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.
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.
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.
the year, however, everything works well, with logically laid out
controls and good tactile feedback.
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.
improved interior for 2005 (below) included a richer
looking dash, better materials, and an overall visual
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.
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
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.
tests of Altimas resulted in four stars
for both the driver and front passenger, with a good, but not great,
No real problems here, with a solid performance
in all areas. Fortunately,
none of these model use the troublesome CVT automatic introduced in
the Murano for 2003 (information).
Altimas are covered by a standard
3-year/60,000 km bumper-to-bumper and 5-year/100,000 km
powertrain warranty, leaving many later
models available with factory coverage. Service costs are average
for the segment.
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.
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
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.
2003: V6 gets a power bump to 245hp.
2004: No major
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
2006: No major
year for this design..
Base, S, SL, SE
Dimensions & Capacities (rounded)
Weight: 3000-3300 lbs;
102.8 cu ft.
Trunk Vol :
15.6 cu ft
Front-engine, Front-wheel drive
5-speed manual/4spd automatic w/od
5-speed automatic with manual shift
6-speed manual (SE-R)
Front disc/rear disc
Optional on all models early on, then made
standard on some 3.5L models in 2005
Dual front standard, front side optional
NHTSA Safety Rating:
Driver & Passenger ****
Side: Front ***
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
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
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
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
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
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.
CAN PREVENT THE SUPPLY OF FUEL TO THE ENGINE AND
CAUSE THE ENGINE TO STOP, WHICH COULD RESULT IN A
CRASH WITHOUT WARNING.