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2002-2006

Nissan Altima

 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 past.

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.

 Strengths

Weaknesses

Styling

Performance

Reliability

Resale Value

Interior (2002-2004)

Road noise

 

 

What's Available

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.

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

Room/Comfort

Front seat buckets are fairly large, firm and comfortable.  There is plenty 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 headliner.

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. .

Ride/Handling/Performance

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.

Safety

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.

Reliability/Service

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.

Recommendations

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 some performance  behind it, then the V6 deserves a hard look.  We prefer the later models with the reworked interior.

The Altima 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.

Running Changes

2002: All-new design.

2003: V6 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..

 

 

General Specifications

 

General

Trim Levels: Base, S, SL, SE

Body Styles: 4-dr Sedan

Dimensions & Capacities (rounded)

Weight: 3000-3300 lbs;

Length: 191.5"

Wheelbase: 110.2"

Width: 70.4"

Height: 57.9"

EPA Class: Midsize

Interior Vol:  102.8 cu ft.

Trunk Vol : 15.6 cu ft

Fuel: 20 gallons

 

Mechanical

Layout: Front-engine, Front-wheel drive

Engines:

2.5L (4cyl/170-175hp)

3.5L (6cyl/240-260hp)

 

Transmission: 5-speed manual/4spd automatic w/od

5-speed automatic with manual shift (2005-2006)

6-speed manual (SE-R)

Brakes: Front disc/rear disc

EPA Mileage: (city/hwy)

(2.5L/5M) 23/29

(2.5L/Auto) 23/29

(3.5L/5M) 21/26

(3.5L/Auto) 19/26

 

Safety

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:

Front:  Driver & Passenger ****

Side: Front ***  Rear ****

Rollover: ****

Key:

Best: ***** No or minor injuries probable

Worst: * Serious injury probable

IIHS Overall Crash Rating:

Good

Original Warranty:

3yr/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, 5yr/60,000 mile powertrain

 

Safety Recalls

Recall Date:  AUG 18, 2006 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 200,500

 Problem
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.

Action:
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 parts

Recall Date:  DEC 09, 2005 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 411,000

Problem:
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 the vehicle.

Action:
For vehicles believed by Nissan to be registered in one of the “salt” states (listed on the next page) where this condition is more likely to occur, Nissan is conducting a Service Campaign. On most vehicles, Nissan will replace the rear sub-frame assembly. On some 2005 Model Year vehicles, where sub-frame replacement is not necessary, Nissan will replace and seal the front bushings and seal the rear bushings.

Due to the number of vehicles affected by this action, the Service Campaign is being implemented in phases by model year. The implementation will begin with model year 2002 vehicles which have a higher likelihood of corrosion, and also with model year 2005 vehicles, which may require the less extensive repair.

Recall Date:  JUL 14, 2005 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 308,000

Problem:
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.

Action:
To prevent this from occurring, Nissan is conducting a Service Campaign to inspect the headlamp assemblies and then install a halogen terminal ground plate kit and, if needed, install a new low beam Halogen bulb. In a limited number of cases, the headlamp assembly may require replacement.

Recall Date:  SEP 18, 2003 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 268000

Problemt:
ON CERTAIN VEHICLES EQUIPPED WITH THE 2.5 LITER ENGINE, THE EXHAUST PIPE HANGER PIN MAY CATCH DEBRIS FROM THE ROAD THAT COULD BE IGNITED BY CONTACT WITH THE MAIN CATALYST.  THIS CONDITION COULD RESULT IN A FIRE.

Action:
DEALERS WILL REMOVE THE PROTRUDING PORTION OF THE EXHAUST PIPE HANGER PIN. IN ADDITION TO THE CORRECTIVE ACTION, IN ORDER TO REDUCE THE RISK OF FIRE IN THE EVENT OF POOR OR IMPROPER MAINTENANCE THAT COULD RESULT IN OIL SPILLAGE, HEAT SHIELD(S) WILL BE INSTALLED ON THE PRE-CATALYST AND EXHAUST TUBE. OWNER NOTIFICATION IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN JULY 31, 2003. OWNERS WHO TAKE THEIR VEHICLES TO AN AUTHORIZED DEALER ON AN AGREED UPON SERVICE DATE AND DO NOT RECEIVE THE FREE REMEDY WITHIN A REASONABLE TIME SHOULD CONTACT NISSAN AT 1-800-647-7261.

Recall Date:  AUGUST 21, 2003 • Potential Number of Units Affected: 377,000

Problem:
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 CRYSTALS. THESE ICE CRYSTALS 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.

Action:
DEALERS WILL INSTALL A SCREEN AT THE SUCTION OPENING OF THE FUEL PUMP TO PREVENT ICE CRYSTALS FROM BLOCKING THE OPENING. OWNER NOTIFICATION BEGAN ON AUGUST 18, 2003. OWNERS SHOULD CONTACT NISSAN AT 1-800-333-0829

 

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