcharge and higher fuel consumption.
Published fuel usage is 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres from the four and 9.3 L/100 km from the V6. The short legs in our drive program didn't allow us to take reliable on-road readings but we'll do so when we carry out our extended road test.
Where we were surprised was in the critical passing speeds of 80 km/h to 120 km/h where the CVT and engine combined beautifully for fast, safe overtaking with a minimum of fuss. Inside the cabin there's little NVH to complain of. The parking brake is of the push-on push-off pedal type – not one of our favourites.
The new Nissan Altima adds another serious alternative in the competitive Australian medium car market. It carries over the size, style and prestige feel of the outgoing Maxima but with a sub-$30,000 starting price.
Nissan Altima ST - from $29,990
Nissan Altima ST-L - from $35,890
Nissan Altima Ti - from $40,190
Nissan Altima Ti-S V6 - from $45,390
Nissan Altima Ti-S
Price: from $45,390
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Capped servicing: optional (6 years/120,000km)
Service interval: 6 months/10,000km
Safety: Not tested
Engine: 3.5-litre V6, 185kW/326Nm
Transmission: CVT; FWD
Thirst: 9.3L/100km, 91 RON, 216g/km CO 2
Dimensions: 4.9m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)