My Day in the Nissan Altima…Is it Better than the Accord or Camry?

Recently I had the chance to drive the 2007 Nissan Altima S for the day. When given the choice at the rental car counter between a Ford Taurus, Chevy Impala, Pontiac Grand Prix or a brand new 2007 Nissan Altima, I immediately jumped at the chance to drive Nissan’s popular mid-size sedan. With the ever-increasing gas prices, more economical sedans are becoming increasingly popular. The version I was given was a 2007 Altima S, which is the base 4-cylinder.

This 2007 Nissan Altima is the fourth-generation of the mid-sized sedan. It wasn’t until the third-generation that the car finally registered on car buyers’ shopping lists. This new model is more of an evoultion of the previous model.

The new Altima has much better styling than the previous generation. In my opinion the new exterior styling is a lot better than the overly popular Toyota Camry or Honda Accord (The Altima’s main competition). Of course I had the S version with wheel-covers. The higher-priced V6 models look even better. The stylish exterior carries over into the interior as well.

I liked the overall design of the interior, even though some of the plastic bits looked cheap and it did feel a little bare. I loved the fact that it had the push-button start system. My main gripe with the interior had to do with the stereo. I was very surprised at the placement of the aux plug. It is right in the middle of the stereo and above the climate control section. It seems that the wire would get in the way while driving and not to mention the fact that the exposed wires would look ugly. I was also surprised at the fact that the stereo only had a single CD player. I drove a Corolla LE a few days earlier this year and it had a six-disc CD player. I was also frustrated that the stereo didn’t have a knob to quickly flip through stations. It only had a seek button, which was frustrating during traffic.

The Altima I tested was equipped with the 2.5L 4-cylinder that was good for 175 hp and 180 lb.-ft of torque. It was mated to the Xtronic CVT transmission. This is the same engine in the last generation, it was just more refined for the new model. Nissan admits that there are over 100 new parts in the 07′ engine. For some reason I expected more from the engine. Under normal driving conditions above 2000 rpms the engine was more than adequate. I just noticed that around town the CVT liked to keep the rpms below 2000 and at that point it was apparent that there was a severe lack of torque. I had to floor it more than I would have liked. The car did average 26.1 mpg which was a combination of city and freeway driving. The transmission also had the “manual mode” which did not help with overall acceleration, so I stopped using it after about five minutes. I was disappointed that the car would still shift for you, even in this mode when you reached its rpm peak. It was a pretty useless mechanism and I would have rather seen the money for that used on a better stereo or higher quality materials.

The overall driving feel of the car felt very Accord-like. The driving position reminded me a lot of the Accord that I drove last year. Even though I do like the engine in the Accord a lot better than the Altima. The Altima’s engine made interesting sounds that I would not label as “refined”. The CVT transmission also took time to get used to, since it sounds like the transmission is slipping the whole time.

Overall I do see why people buy this car. If I was in the market for a mid-sized sedan that started in the low $20k range this would be near the top of my list. The Altima gets good fuel economy, has a spacious interior and better styling than its competitors. It will be interesting to see a comparison of this against the new 2008 Honda Accord.