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2012 Nissan Altima still a strong option in the midsize market?

The fourth generation Nissan Altima is entering its sixth year on the road.  We take a look at the vehicle, how it competes in the mid-size segment, and see what’s new for the 2012 model year.

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2012
Make: Nissan
Model: Altima 2.5 SL

Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder / 175 hp at 5600 rpm and 180 lb.- ft. of torque at 3900 rpm
Transmission: Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with manual mode
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy: 23-mpg city/ 32-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 28.2 mpg

Base MSRP: $22,570
As tested MSRP: $32,095

Equipped Options:
2.5S Technology Package (Navigation, XM NavTraffic/Weather) [$1,780]
Premium Audio Package (Bose Audio, USB/Aux Ports) [$990]
Rear Decklid Spoiler [$370]
Fog Lights [$310]
Moonroof Wind Deflector [$100]
Required Fees: Delivery Charge [$760]


A solid choice

It’s not easy to compete in the midsize market. First off, it’s crowded. This is the same consumer space that the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Chevy Malibu, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, and Volkswagen Passat all vie within.  More so,  all those competitors have seen medium to major redesigns since the current Altima first went on sale in 2008.  For 2011 the Altima saw a very minor exterior refresh (the hood) and for 2012 the only change of note is a new color. A major redesign of the Altima is scheduled to happen next year for the 2013 model but today we’re driving the 2012 Altima 2.5 SL.

Like a fine wine, the Altima has only grown better with age. It’s not the newest and it’s not the fanciest, but it’s rock solid. It’s the only model of the midsize bunch that uses a continuously-variable-transmission (CVT).  That means the transmission never really “shifts”. Instead it’s always adjusting and matching the right engine speed for the current situation.  The advantage is two fold; providing both satin smooth acceleration and an engine that always seems to be in the perfect spot whenever you need to accelerate.

On the road the Altima drives with confidence and a spark you don’t normally associate with a mid-size family sedan. This isn’t your neighbor’s Toyota Camry and it shows. The Altima drives with  European-like composure. Nimble and responsive at city speeds yet smooth,  solid, and predictable on the highway.

We didn’t get a chance to sample the up-level 270-horsepower 3.5L V6, but our tester’s 2.5L four-cylinder got the job done adequately. Putting out 175-horsepower, the 2.5 SL is refined and works well with a CVT.  As much as we tried, we couldn’t match the EPA rated 32-mpg during our real world highway testing. We attribute that to the CVT, which often pegs the engine in the middle of the RPM band for acceleration but takes time to settle into a lower cruising gear ratio. Our 28.2mpg mixed driving average is none the less impressive for a vehicle of this size.


It’s whats on the inside that counts

Another advantage the Altima brings to the table is an extremely refined interior. It’s not as expressive as the Hyundai Sonata or Kia Optima, but the plastics and trim are of a much higher quality. While other automakers have tried to trim down costs by substituting hard materials and cheaper switchgear, Nissan has actually invested more into the interior of the Altima and it’s well noticed.

A soft touch dash, fine wood-like accents, and Infiniti level switch-gear are among the very best of this segment. We found the seating to be comfortable on our backside, even during longer trips.

Our Altima test car came equipped with the optional Technology Package. This included a high-resolution Navigation system with XM Traffic & Weather.  We would imagine most won’t opt for the Navigation system but it’s important that Nissan offers the technology. Ford and Hyundai both offer competitive navigation systems that offer live weather alerts, sports scores, and stock quotes. The Premium Audio Package our tester was equipped with is well worth the additional $990. It features Bose speakers and a USB/Aux input that gives you an iPod/USB Drive compatibility.

New for 2012

There are only a few changes for the 2012 model year.  This is not surprising, as the Altima received a relativity minor exterior update last year.  One new color is being offered for this year; Dark Slate replaces Metallic Slate. A carryover Special Edition package complements a new Value Package offered on the lower trim 2.5 S.



The Altima has been and continues to be one of the most solid choices in the mid-size market. However, it’s hard to ignore that the segment is full of strong contenders and the Altima is handicapped with a higher price than most of its newer and more expressively styled rivals. In short, we really enjoy the Altima and what it brings to the table but struggle to find a reason why it’s more expensive than its competitors.  With a substantial redesign on the way for 2013, we’re eager to see what Nissan has in store.


  • High quality interior materials and fit/finish
  • Super smooth 2.5L engine/CVT combination
  • Well balanced driving dynamics


  • More expensive than the competition
  • Real world fuel economy lower than competition
  • Styling leaves us wanting more

2012 Nissan Altima Road Test Gallery