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#8

in 2011 Affordable Midsize Cars

Avg. Price Paid: $12,661 - $19,112
Original MSRP: $20,270 - $30,540
MPG: 23 City / 31 Hwy
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2011 Nissan Altima Performance

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

The 2011 Nissan Altima is a good performer, provided you pick the right engine. With a 3.5-liter V6 and the standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), the automotive press says the Altima can be pretty fun to drive.

Among affordable midsize sedans, the Nissan Altima falls in the middle because it’s not as speedy as the Ford Fusion or Mazda6. While the Nissan Altima is easily topped by its competition in terms of performance, reviewers still say it’s a solid daily driver that has a bit of pep.

  • "This is an agreeable sedan with a bit of poke." -- AutoWeek
  • "Even with the CVT, however, the Altima is blessed with a willing chassis and taut ride and thus remains one of the better drivers within the mid-size-sedan class certainly more fun than the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata. We’ll have to arrange another comparison, however, to see how the Altima stacks up against the refreshed Ford Fusion." -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

The automotive press is satisfied with the Nissan Altima’s performance, but the fun factor depends on the engine you choose.

The Nissan Altima is available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower or a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 270 horsepower. Neither power figure is unusual for the midsize class. Reviewers prefer the V6 engine because it’s faster and adds a sporty touch to this affordable midsize sedan. If you do select the four-cylinder engine, some reviewers say you won’t be too disappointed. Its performance is still one of the best in its class.

Altima sedans can only be purchased with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As a gearless transmission, the CVT has an infinite number of gear ratios that shift independently of the driver and improve fuel economy. 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 a conventional 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 reports that a four-cylinder Altima should get 23/32 mpg city/highway, while a V6 model should get 20/27.

  • "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
  • "The four-cylinder-powered Altimas are understandably less thrilling, though they are still more involving to drive than many rivals, thanks to the Nissan's communicative steering and composed chassis." -- Edmunds
  • "The engine doesn't seem powerful from the specifications, but the CVT manages to make use of it well. A CVT doesn't have fixed gears, instead relying on bands, tensioners, and pulleys to produce an almost infinite number of ratios. But Nissan's real secret is its programming, which tells the CVT which range of ratios to use depending on engine speed, throttle input, and other data." -- CNET
  • "With the V-6, Altima is quick and quiet; with the 4, it's a little less quick and a lot less quiet." -- Chicago Tribune

Handling and Braking

The 2011 Nissan Altima definitely isn’t the fastest or sportiest car on the market, but the industry agrees that it provides a comfortable ride. The Altima’s handling is even a bit sporty -- thanks to slight understeer -- which is a nice touch for a car in this price range. If you want a more sophisticated handler, try the Honda Accord or Ford Fusion

  • “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
  • "While not quite as dynamically sophisticated as the Honda Accord, the Altima's suspension soaks up minor road imperfections while delivering a comfortable and well-controlled ride over most surfaces." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Handling in the Altima Coupe is similar to the power train, in that it's not at the top of the sporting class, but can still deliver some thrills. When pushed around a hard corner, the car stays composed up to a point, helped by stabilizer bars in the suspension, standard equipment in all Altimas. Its capabilities are mostly in line with a car in its class; get too crazy with it and the front-wheel-drive front end will head in the wrong direction." -- CNET
  • "Ride is economy-car soft to cushion bumps that lead to bruises. Handling is econocar as well, and not as pinpoint in sharp turns or twisties. To enjoy top mileage in a roomy sedan, you have to make a sacrifice or two, and sports car-like maneuverability is one. But standard stability and traction control ensure that this less-than-track-ready Altima will grip pavement when and where needed, even when wet." -- Chicago Tribune

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