Al­tima still a stand­out De­liv­ers value amid its evo­lu­tion

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE - By Haney Louka

MY first Al­tima re­view was way back in 2001. Even though it wasn’t a class leader, Nis­san’s abil­ity to pro­duce a small, sporty sedan that was ef­fi­cient and re­spon­sive with­out try­ing too hard to stand out from the pack re­ally im­pressed me. It out­per­formed ri­val four-banger sedans and of­fered great value.

Times quickly changed, and Nis­san re­sponded to North Amer­ica’s hunger for larger cars with more power in 2003 with a com­plete re­design and a change in fo­cus. Legroom and power were the new magic words. This com­bi­na­tion el­e­vated the Al­tima’s im­age so ef­fec­tively with its tar­get mar­ket, Nis­san has never looked back.

As with so many model lines from var­i­ous man­u­fac­tur­ers, the Al­tima has grown over the years and oth­ers have stepped in be­low to fill the gaps. The cur­rent Sen­tra is ac­tu­ally larger and more fuel-ef­fi­cient than that first Al­tima I re­viewed.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Al­tima’s value. In this cut­throat class, it has no choice. For 2014, the base 2.5 model starts the bid­ding at $23,698 and in­cludes a hearty help­ing of stan­dard kit: a healthy four-banger/con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion combo, in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion and disc brakes all around, fog lights, dual ex­haust tips, Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, push-but­ton ig­ni­tion, wheel-mounted cruise con­trol, tilt/tele­scop­ing wheel, sun­glass stor­age, map lights all around, four-speaker au­dio with Blue­tooth stream­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and an econobox-like fuel-con­sump­tion rat­ing of 7.5 litres per 100 kilo­me­tres city and 5.1 on the high­way.

Throw in another $1,200 and you get the S: re­mote start and a rear-view mon­i­tor top the list of de­sir­ables, along with USB iPod in­ter­face, satel­lite ra­dio, hands-free text mes­sag­ing and more.

As in other Nis­san mod­els, the SV man­ages to pull to­gether most of the fea­tures peo­ple want in a well-priced pack­age. The Al­tima SV is $26,198 and adds 17-inch al­loys (16-inch steel­ies are stan­dard on lesser mod­els), heated front seats, a leather-wrapped wheel, power sun­roof, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol and some other good­ies

The 2.5SL fur­thers the lux­ury fo­cus with leather up­hol­stery and a pre­mium au­dio sys­tem, choice of wood or me­tal­lic trim (both rea­son­able fac­sim­i­les of the real thing) and more for $28,898.

Our tester was the full-load 3.5 SL and is the only V6-pow­ered model in the lineup. In ad­di­tion to the 270-hp V6 hum­ming un­der the hood, the $32,998 3.5 SL Tech gets 18-inch al­loys. The Tech group in­cludes nav­i­ga­tion with a sev­eninch touch dis­play, nav con­trols on the wheel, blind-spot warn­ing, lane-de­par­ture warn­ing and mov­ing-ob­sta­cle-de­tec­tion sys­tem.

In­clud­ing a $135 charge for our tester’s Cayenne Red paint and $120 for car­peted floor mats (a bit in­con­sis­tent with our test sub­ject’s value propo­si­tion), our tester tipped the scales at $33,253 plus freight and taxes.

Nis­san is putting sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­ity on its con­tin­u­ously-vari­able trans­mis­sion (CVT) tech­nol­ogy to get its fuel con­sump­tion down on all of its car and crossover mod­els. CVTs es­chew fixed gear ra­tios in favour of a vari­able-di­am­e­ter pul­ley and belt sys­tem that al­lows the car’s com­put­ers to con­tin­u­ously vary the ra­tio be­tween en­gine speed and road speed for the most ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse un­der the con­di­tions.

The com­pany is ahead of the curve with re­spect to re­spon­sive­ness when a CVT gets be­tween the driver’s right foot and the en­gine, and the re­sult is a drive that isn’t spoiled, and is per­haps en­hanced, by the CVT com­pared to a con­ven­tional au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. And the CVT’s flex­i­bil­ity and pro­gramma­bil­ity al­low the Nis­san to achieve the con­sump­tion num­bers wor­thy of brag­ging rights. It’s that bal­ance Nis­san has achieved that makes it the ex­cep­tion with this type of trans­mis­sion.

For the record, I achieved a fuel con­sump­tion of 8.7 L/100 km on the high­way and 12.4 over­all with a ma­jor­ity of city driv­ing. Nowhere near the pub­lished rat­ings, but we’re used to that th­ese days, es­pe­cially in win­ter. And I did make use of the fac­tory re­mote start more than once on frigid morn­ings, which skewed the av­er­age con­sump­tion over this short one-week test drive.

Al­tima’s con­trols are wor­thy of praise. Cruise, au­dio, Blue­tooth and trip com­puter func­tions are eas­ily ac­cessed on the steer­ing wheel and there are suf­fi­cient hard but­tons on the cen­tre stack to do most func­tions with­out ac­cess­ing the touch screen. In a day when too many ve­hi­cles have in­ter­faces that dis­tract more than they as­sist, the Al­tima’s sys­tem is re­fresh­ingly straight­for­ward.

As far as the ex­te­rior goes, I’ll con­cede that styling is highly sub­jec­tive, but I much pre­fer the cleaner and more mod­ern de­signs of many of the Al­tima’s com­peti­tors: Fu­sion, Mazda 6, Op­tima, Ac­cord.

The Al­tima’s sen­si­tive throt­tle tip-in is the only is­sue I had with the car’s re­spon­sive­ness when nav­i­gat­ing in traf­fic. And when you’ve got a V6 un­der the hood that spits out 251 lb.-ft. of torque, ag­gres­sive throt­tle re­sponse is not re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated in the win­ter.

Shift pad­dles are pro­vided, but con­sider them a nov­elty since this is a flex­i­ble en­gine with a broad torque curve and we don’t need to be pre­tend­ing the trans­mis­sion has gears just to make it feel sportier. Want more re­spon­sive­ness? Just slide the Shift lever down from D into Ds and the trans­mis­sion will dial up more en­gine revs and that will be it.

The Al­tima is big on pro­vid­ing its oc­cu­pants with a smooth, quiet ride. This is a lux­ury car in main­stream sedan duds, and it does its job very well. If you like the styling, it’s very easy to be­come ac­cus­tomed to this fast, roomy peo­ple-mover. Just don’t ex­pect the sporti­ness on which early Al­ti­mas built their rep­u­ta­tion.

BASE PRICE: BASE PRICE (3.5 SL): OP­TIONS:

The Al­tima is equipped with a V6 that

spits out 251 lb.-ft of torque.

The Al­tima’s cruise, au­dio, Blue­tooth and trip com­puter func­tions are eas­ily

ac­cessed on the steer­ing wheel.

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