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#12

in 2010 Affordable Midsize Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,064 - $17,054
Original MSRP: $19,900 - $30,100
MPG: 23 City / 32 Hwy
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2010 Nissan Altima Performance

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

In terms of performance, most affordable midsize sedans fall into two groups. One group is made up of solid choices that you can depend on in a daily commute, but that are more oriented toward comfort than fun. The Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata are solid choices if comfort is your main concern. The second group, however, try to make day-to-day driving fun, with sporty handling and a touch of stoplight-to-stoplight speed. The Nissan Altima is among the best of that group, though the Ford Fusion and Mazda6 are also worth a look.

The Altima isn’t particularly powerful. Its two available engines are just typical for its class. But its handling is sharp, and reviewers are fond of its unusual continuously variable transmission, though some lament that a six-speed manual is no longer available on Altima sedans.

  • "From an enthusiast's viewpoint, these Nissan sedans impress with their well-snubbed suspension that delivers a good blend of comfort and sport." -- Road and Track
  • +“The Altima is more of a sports-oriented car with the conveniences of a typical family car.” -- Edmunds
  • 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

Acceleration and Power

The Nissan Altima is available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower (five more than last year’s four-cylinder), or a 3.5-liter V6 putting out 270 horsepower. Neither power figure is unusual for the midsize class. These days, few midsize cars vary from those numbers much. But reviewers say that in the Altima, both engines feel a little stronger than what many automakers have to offer.

The Altima’s four-cylinder, however, is quick enough that it should make you question seriously whether you need the added cost and lower fuel economy of the V6.

This year, Altima sedans can only be purchased with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A gearless transmission, it requires no shifting from the driver, like an automatic. A handful of manufacturers have moved toward CVTs in this class in recent years, as they can be more fuel-efficient, and require less maintenance, than automatic transmissions. The Subaru Legacy, Toyota Prius and Suzuki Kizashi all feature CVTs. Reviewers often say that Nissan’s is the best in the business, but some are still bothered by the lack of traditional gears. A CVT brings on power in one constant smooth line, without the shifting feel of an automatic.

A six-speed manual transmission is available on Altima coupes, but reviewers have more negative comments about that stick shift than they do about most others in this class. 

The EPA claims that a four-cylinder Altima should get 23 mpg in city driving and 32 on the highway, while a V6 model should get 18/27.

  • "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
  • "Even the four-cylinder engine offers good performance, though, so it's fun and fuel-efficient at the same time." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • "The four-cylinder engine may be the more prudent choice, given the reality check of today's gas prices. 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
  • “We actually recommend the CVT over the six-speed manual. It is by far the best CVT we've tested, thanks to its responsiveness and use of available power. The manual gearbox falls short, with its sudden clutch engagement, weak shifter and sloppy gear selection.” -- Edmunds
  • “About our only gripe is the CVT, which works fine in everyday light-throttle driving but is not especially sporty or satisfying when the car is being driven hard.” -- Road and Track

Handling and Braking

In comparison tests with other midsize cars, the Altima invariably wins praise for its handling and balance. The Altima is the lightest car in its class, and with a well-built chassis and sport-tuned suspension, it can be fun to drive. A few reviewers say the electric steering assist is too sensitive, making the steering feel too light -- but this is largely a matter of taste. Some also find that the brakes are not as responsive as desired.

  • "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. The power steering is speed-sensitive, and there was no wallowing. Sports cars are supposed to feel like that, but it's rare for a car that's designed as an everyday driver that can carry the whole family." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • "Sedans have nicely damped body motions and direct, if a bit light, steering. The steering in one 3.5 SE coupe we tested was light and devoid of road feel. It also suffered from more body lean than we would have expected from a coupe with sporting intentions. The brakes offer generally good stopping control, though one test model suffered from touchy pedal action." -- Consumer Guide
  • "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
  • "The Coupe also trumps the Sedan in sheer handling prowess. Its shorter wheelbase and modestly tauter tuning of its front-strut/rear-multilink suspension helps offset a slightly greater front-weight bias, imparting a sportier overall feel and quicker responses to driver inputs." -- Motor Trend
  • "The Altima coupe feels quick and nimble. The specially tuned suspension provides more performance than the sedan you find yourself on the edge of the seat, wanting to push this car a little harder. Every time you do, the Altima coupe responds. The rack-and-pinion steering holds your line through big turns, feels well weighted and has a nice return to center." -- Detroit News
  • "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

In terms of performance, most affordable midsize sedans fall into two groups. One group is made up of solid choices that you can depend on in a daily commute, but that are more oriented toward comfort than fun. The Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata are solid choices if comfort is your main concern. The second group, however, try to make day-to-day driving fun, with sporty handling and a touch of stoplight-to-stoplight speed. The Nissan Altima is among the best of that group, though the Ford Fusion and Mazda6 are also worth a look.

The Altima isn’t particularly powerful. Its two available engines are just typical for its class. But its handling is sharp, and reviewers are fond of its unusual continuously variable transmission, though some lament that a six-speed manual is no longer available on Altima sedans.

  • "From an enthusiast's viewpoint, these Nissan sedans impress with their well-snubbed suspension that delivers a good blend of comfort and sport." -- Road and Track
  • +“The Altima is more of a sports-oriented car with the conveniences of a typical family car.” -- Edmunds
  • 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

Acceleration and Power

The Nissan Altima is available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower (five more than last year’s four-cylinder), or a 3.5-liter V6 putting out 270 horsepower. Neither power figure is unusual for the midsize class. These days, few midsize cars vary from those numbers much. But reviewers say that in the Altima, both engines feel a little stronger than what many automakers have to offer.

The Altima’s four-cylinder, however, is quick enough that it should make you question seriously whether you need the added cost and lower fuel economy of the V6.

This year, Altima sedans can only be purchased with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A gearless transmission, it requires no shifting from the driver, like an automatic. A handful of manufacturers have moved toward CVTs in this class in recent years, as they can be more fuel-efficient, and require less maintenance, than automatic transmissions. The Subaru Legacy, Toyota Prius and Suzuki Kizashi all feature CVTs. Reviewers often say that Nissan’s is the best in the business, but some are still bothered by the lack of traditional gears. A CVT brings on power in one constant smooth line, without the shifting feel of an automatic.

A six-speed manual transmission is available on Altima coupes, but reviewers have more negative comments about that stick shift than they do about most others in this class. 

The EPA claims that a four-cylinder Altima should get 23 mpg in city driving and 32 on the highway, while a V6 model should get 18/27.

  • "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
  • "Even the four-cylinder engine offers good performance, though, so it's fun and fuel-efficient at the same time." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • "The four-cylinder engine may be the more prudent choice, given the reality check of today's gas prices. 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
  • “We actually recommend the CVT over the six-speed manual. It is by far the best CVT we've tested, thanks to its responsiveness and use of available power. The manual gearbox falls short, with its sudden clutch engagement, weak shifter and sloppy gear selection.” -- Edmunds
  • “About our only gripe is the CVT, which works fine in everyday light-throttle driving but is not especially sporty or satisfying when the car is being driven hard.” -- Road and Track

Handling and Braking

In comparison tests with other midsize cars, the Altima invariably wins praise for its handling and balance. The Altima is the lightest car in its class, and with a well-built chassis and sport-tuned suspension, it can be fun to drive. A few reviewers say the electric steering assist is too sensitive, making the steering feel too light -- but this is largely a matter of taste. Some also find that the brakes are not as responsive as desired.

  • "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. The power steering is speed-sensitive, and there was no wallowing. Sports cars are supposed to feel like that, but it's rare for a car that's designed as an everyday driver that can carry the whole family." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • "Sedans have nicely damped body motions and direct, if a bit light, steering. The steering in one 3.5 SE coupe we tested was light and devoid of road feel. It also suffered from more body lean than we would have expected from a coupe with sporting intentions. The brakes offer generally good stopping control, though one test model suffered from touchy pedal action." -- Consumer Guide
  • "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
  • "The Coupe also trumps the Sedan in sheer handling prowess. Its shorter wheelbase and modestly tauter tuning of its front-strut/rear-multilink suspension helps offset a slightly greater front-weight bias, imparting a sportier overall feel and quicker responses to driver inputs." -- Motor Trend
  • "The Altima coupe feels quick and nimble. The specially tuned suspension provides more performance than the sedan you find yourself on the edge of the seat, wanting to push this car a little harder. Every time you do, the Altima coupe responds. The rack-and-pinion steering holds your line through big turns, feels well weighted and has a nice return to center." -- Detroit News
  • "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

Next Steps: 2010 Nissan Altima

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