Earlier this year, Nissan took the unprecedented step of entering the V8 Supercar Championship with a vehicle that nobody in this country could buy - the Altima. At the time they didn’t have the stock to sell, but now the Nissan factory in Thailand is producing our quota and the Altima is rolling into Australian showrooms.
However the V8 Supercar Altima is far removed from the one we can buy. Only the road car's panels are used by the racer.
PRICE AND RANGE
The Altima ST kicks off at $29,990. Next up is the ST-L for $35,890, the well-loaded Ti weighs in at $40,190 and the range-topping Ti-S is $45,390.
The entry level ST comes well-equipped - 16-inch alloy wheels, six speaker stereo with bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, power windows all round, auto headlights and washers and electric mirrors.
The ST-L, still with the 2.5 litre four, adds bigger wheels, sat-nav, parking sensors and reversing camera, Bose 9-speaker stereo. The ST-L also adds Nissan Connect smartphone integration so you can Google and Facebook on the move (!).
The Ti and Ti-S get bigger wheels again, 18-inch, blind spot warning and lane departure warning as well as moving object detection. The reversing camera is replaced with an around view monitor, xenon headlights are added, memory seats and rear-vision mirrors a power rear sunshade and dark glass on the rear windows.
All come with a three year/100,000km warranty and three year roadside assistance.
The Altima isn't actually a brand new car - it's been around in the US for over a year. Given its prevalence on the V8 grid, the shape is now quite familiar to race fans. It's a clean design, lifted in the Ti-S and it's certainly distinctive in its class, which Nissan is saying is mid-size.
The external design is sleek, but won't be getting the frameless-glasses types excited. It's a middle of the road look.
Inside is clean and simple. The instruments are clear and the central LED between tacho and speedo is of high resolution and a model of clarity. The big infotainment screen is easy to use and has a nice, mature interface and is simple to setup.
The same screen features one-touch options for Facebook, allowing you to pre-set a bunch of status updates as well as integrate more tightly with your smartphone.
While it hasn't yet been ANCAP tested, the company is confident of five ANCAP stars following a five star result in the US.
Standard across all cars is ABS, dynamic control, traction control, brake force distribution and brake assists and six airbags.
The Altima also features Active Understeer Control which nips the inside brakes if the front wheels misbehave and want to head in the opposite direction the steering is suggesting.
The entry level 2.5 litre four cylinder is naturally aspirated and good for 127kW and 230Nm of torque. It isn't bristling with technology, but is efficient with a claimed 7.5l/100km.
The 3.5 litre V6 puts out a stout 183kW and 316Nm of torque, with a claimed 9.3l/100km. The engine, codenamed VQ35 will be familiar to Murano owners.
Both engines are mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission, the Ti-S sporting paddle shifters to change between the artificial gears available in Sport mode.
The CVT is Nissan's next-generation Xtronic and features three modes - Normal, Eco and Sport. Normal mode is the default, just select Drive. Pull the shifter down in the Ds and you'll get sport where it apes a seven-speed auto and Eco will find the most fuel-efficient way of going forward.
Despite the V8 Supercar relationships, neither the four or six cylinder Altimas will be scaring any SS or FPV owners and Nissan is very firm that there will be no V8-engined car.
Both the four and the V6 are superbly refined - quiet and composed, they're even close to silent on the outside. With well-muted tyre and suspension noise and a seemingly slippery shape keeping wind noise to a minimum - it's as quiet as its likely close competitor, the Malibu.
The CVT is the best I've driven - the easy access to Sport mode coupled with well chosen ratios means an improved, if not particularly sporty, result.
They are both excellent, comfortable highway cruisers but given the US-spec suspension, it's a very soft car. The car rolls in corners, especially at the rear, but it never feels excessive even though it's quite pronounced when viewed from behind.
The V6 is fun, but the handling still lacks any real involvement. It's obviously not the for the sporting types, but look hard in this segment and there isn't a lot on offer. Why? Because not enough people want them, so it's not like Nissan are missing out on a big market.
The seats on all models don't lay any claim on being sporty, so there's a lot of sliding around, which is a bit of a shame.
All of these admittedly mild criticisms came to a head on the fast curves of Phillip Island. There's plenty of grip, but the car sits high on its springs through fast turns while the driver braces themselves against console and door.
The vast majority of Altima buyers are unlikely to care about that, though - the Altima delivers on what these buyers want, which is comfort and refinement.
Curiously, the Altima features hydraulic power steering, with the aim of providing better steering feel. It's not like a normal hydraulic system, though - it's run by an electric motor rather than straight off the engine.
The Altima is another entrant in the mid-pack of the mid-size sedan segment. It's got plenty of equipment to do battle with cars like the Mondeo, i40, Optima, Malibu and Liberty. The segment's leader, the Toyota Camry is a long, long way ahead, selling more than that lot combined.
However, there are still plenty of Maxima fans around and while Nissan says the name wasn't considered, it must have come up - it's a whisker smaller and its niche popularity must have been quite tempting.
As it stands, it's a comfortable family car, fleet types will like it and it has plenty of gear to keep prospective buyers entertained.