The large car market in Australia is under threat. Entries classified as medium from Mazda, Kia and Hyundai have eroded the market share that cars such as the Commodore and Falcon once had. Nissan has continued to chip away, this time with the Altima, the successor to the Maxima. There’s four models, three with a 2.5L four pot, landing the the near 4.9 metre long Altima in the medium class. A Wheel Thing looks at the top of the range Ti-S with a 3.5L V6 and comes away somewhat underwhelmed.
The Driven Heart.
Nissan have stayed with the proven 3.5L V6 in the top of the range model, coupling it with, unusually, a CVT (constant variable transmission) with six preset gears plus sports mode. There’s 183kW available at a high 6300rpm and 312 torques at 4400; again, a bit high. To extract anything other than lethargy from what is a potentially potent engine in the right driving conditions, slip the gear lever fully back (not Drive and tilt like everyone else) into Sports and leave it there. It’s far more tractable and responsive than the leaden Drive mode, provides more acceleration and more transmission communication. The powerplant spins freely, barking delightfully in response to some right foot commands once above 3000 revs. In Drive it’s slow, unwilling, dull, being hamstrung by the CVT, juddering and vibrating in certain points of the rev range. Using the paddle shifts inside is almost superfluous, with the computer down changing for you on deceleration yet will hold the gear you’ve selected while accelerating and there’s a momentary delay before the ‘box moves to the gear selected.
On The Road.
The Altima has an uneasy mix of plush, luxury ride and sports handling on the road, seemingly caught between absorbing some bumps and undulations whilst allowing others to unsettle the chassis with some body roll and wallowing on rebound. Steering is overassisted, light to the point of total disconnection for the driver in feel, needing more weight to give feedback, yet, somewhat surprisingly, the chassis refuses to let go when provoked. There’s noticeable tyre squeal under turning acceleration but the rear end follows the nose faithfully. The brake pedal is soft to start, travelling a little too far for comfort before actually feeling as if there’s some bite.
The Office Space.
Try as I might, I simply couldn’t find the sweet spot in the NASA inspired zero gravity front seat. Being a top spec vehicle naturally means electric adjustment, plus memory seating, but even though well padded, there’s no real support and a comfortable position was not located. Interior design is an odd mix of technology and old school, with two LCD screens (one for the navitainment and a small info screen for the driver) butting up against poorly placed buttons (under dash ahead of the driver’s right knee) and an ergonomically misplaced interior door handle. It’s inside the arc of movement and a grab handle in the arm rest would have been better. Plastics were a mix of piano black surrounding the navitainment, matt and ripple black contrasting with the out of place bronze tinted plastic found mainly on the busy looking tiller while a grey crosshatched trim covered the centre console. The window and lock buttons on the driver’s arm rest further add to the time warp factor, looking old and dated, as if they’d been carved from a hunk of black plastic. The dash design itself is a sweeping, elegant double arch design facing the driver and passenger with a straight edged top section.
Rear seats are split fold, allowing access through to the cavernous boot space, complete with full sized spare in the test car and all doors open wide to allow for easy access and egress. Of a technological note is the blind spot viewing cameras, placed in four locations around the outside. There’s also a lane departure alarm, moving object detection (part of the sensor system), self levelling Xenon headlights, rain sensing wipers and a 9 speaker Bose system, with plenty of punch and clarity.
Although the Altima is ostensibly a new car the sheetmetal isn’t a million miles away from its predecessor, the Maxima, a nameplate close to 20 years old. There’s a wave like, organic flow to the short tail/long nose profile, capped at either end by the angular head and tail light clusters. Clad in a premium and attractive pearlescent white, it certainly caught a few eyeballs parked under the grandstand at Sydney Motorsport Park. Viewed directly from the rear, the bumper sits low, adding visual weight while the front eschews the LEDs now commonly seen. It rides on 235/45/18 tyres with the alloys on the test vehicle an attractive ten spoke design, arranged in a five way split design.
The Altima, as tested, is flawed, but not fatally so. Dynamically it’s a mixed bag, it’s full of smart technology blending with an odd mix of plastics. The overall impression is one of a company that, in a mainstream environment, has produced something that is not insipid yet not inspiring enough to attract buyers from a Commodore or Mazda6. For me it does little to further the argument for large cars and that’s a pity. It’s a brave attempt by Nissan but it’s a long bow drawn by the Australian arm to align itself, to a point, with an aggressive, angry, front V8 engined, rear wheel drive motorsport entry. Priced not far from $40K, sadly it will be up against it. Go here for more on the Altima range: http://www.nissan.com.au/~/media/Files/Brochures/Specifications/L33S-Altima-Specifications.ashx