It's not often in the automotive world that a sequel to a great car is actually better than the original. However, the mandate given by Carlos Ghosn, head of Nissan and Renault, was just that. Make the new Nissan Altima for 2007 better in every way than the stunning 2002 Altima. Tall order, but the designers and engineers assigned to this project were more than up to the task.
When you walk around the car, you can see the similarities to the original design, but the new car seems cleaner and more flowing. The more I look at it the more the word, "inspired" comes to mind. This new Altima is simply beautiful from every angle.
The interior of the previous model needed some work. Oh, it was roomy and comfortable, but quality of the materials and the fit and finish was not up to par with the competition. This was one area that Nissan knew they needed improvement in.
Well, I can tell you that the interior of the new Altima certainly is better. New soft-touch surfaces on many interior panels along with sharper, easier to read "Fine Vision Gauges" give the Altima interior a more upscale look and feel.
The steering wheel is now adjustable for reach and height with a single lever action. Front seat cushions have been lengthened by 15 mm and rear seat legroom has been increased by 3.1 inches.
The excellent Nissan-Infiniti GPS navigation system is an available option on more models. For 2007, the navigation system includes Real-Time Nav-Traffic. Nav-Traffic allows you to receive up-to-the-minute traffic information superimposed on the map display. It will also tell you where any traffic tie-ups are located because of accidents, construction, or just plain too many cars on the road.
This service is provided by an XM radio signal, so you will also need to subscribe to the XM Nav Traffic service which costs around 10 bucks a month. Nav Traffic information is currently available in many major metropolitan areas in the US. If you commute to work by car, this service is worth every penny. The system also includes a jack for your ipod as well as Bluetooth so that you can link it to your Bluetooth compatible phone
The 2007 Altima is built on an all new platform that has been engineered to be more rigid with improved crash worthiness. There is a new front sub frame and suspension system that positions the engine closer to the ground for improved stability, and positions the front drive axles parallel to the ground for near zero torque steer.
The rear suspension is also improved with increased use of aluminum for less unsprung weight. Unsprung what??
Let me explain what is meant by "unsprung weight". Most of the weight of a motor vehicle is being supported by the springs at each corner of the car. This is referred to as sprung weight. The weight that is not supported by the springs, the wheels and tires, brakes, control arms and axles, rest their weight directly on the road surface. Because of this, they are always reacting to the uneven road surface by moving up and down. When a wheel hits a bump in the road at speed, it is accelerated up at great speed. If the unsprung weight is heavy, the wheel is going to want to continue going up after the bump is past. If this is allowed to happen, the tire leaves the ground and you momentarily lose traction on that wheel. The lighter we can make the unsprung mass, the less susceptible the tire will be to bouncing over a bump.
As in previous Altima models, two engine choices are available: The 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine has been improved with 100 newly designed parts (which make up 20% of the engine). These changes are designed to make the engine smoother and quieter as well as improve both power and fuel efficiency.
The superb 3.5 liter V6, found in everything from the 350Z to the Infiniti M35 has also been considerably revised, with more power (270 horsepower) and has a wonderfully rich exhaust note. The engine is mounted lower in the frame for improved center of gravity and has 6 mounting points instead of the previous four.
Both engines now breath through dual exhausts and are each available with either a 6 speed manual or the continuously variable automatic unit that has done so well in the Nissan Murano.
.This continuously variable transmission will allow the Altima to get improved fuel economy and smoother performance. Under normal driving, you will never feel any shifting, just a smooth flow of power from a standing start to highway speeds. If you like the idea of shifting gears, the transmission selector has a manual mode where you can hold a gear and shift up and down at will. Since this is a continuously variable automatic, these are not real gears, they are actually simulated by the computer.
Not sure what I'm talking about? Let me explain how continuously variable transmission (CVT) works.
A CVT has no forward gears or complex clutches and bands. Instead, there are two tapered pulleys with a steel belt connecting them. These pulleys can change their diameter through a signal from the computer. If the pulley halves are squeezed together making them narrower, the diameter in effect, increases causing belt to move to the outer edge. At the same time, the other pulley would spread out causing the diameter to decrease.
If the smaller pulley is being turned by the engine (the drive pulley), the steal belt would turn larger pulley (the driven pulley) more slowly. If the diameters change, the speed of the driven pulley will also change. By allowing the computer to control the diameters of the two pulleys, the transmission ratio will smoothly and gradually change from low "gear" to high "gear"
This design eliminates the need for a 4 speed, five speed or even a six speed transmission, instead allowing for an infinite number of "speeds". The net effect is better fuel economy (at light throttle, the engine rpm is always at the optimal point for maximum economy), and better performance (the engine can stay in its sweet spot for maximum horsepower delivery)
Parking brake uses a hand brake lever on the center console on stick shift cars and a foot brake on automatic transmission cars.
DRIVING IMPRESSIONS Embargoed till 11/3/06
I had a chance to sample a V6 Altima 3.5 SE, the sport model of the bunch. We drove along the highways and winding mountain roads that snake around the San Francisco Bay Area and came away with the impression that Nissan achieved every goal they had on their list and then some. This car has a secure, stable feel at any speeds we were able to achieve. Steering felt crisp, but not overly sensitive, the ride was firm, but comfortable and performance from the combination of V6 and CVT automatic was stellar. I have driven many cars in the $40,000 to $50,000 price range that was not as good as this one.
I kept trying to induce torque steer with little success. Backing away from a front-wheel drive car because of torque steer is no longer a valid excuse. On the twisting mountain roads, I had to keep reminding myself that this was FWD. Unless I pushed the Altima to its limits, I simply couldn't tell. Cornering was flat and controlled without a major impact on ride quality.
At the limit, the tires cried "Uncle", they simply were not up to the type of driving I was subjecting them to. That is fine for this type of car, since one person in s hundred would regularly subject this type of passenger car to the kind of punishment. You can easily replace the original equipment rubber for performance tires and have it all, but you would seriously compromise ride quality and quiet.\Nissan chose the tires for the Altima SE correctly and most drivers will be happy with them.
There are 3 models that come with the 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine and 2 with the V6. The 4 cylinder models are the 2.5 base model, the 2.5 S with more standard equipment and more available options, and the 2.5 S with SL package which is nicely equipped.
The new Altima 3.5 SE is the driver's car of the bunch, but if you appreciate ride comfort over sports car like handling, you will be happier with the 3.5 SL.
The 2007 Nissan Altima will be available in November 2006. By the winter of 2007, Nissan will add a Hybrid model to the mix. It will have the 2.5 liter 4 coupled to a Toyota derived hybrid system similar to the Camry Hybrid.
Altima can be optioned well for those who love the styling, but want their luxury options. It can be equipped with upscale options like Intelligent Key and push-button start, dual-zone automatic AC, GPS navigation with Nav Traffic, HID xenon headlights, and a Bose sound system with in-dash 6 CD changer and 9 speakers.
So, you can have your luxury sport sedan and still have enough change left over for a deluxe European vacation for the family.
Note: This article will be updated the first week of November 2006 with my driving impressions of the new Altima, so check back to see how this baby performs.