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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

Road Test: 2009 Jeep Patriot Sport

First introduced in 2007, the Jeep Patriot came on the scene as a sensible crossover for enthusiasts who loved driving a Jeep.  With new refinements for 2009 we take a fresh look at the Patriot and see just what it’s made of. A true trail rated Jeep or another me too crossover?

Specifications as-tested

MSRP: $24,015
Engine: 2.4L DOHC I4 – 172hp/165ft-lb
Transmission: CVT with Freedom Drive II 4×4
EPA fuel economy: 20-city, 21-combined, 22-highway
Observed fuel economy: 17.43 (mostly snow covered roads with 4×4 lock active)
Tested for: 7 days / 298 miles


Deep down a great vehicle but stuck ambiguously between crossover comfortable and off-road capable.


  • Excellent balance in slick road conditions
  • Unlike many crossovers, this one is actually built to go off-road
  • Classic Jeep design inside and out


  • Penny pinched interior
  • CVT accentuates loud/thrashy engine
  • Low fuel economy for the size

Driving Dynamics & Performance

Road Test: 2009 Jeep Patriot

Jeep’s Freedom Drive II 4×4 system gave our tester a distinct advantage when the weather or roads became challenging.  Wearing the Trail Rated badge, we drove the Patriot through the worst road conditions we could find.  Even uncleared roads with over 6-inches of snow were no problem.  Essentially it’s a heavy duty all-wheel-drive system with center differential locking capacity. With the FDII locked, the Patriot is extremely stable, predictable, and balanced.

With an additional 1-inch of ground clearance over non trail rated models, 17-inch wheels/tires and a locking center differential, the Patriot has to be one of the most predicable and balanced vehicles we’ve driven in snow.  If you live somewhere nicer than New England  you can opt for 2-wheel drive or Freedom Drive I.  You’ll give up some of the capability but will gain fuel economy in return.

The Patriot’s optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) provides for smooth acceleration but also brings out the worst in the 2.4L engine. Under hard acceleration the engine is loudly pegged near redline, a trait of CVT’s as a whole but badly managed in this application.

On the road we found the Patriot never liked to settle down. The suspension dampening, surely tuned for off-road performance, lacked the ability to provide a firmly planted feeling ride.

Design Execution, Appearance, Fit & Finish

Road Test: 2009 Jeep Patriot

You can’t mistake the Patriot for anything but a Jeep. Inside and out, little styling hints of the larger Wrangler catch your eye.  We particularly liked the bold front grille and classic round headlamps but disliked the bloated appearance of the rear.

Coming back to bite Chrysler in the butt these days, sub-par interior finishing looks great but has no warmth.  Plastic like this is great on a Wrangler because you don’t feel bad getting it dirty or scraping it up.  A more refined vehicle such as the Patriot deserves better.

Interestingly, the interior is all new for 2009, but nearly every single interior surface feels penny-pinched one step too far. Every switch and control operates with some level of ambiguity and lacks precision.

Audio, Electronics, & Technology

Road Test: 2009 Jeep Patriot

Perhaps one of the Patriot’s saving graces is the technology it offers.  Our test model came with a base audio system, however a more advanced UConnect tunes system is a must have option.  The standard audio unit has the ability to play MP3 CDs and comes with an auxiliary input.

The advanced UConnect system offers a 30-gig hard drive, USB port,  Bluetooth hands-free phone, and optionally a navigation system. We’ve tested the UConnect system in other Chrysler models and came away thoroughly impressed.

We also thought Jeep did an excellent job tuning the Patriot’s electronic stability program (ESP).  In times when we pushed the 4×4 system to it’s limits, ESP kicked in and quickly brought us back in control.

Comfort & Ergonomics

Road Test: 2009 Jeep Patriot

Jeep offers a 115-volt standard outlet located under and forward of the center arm-rest. The ability to charge a laptop or cell phone without special adapters is a lifesaver.  There’s also the handy LED flashlight in the rear tailgate.

The climate control dials are oddly ambiguous and do not offer a positive feel.  A lack of a defined “click” meant we often turned the air off when we just wanted to turn it down.  Having to look away from the road to adjust the fan was a small frustration.

Rear seat space is cozy but comfortable. Second row seat backs offer rear-passengers the option to recline.  They also fold flat to offer a sizable amount of storage. Even with the second row folded up, the rear cargo area is larger than what you’d find in most crossovers of this size.

Are you a Jeep Patriot Fan?

Head on over to to hang out with other Patriot owners/enthusiasts. They even have a thread talking about this review!

Road test photo gallery

Road Test: 2009 Jeep Patriot

Take a look at the huge set of photos we shot during our time in the 2009 Jeep Patriot Sport 4×4.