2009 Nissan Altima

Tough Love - It’s not called Accord or Camry for a reason

2009 Nissan Altima

FAST FACTS

1. V6 engine option delivers 270 horsepower

2. 4-cylinder and Hybrid models for the fuel-conscious

3. Bose audio system is available

Mid-sized sedans are the bread and butter transportation of America. Perennial favorites, Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, reign supreme as far as the sales charts are concerned.

And herein lies the problem: to have any chance of success against the most popular in the class, the car must be different enough to get attention — but not so different you’ll alienate buyers.

The 2009 Nissan Altima is one of the best alternatives to the norm. With just enough sportiness and style to differentiate it, it still fits nicely in the mid-sized category thanks to the obligatory beige paint.

PRICING

For a base price of $19,900, the Altima 2.5 offers a competent, yet slightly drab package. For $5780 more (a total of $25,680), you can get into the version we’ll focus on here, the V6-powered 3.5 SE. With a stout 270 horsepower through the front wheels and mated to a continuously-variable transmission, the car is capable of 0-60 mph in just over 6 seconds.

Competitive because it’s within only a few hundred dollars of other V6-powered sedans in its class, like the Honda Accord EX-V6, for $26,605; Camry SE V6, for $28,565; and the Mazda 6 s Sport, for $24,330. Horsepower, ever-important in this class, puts the Altima within two of the class-leading 272-hp Mazda — and two ahead of the 268-hp Camry.

If you’re more environmentally-conscious, the Hybrid costs $26,650 — and built using a Nissan motor and transmission, mated to a licensed-from-Toyota hybrid system. Who says competitors can’t get along?

WHAT ABOUT THE TWISTIES?

Sure, all this talk of horsepower is wonderful if you live in a world with no corners. The Altima is nearly tops in its class when it comes to on-road feel, as well. The feeling starts inside, where a raked dashboard, simple black materials, and meaty steering wheel impart a sense of performance.

You may think I’m swilling too much marketing juice, but believe me, driver comfort and driving feel mean nearly as much as the car underneath.

While not exactly a class-leader in terms of outright cornering performance (the Mazda 6 takes that accolade), the Nissan slots in as second-best. Credit goes to its firm-yet-not-jarring ride, allowing you to have fun in the corners without headbanging over railroad tracks.

SAFETY AND FEATURES

A full suite of airbags is available from the very base 4-cylinder model, with dual front, side, and curtain airbags; traction control, ABS, tire-pressure monitoring system, active front head restraints, and an energy-absorbing steering column. Stability control is a standalone $600 option, or bundled with HID headlights, fog lights, and a rear spoiler in the $1,490 Sport Package.

Additionally, the Altima holds the highest rating of “Good” in every IIHS crash test.

Inside, standard-fare includes Nissan’s “Intelligent Key” with push-button ignition, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering column, nine cupholders (gotta stay hydrated somehow!), power adjustable driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input jack, and vehicle immobilizer system.

I alluded to this earlier, but some of the Altima’s packaged options are a technophile’s dream: the $2,460 Premium package adds heated seats, a Bluetooth hands-free system, XM Satellite Radio with a three month subscription, dual-zone climate control and homelink universal garage door opener. Finally, the $2,000 Technology package brings a touchscreen navigation system with 6.5” display, steering wheel-mounted nav controls, a rear view camera and XM “NavTraffic” realtime traffic data and re-routing — you know, so you don’t spend your holidays stuck on the Interstate.

THE VERDICT

It may not be a Camry or Accord, but that doesn’t mean the Altima isn’t worth a look. From its advanced technological features to its sporty-yet-livable performance, the car cuts a firm line between “drab” and “sporty”.

POSITVE

Styling On-road driving feel High-tech options

NEGATIVE

Image V6 engine models can be a handful Resale value

A potential downfall is its resale value, still not yet up to the levels of the class leaders — meaning if you keep the car for a year or two, expect it to be worth less than the equivalent Toyota or Honda. If you’re buying the car on its merits or plan on leasing it for a long time, the resale value isn’t as big a factor.

Obviously, it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but its mix of competitive pricing, good reliability record, and made in the USA to boot (either in Smyrna, Tennessee or Canton, Mississippi) — the Altima is definitely worth a test drive.

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