By the late
nineties, once strong Nissan was faltering badly. Their product was
competent, but uninspiring. Sales were slumping. Sure, the
redesigned Maxima was a contender
again, but overall, Nissan's reputation for performance that had begun with
the 1970 Datsun 240Z seemed to be a thing of the
Not to worry, the
all-new for 2002 Altima was a hit. Gone was
the bland, vanilla styling and personality of the previous version,
replaced with a smartly styled, well-balanced sedan. Equipped with
the optional Maxima V6, it was a rocket ship. For
Nissan as a whole, it built upon the successful redesigned for '99 Maxima and set the table for the new '03 Z-car.
Nissan was back.
Initially, the Altima came in one body style and 5 trim levels: Base,
S, SL (luxury version), and SE (sports version). A higher performance
model, the SE-R, was introduced 2005.
It includes forged 18-inch wheels, unique front fascia, rear
spoiler, high-flow mufflers, large diameter chrome dual exhaust finishers
and black leather-appointed sport seats. Most abundant are 2.5S models with
the four and an automatic.
Aggressive comes to
mind when describing the exterior styling of the Altima.
There are bulges, flares and character lines in all the right places.
The SL and SE models got standard alloys (16" and 17"
respectively), and the 16-inchers were optional on the other models.
The later SE-R boasted special 18” alloys.
Other than the
obligatory mid-model run "freshening", there were no major exterior
styling changes during the five years.
The weak link on the
earlier Altimas has to be the interior. It's
not bad, but in our eyes
it has none of the visual appeal of the exterior. Fit and finish are
ok, but the interior is really pretty plain--almost pedestrian looking.
The instrument panel of the 02 through 04 models
is particularly cheap looking. 2005 saw a major improvement in both
the design and materials of the cabin.
Regardless of the year,
however, everything works well, with logically
laid out controls and good tactile feedback.
Front seat buckets are
fairly large, firm and comfortable. There
of leg room for even tall drivers, and the standard tilt wheel is well
positioned. Headroom is good, but some of it is lost to the optional
sunroof. If you're 6' or so, make sure you're not brushing the
|The improved interior
for 2005 (below) included a richer looking dash, better materials, and
an overall visual enhancement.
Rear seat room is good,
though the stylish roofline cuts down on headroom. The front seats are
raised enough so passenger have extra room for their feet. Three
abreast will be fairly comfortable. That's typical in
most all mid-size sedans. The rear seat is split 60/40, and folds down
for hauling stuff.
Noise, vibration and
harshness was good, but not exceptional. The
V6 was noticeably better than the four. There was plenty of road
noise at speed.
Trunk space is very
good, but the short deck makes it impossible to fully utilize the space if
you have any kind of bulky cargo. .
We drove two four
cylinder models (2002 and 2004) and a 2005 SE V6.
All had automatic transmissions. The '02 model was the high mileage
tester, and had 89,000 miles. We
tried to find a manual V6, but couldn’t within our deadline.
The base models are
best described as competent in all three areas. The four cylinder makes a class leading 175hp and moves the Altima with some authority. The 240hp (bumped up
a bit in later years) six really scoots. The SE had a firmer ride
than the others, and an overall tighter, more buttoned down
feeling. The others weren't bad, though, just a little softer.
The 2002 model
exhibited some interior rattles and a general feeling of having loosened up
a bit. There was some slight front end and steering wheel shake over
larger bumps. Probably a strut issue, not uncommon for this mileage.
ABS brakes were
optional on all Altimas. An optional front
side curtain air bag system complemented the dual front bags.
Traction control was available on V6 models.
Government crash tests
of Altimas resulted in four stars for both the
driver and front passenger, with a good, but not great, showing overall.
No real problems here, with a solid performance
in all areas. Altimas
are covered by a standard 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper and
5-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty, leaving
many later models available with factory coverage. Service costs are
average for the segment.
For everyday use, the
4-cylinder versions do just fine, while providing very good fuel
economy. The V6 is really all fluff
– nice to have, but not necessary.
If you’re in the market for a reasonably priced family sedan with
behind it, then the V6 deserves a hard look. We prefer the later models with the
is a fine sedan. It holds it’s value well—even the oldest examples. Often a new model will be hot for a
couple years, and then begin to trail off.
The Altima has stayed strong, but that can
be a double edged sword in the used car market. We’d have to say there are better buys
out there in this class, but if you’re smitten with the design, there’s
nothing that we can think of that should stop you from owning one.
2002: All-new design.
gets a power bump to 245hp.
2004: No major changes.
2005: Many styling updates. Most significant is a greatly improved
interior. DVD Navigation system
now available. V6 bumped to
250hp. SE-R performance model
debuts with 6-speed manual and 260hp.
2006: No major changes. Last year for this design..
Levels: Base, S, SL, SE
Styles: 4-dr Sedan
Dimensions & Capacities (rounded)
Weight: 3000-3300 lbs;
EPA Class: Midsize
Interior Vol: 102.8 cu ft.
Trunk Vol : 15.6 cu ft
Fuel: 20 gallons
Transmission: 5-speed manual/4spd
5-speed automatic with manual shift
6-speed manual (SE-R)
ABS Brakes: Optional on all models early on, then made
standard on some 3.5L models in 2005
Air Bags: Dual front standard, front side optional
NHTSA Safety Rating:
Driver & Passenger ****
Side: Front *** Rear ****
Best: ***** No or minor injuries probable
Worst: * Serious injury probable
IIHS Overall Crash Rating:
3yr/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, 5yr/60,000 mile powertrain
Recall Date: AUG 18, 2006 • Potential
Number of Units Affected: 200,500
Nissan has determined that on some 2003 Altima and Sentra
vehicles with the 2.5 liter engine the operation of the crank angle sensor
is significantly affected by variations in temperature that occur due to
the unique location of the sensor in the engine. Under certain driving
conditions, these variations in temperature can be large enough to cause
a brief interruption in the signal output from the sensor.
If the interruption in the signal from the sensor is so brief that
the Electronic Control Module (ECM) logic does not have time to diagnose
the condition, the engine may stop running without warning while the vehicle
is driven at low speed.
In order to prevent this incident from occurring, Nissan
dealers will reprogram the Electronic Control Module. This free service
should take about one hour to complete, but the dealers may require your
vehicle for a longer period of time based upon their work schedule, or
Recall Date: DEC 09,
2005 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 411,000
On some model year 2002-2005 Nissan Altima and 2004-2005
Nissan Maxima vehicles, there is a possibility that corrosion of the
rear sub-frame may occur. Corrosion is most likely in cold climates
where heavy salting of roads is common practice in freezing conditions.
A mixture of road salt and water can promote corrosion in the rear
sub-frame bushings of some vehicles. In severe cases, cracking of the
rear sub-frame may occur, which may result in a knocking noise coming
from the rear of the vehicle. The performance or handling
characteristics of the vehicle are not affected and it is safe to drive
Recall Date: JUL 14, 2005
• Potential Number of Units Affected: 308,000
Nissan has determined that on some 2002 and 2003 model year
Nissan Altima vehicles, there is a possibility that a low beam Halogen
headlamp bulb may fail to illuminate due to a poor ground contact.
Recall Date: SEP 18,
2003 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 268000
Recall Date: AUGUST
21, 2003 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 377,000
ON CERTAIN PASSENGER
VEHICLES SOLD OR REGISTERED IN THE STATES OF ALASKA, COLORADO,
CONNECTICUT, IOWA, IDAHO, ILLINOIS, INDIANA, KANSAS, MASSACHUSETTS,
MAINE, MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA, MISSOURI, MONTANA, NORTH DAKOTA, NEBRASKA,
NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEW YORK, OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA, RHODE ISLAND, SOUTH
DAKOTA, UTAH, VERMONT, WISCONSIN, AND WYOMING. AT EXTREMELY COLD
TEMPERATURES, MOISTURE IN THE FUEL TANK COULD FREEZE AND FORM ICE
MAY OBSTRUCT THE SUCTION OPENING OF THE FUEL PUMP. THIS
CAN PREVENT THE SUPPLY OF FUEL TO THE ENGINE AND CAUSE THE ENGINE TO
STOP, WHICH COULD RESULT IN A CRASH WITHOUT WARNING.