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nissan altima

Nissan Altima 2002-2006

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.
Interior (2002-04)
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.

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.

Nissan Altima interior, dash The new for '05 dash was a big improvement.
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 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.

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.

Model Year 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 now available. V6 power boost to 250hp. SE-R performance model debuts with 6-speed manual transmission and 260hp.

2006: No major changes, last year for this design.

The usual modern sedan caveat applies here. On paper the cargo volume looks great but the short trunk lid prohibits anything of size from fitting.  Keep your items small, though, and you'll find plenty of room.

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 (Nissan CVT 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.

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.

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.

Vehicle Specifications

Trim Levels: Base, S, SL, SE
Body Style: 4-dr Sedan
Layout: Front-engine, Front-wheel drive

2.5L (4cyl/170-175hp)
3.5L (6cyl/240-260hp)

5-speed manual/4spd automatic w/od
5-speed automatic with manual shift (2005-2006)
6-speed manual (SE-R)

Dimensions & Capacities (rounded)

Weight: 3000-3300 lbs;
Length: 191.5"
Wheelbase: 110.2"
Width: 70.4"
Height: 57.9"
 EPA Mileage: (city/hwy) US

(2.5L/5M) 23/29
(2.5L/Auto) 23/29
(3.5L/5M) 21/26
(3.5L/Auto) 19/26

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: ****

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

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