7. May 2014
Ask anyone what the three top-selling cars are in the U.S., and if your friends are like mine, then the answer you’re going to get is “Camry, Accord, and something else—Fusion maybe?”
Last month, April, the Camry came in first in sales, with 38,009 units. The Accord was second, at 34,124. And the Fusion was third, at 26,435. The Altima came in at with 25,004 units.
But in March, while the Camry came in first in sales, with 41,953 units. The Accord, with 33,962, didn’t come in second. It was third, as it was in February with 24,622.
The second-place went to the Nissan Altima in March, when there were 35,921 of the sedans sold.
It might then stand to reason that if the Accord was third in February, that the Altima was the second-best selling car in the U.S. that month, too.
Might be reasonable, but wrong.
Altima was the best-selling car in the U.S. in February. There were 30,849 Altimas sold in the U.S. that month. There were 29,998 Camrys sold.
Who knew (outside, of course, of people at Nissan)?
Yes, the Altima is a vehicle that plenty of people in the U.S. buy, yet is a vehicle that, outside of its happy owners, few people are all that aware of. This, of course, seems somewhat disjointed in that if people don’t know about the Altima they’re unlikely to buy an Altima.
But maybe it’s just that Toyota and Honda do a better messaging job and so Nissan ought to rethink that association with Robert Downey, Jr.
The Altima has been on the market since 1992. It is now in its fifth generation of existence.
Year after year, the clever Nissan designers and engineers have been making little tweaks and big modifications to make the car better.
This one isn’t the huge design departure that existed between generation 4 (model year 2007-12) and, well, every Altima before that one. Arguably, gen 5 is a variation on the existing theme, with the lines for the headlamps, shoulders, etc. all being more extreme on the new one, though the template of the 4th is still in evidence.
One of the things that the current car is really predicated on is its fuel efficiency, which is based on a number of things, such as the use of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), whether it is in a four-cylinder car, like the one we’re dealing with here, or the larger six.
The principle of the CVT is that variability is better than the fixed nature of the gear sets in conventional automatic transmissions. This means more efficiency in overall powertrain performance, which translates into better fuel efficiency. So in the case of the car here, the window sticker has 27 city, 38 highway, and 31 mpg combined.
But for those who are not familiar with driving a car with a CVT, the experience is somewhat different than the conventional automatic. Even though the software engineers work hard to make the CVT driving experience “seem” like a step-gear transmission (i.e., the ordinary one), there are audible differences (I discerned a slight whine that brought to mind a hybrid) as well as performance differences (the acceleration may be more linear than with a step gear transmission, but when heavy on the throttle it seemed as though it was taking longer to move the needle on the speedo to where I wanted it to be).
But fuel efficiency isn’t entirely a function of what’s under the hood. The overall mass of the vehicle matters, too, so the engineering team went to work at lightening up the vehicle without making it seem in the least bit flimsy. This is one part the use of materials like advanced high-strength steels and aluminum (hood, bumper beam) and one part aerodynamic improvement (the aforementioned forms and lines are all pulled back, in effect, so the coefficient of drag is improved by 5%, which is no small number in this context.
Inside, the Altima seems to be pretty much on par with the midsize category. I must confess that the “NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats” seemed pretty much like any midsize terrestrial car seat I’ve experienced.
The car as driven had two major option packages, the “Convenience Package” with things like express up/down for the driver’s window, moonroof, Homelink, and a “mood lamp in roof console” (?!); it added $1,350. Then there is the “Technology Package,” $1,090, which brings in navigation, as well as blind-spot and lane-departure warning functionality.
Add in mats ($185) and destination ($810) to the foregoing and the MSRP goes from $24,180 to $27,615.
According to TrueCar, the average price for a light vehicle in April 2014 was $30,868. Drilling down deeper, the average price for a Nissan (including Infiniti) was $25,854. The average price of a Honda (including Acura) was $27,764. It was $29,731 for Toyota (including Scion and Lexus).
All of which is to say that Nissan—and the Altima—are evidently quite competitive.
Engine 2.5-liter, DOHC, I4
Horsepower: 182 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 180 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and heads
Transmission: Continuously variable
Steering: Electronic hydraulic power-assisted
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 191.5 in.
Width: 72 in.
Height: 57.9 in.
Passenger volume (w/moonroof): 100.5 cu. ft.
Cargo volume: 15.4 cu. ft.
EPA: 27/38/31 mpg (city/highway/combined)