“Never judge a book by its cover” as the old adage implores and I would ask you apply this to the Nissan Altima before passing any judgement, or at least read this review before making up your mind.
At first glance, the Altima might come across as a rather sedate, unpretentious family saloon, ready to provide years of undemanding service. It is unquestionably that, but it’s also so much more. I’m not often taken by surprise with cars, but I have to say that the Altima had a couple of tricks up its sleeve that I wasn’t expecting.
For a start, it is surprisingly fast. After a slight hesitation when you put your foot down, it really gets going as the 2.5-litre engine does its work and the 182 horses are released into a gallop. There’s not so much a throaty roar but a gentle whisper; this car is ridiculously quiet and smooth, even at full speed, so it’s a bit of a shock when you glance at the speedometer and realise just how fast you’re actually going (sorry Nissan if there are any speeding tickets!).
To me, that’s the essence of the Altima. It’s not one for ostentatiousness or bragging about its abilities; it prefers a low-key approach and lets the performance do the talking. It’s like the reserved partygoer who spends all night talking quietly in the corner and then later, to everyone’s surprise, at the end of the evening turns out to the best dancer at the party.
I was driving the top of the range 2.5 model, the SL P1, which comes fully loaded with an impressive spec sheet. The trim below, the SV P8, apparently sells very well, but I like the sporty touches that your extra rials buy, such as the leather-wrapped steering wheel, a Bose sound system and seven-inch touchscreen.
Outwardly, as I’ve said, it looks anything but racy – those in need of something flashier should probably look elsewhere – but this is pitched at the family segment, so it does need to be fairly reserved. Where it will excite you is the space and performance.
Inside, it’s absolutely cavernous. I’m tall and still had acres of room to stretch my legs in the sprawling cabin. Even the rear seats, which can be a bit mean with leg space in saloons, were exceptionally generous with ample room for three adults to feel more than comfortable on a long journey. Rear passengers also enjoy air conditioning.
The boot is massive, stretching on and on. You could rent it out as a room it’s so big. And it can easily swallow up the usual family paraphernalia, from pushchairs to scooters and bikes.
This top trim Altima came with lots of goodies, such as a rear view camera and moving object detection, along with blind spot detection. Also useful is the lane departure warning, although as I’m a bit “loose” with my driving sometimes it kept beeping, which was annoying, but also kept me on the straight and narrow, quite literally. The active understeer control is also pretty neat, sensing under or oversteer and subtly applying brake power to correct it, giving the driver an invisible hand. I didn’t notice it happening, but I’m sure the system was working overtime with me at the wheel.
There’s Bluetooth, with my iPhone connecting easily, allowing access to phone contacts and music, and a terrific Bose system with top sound quality (and thumping bass). I also liked the funky 3D TFT display above the dials, giving driver information.
The navigation system was easy to work and delivered me safely from A to B with the minimum of fuss. Even better was the smart key entry, which allows you to open and close the car doors without the need to have the key in your hand. Struggling with bags of shopping while trying to find the key, I really appreciated this function. The remote engine starter is also very useful, especially handy during the summer months when it allows you to get the air conditioning on and the car cooled for your arrival.
By the end of a day with the Altima I felt very attached to it. Which is strange as it’s not my usual type of car with my preference for sportier models, but the Altima is just so easy to like. It’s great to drive, incredibly comfortable and very driver friendly.
Beneath the ordinary façade is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and you don’t need a family to appreciate it.