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#14

in 2009 Affordable Midsize Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $10,280 - $14,855
Original MSRP: $19,900 - $29,380
MPG: 23 City / 32 Hwy
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2009 Nissan Altima Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

Reviewers agree, the 2009 Nissan Altima has one trump card --- its sporty handling. In the corners, the Altima feels almost like a more expensive sport sedan. Its available 3.5-liter V6 engine provides plenty of power, and most reviewers have driven that model. But with fuel-efficiency becoming a more important concern, its respectable base four-cylinder is winning more attention this year.

  • +"Performance-oriented drivers looking for a modicum of fun -- even if the constraints of frugality, fuel economy, or family rule the purchasing decision -- will naturally gravitate toward the Altima." -- BusinessWeek
  • The V6 Altima is "a sharply styled sedan that cranks out 270 horsepower, corners like a go-kart and doesn't vacuum all the cash out of your savings account." -- Arizona Republic
  • "There's plenty of power, the CVT actually does an admirable job of maximizing the four-cylinder's output (high praise coming from one who generally dislikes CVTs), and the steering is tight and fairly responsive." -- Autobytel

Acceleration and Power

The Altima's base four-cylinder engine puts out a class-competitive 175 horsepower, which many reviewers say is all you need. With an EPA rating of 23/32 mpg city/highway, it may be the model most buyers choose this year. The available 3.5-liter V6 ups the ante with 270 horsepower, and it doesn't fail to impress any test drivers. The EPA says that model gets 19/27 mpg. What does fail to impress reviewers is the manual transmission Nissan installs in some Altimas - the word "rubbery" comes up in more than one review. Most reviewers agree that the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a better choice.

  • +"Conventional 4-cylinder models with CVT automatic are sprightly from a stop and show good highway passing response. V6 versions are stronger in all situations." -- Consumer Guide
  • "Altima's four-cylinder engine delivers competent performance, so there's less reason to pay more now at the dealer and more later at the gas pump." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "My test vehicle came with the optional 3.5-liter V-6 that pushes 270 horsepower and 258-pound-feet of torque. It will push you back in the seat and hold you there when you blast off." -- Detroit News
  • "While other manufacturers continue to ponder the CVT, Nissan cozies up further to the stepless transmission. Its newfound ability to read drivers' wishes to deliver instant acceleration -- and mileage on par with the manual -- make it an appealing alternative." -- Automobile Magazine
  • The manual "is to be avoided unless you absolutely must shift your own gears, as its rubbery feel and remarkably imprecise throws are only fit for the most automatic-averse consumers." -- Edmunds

Handling and Braking

In comparison tests with other midsize cars, the Altima invariably wins praise for its handling and balance, thanks to its well-built chassis and sport-tuned suspension. A few reviewers say the electric power steering feels too light - but this is largely a matter of taste. Some also find that the brakes are not as responsive as desired.

  • "Strangely, the Altima's steering is way overboosted at around-town speeds, so it's difficult to duck smoothly into holes in the urban traffic stream, but as you wheel the Altima down a winding two-lane, the steering tightens up considerably, and it's easy to carve an accurate line." -- Automobile Magazine
  • "While not quite as dynamically sophisticated as the new Accord, the Altima's suspension soaks up minor road imperfections while delivering a comfortable and well-controlled ride over most surfaces." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "The car handles with almost sports-car precision, and was quite capable of handling the curvy country roads with the ease of a sports car." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • "It is hard to resist a little back road mischief with the coupe. Its fully independent suspension, with struts and coil springs up front and a multilink rear setup, loves to caress the road." -- New York Times
  • "My only caveat is that the brakes felt a bit touchy to me, on or off rather than progressive" --  BusinessWeek

Next Steps: 2009 Nissan Altima

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