2014 Nissan Altima sedan: In praise of the ordinary

Warren Brown
Columnist March 7

Ordinary well done deserves attention. It, at least, merits thanks. In that spirit, accept this column as gratitude for the 2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan.

But let’s first get some things out of the way. The Nissan Altima is no speedster, not even with its optional 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine (270 horsepower, 251 pound-feet of torque). It certainly won’t excite speed demons in standard form — 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine (182 horsepower, 180 pound-feet of torque).

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

With either engine, it will get you to where you have to go safely, reliably, comfortably and with more than a modicum of style. It is a wonderfully ordinary car for ordinary people, which is offensive only if you find something wrong with being ordinary. I don’t.

I like ordinary. I believe that ordinary rules, even in the automobile industry. In fact, it is reasonable to argue that if ordinary did not exist, exceptional would be kaput, too. Think about it. Most exotic car companies exist today only because they are owned by manufacturers that earn most of their money making and selling ordinary cars and trucks.

Bugatti and Lamborghini, for example, owe their continued existence to Volkswagen. Jaguar and Land Rover, former wards of Ford Motor Co., now derive sustenance from India’s Tata, maker of many ordinary vehicles, among other things. And Cadillac, now grown ridiculously haughty, as evidenced by its supremely arrogant “Poolside” TV advertisement (paraphrased: You deserve to be wealthy and have all of the stuff that wealth can buy because you are among the few who work hard and never take a vacation). Well, Cadillac would not exist were it not for all the two-week-off wage grunts buying Chevrolets.


The 2014 Nissan Altima Sedan. (Nissan/Wieck)

Ordinary is crucial to the proper functioning of everything. It must be sustained. It must be respected. Nissan understands that. The front-wheel-drive Altima family sedan is proof.

With a base price of $22,110, considered “affordable” in an automobile industry where the average out-the-door price of a new vehicle hovers around $31,000, it offers a lot — a top federal crash-safety rating, excellent interior comfort, good fuel economy (27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway using regular gasoline), and attractive exterior and interior styling.

At $27,860, the starting price of the 2.5 SL version driven for this week’s column, you get many things as standard equipment not offered as standard in automobiles costing $13,000 more. There are, for example, heated front seats and an onboard navigation system with a rearview camera. With options, such as a Bose premium sound system, you get a total car package in the Nissan Altima that puts some prestigious car badges to shame.

Of course, you can always spend more, and Nissan is not above taking your money. If you are bored with the 2.5 Altima class, reflective of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, you can ask for the slightly more costly and powerful 3.5 V-6 Altima with its own base, S, and SL trim levels. Ordinary does not have to be lackluster. Nissan apparently understands that, too.

Ordinary evolves. At each stage of its evolution, it demands respect. Disrespect it, and you wind up filing for bankruptcy and begging the federal government for a taxpayer bailout. Ask General Motors — the same car company that now has the temerity to insult us with its . . . you-deserve-to-be-rich-because-you-worked-harder-than-anyone-else commercial.

Ordinary nowadays includes technological savvy fostered by ongoing technological progress. I’ve visited countries where certifiably poor people who have never had land-line telephone service now think nothing of reaching for a cellphone. Walk onto the campus of any state college in America, choose an observation post, and watch myriad students from myriad backgrounds tweeting, clicking and browsing. They expect to have access to similar technology in their automobiles. Nissan gives it to them at a reasonable price in the Altima.

The company realizes the evolution of ordinary has resulted in the elevation of the same, which is why Nissan is taking so many other risks, for example, with all-electric cars such as the Leaf. Nissan is betting that its future lies with ordinary. Accordingly, I’m betting on Nissan.

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