2012 Nissan Altima

February 22, 2012

The 2012 Nissan Altima sedan is a lesson in competence: It's passably attractive, sufficiently nimble, tolerably outfitted, satisfactorily safe and reasonably priced.

This midsize sedan was last redesigned for the 2010 model year. For 2012, Nissan added an available Convenience Package on the midlevel 2.5 S trim, which was my test car. This package includes steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity, an eight-way power driver's seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

To say the Altima is a powerhouse with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine would be an exaggeration; it hesitates at higher speeds, but it is … you guessed it, competent. Just don't challenge any of your friends to a drag race with this car. If you're looking for more driving excitement, try the V-6-equipped Altima 3.5 SR.

The 2012 Altima has a starting MSRP of $20,410, and my test car, a 2.5 S trim, started at $22,570. The addition of the newly available Convenience Package, a Premium Audio Package and a Convenience Plus Package brought the price of my test car at $27,130.

EXTERIOR

The 2012 Altima is a model of inconspicuous good looks. The angles and curves are properly aligned, and its look is neat and proper.

Because it's a sedan, the Altima is easy for kids to get in and out of, and the doors are lightweight enough to open easily. The trunk could fit a bunch of groceries, but with my stroller in it, there wasn't a ton of room leftover.

As part of the Convenience and Convenience Plus packages, my test car was equipped with a couple of impressive features for a midsize sedan that's priced at less than $30K. Among these features were automatic headlights and a moonroof with a sunshade.

The Altima 2.5 S trim has a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. It uses regular gas. The Altima gets an EPA-estimated 23/32 mpg city/highway. I averaged about 30 mpg in mixed driving. By the end of my week with the car, the Altima still had a half-tank of gas.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

The Altima's interior seemed unusually cozy. This coziness came from the cabin's upscale styling and the surprisingly comfortable cloth seats. I usually don't like cloth seats, but the Altima's were cottony soft and easy to clean, which is worth a lot in my life. Even the faux wood trim was tasteful and placed sparingly throughout the cabin.

There's plenty of legroom and headroom in the Altima. Two adults can sit in the backseat comfortably and three adults could survive a shorter trip. The Altima has seven cupholders, including three of varying sizes between the front passenger and driver's seats. This meant that a one-liter water bottle, a small coffee cup and a sippy cup each found a secure home in the front row. The center armrest in the backseat also has two cupholders.

There are many high-tech features available on the Altima, but be warned that most of these are part of options packages, which can quickly elevate a car's price. My test car had the available nine-speaker Bose stereo system, which was totally rockin', a useful backup camera, an easy-to-use navigation system and sporty xenon headlights.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY

The 2012 Altima has received the top score of Good in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the second-best score of Acceptable in the rear crash test and roof-strength test. The Altima sedan received four out of five stars overall in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the Altima's outboard seats. They're well-marked and took a small amount of digging to reach. With a rear-facing infant-safety seat installed, the front passenger still had enough legroom to stretch out. I wasn't able to fit three car seats across the backseat, but two fit nicely and judging by the minimal amount of kicking done to my driver's seat, my child riding in a forward-facing convertible had ample legroom.

The Altima has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system, traction control and six airbags, including curtain airbags for both rows. A backup camera is available.

Snapshot:

Starting MSRP $20,410–$30,760

MPG

City: 18 – 23

Highway: 27 – 32

Available Engines

270-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 (regular gas)

170-hp, 2.5-liter I-4 (regular gas)

175-hp, 2.5-liter I-4 (regular gas)

Transmissions

6-speed manual w/OD

2-speed CVT w/OD and auto-manual

New or Notable

• Coupe or sedan

• Manual or CVT

• Standard keyless start

• Optional 270-hp V-6

• Optional navigation system

What We Like

• Sporty handling for class

• V-6 performance

• Responsive CVT

• High-quality interior materials

• Comfortable rear seat

What We Don't

• CVT bogs engine at lower speeds

• Fussy tilt/telescoping steering wheel adjustment (sedan)

• Cheap-looking faux wood trim (sedan)

Photo Courtesy of Ian Merritt, Cars.com

Photo Courtesy of Ian Merritt, Cars.com

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