Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For the money, 2014 Altima tough to pass up

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website – via the “GALLERY: Reviews of new cars” link at www.sacbee.com/business

Sacramento, California – Upon seeing the 2014 Nissan Altima parked in the usual test car pick-up spot, my brain registered this disappointment: “Oh, it’s the 2.5 sedan.”

That’s as in 2.5 liters, enough for four cylinders and 182 horsepower.  For me, that’s a big drop from the Altima’s optional 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 engine, much preferred by me for its robust performance qualities.

Well, a funny thing happened …

I last tested a 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5, and for 2013, Nissan presented an all-new fifth-generation Altima.  Giant horsepower tweaks were not part of that reworking – 175 horses for the previous generation – but whatever happened between 2012 and now certainly made a big difference to me.

My 2014 Altima 2.5 SL tester performed with heroic enthusiasm and exceptional nimbleness.  I was stunned by the engine response, which to my mind seemed at least 25 percent stronger than I remembered from just two years ago.  Pleasant surprise?  That doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The Altima was a willing warrior on freeway entrance ramps, and some uphill runs in the Sierra Nevada foothills found it to be likewise enthusiastic, plus silky smooth through hard, twisty corners.  Steering was darn near sports car quality.  The continuously variable transmission worked flawlessly. And the interior cabin remained quiet in all conditions.

Fuel mileage is a definite plus at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price on the 2014 2.5 SL is $27,760, and you get a generous helping of goodies for that outlay.  All-part-of-the-deal perks included an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather surfaces, a nine-speaker Bose audio system, a rearview monitor and a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

My tester included an $800 moonroof and a technology package that included a navigation system, a blind sport-warning system, a lane departure-warning system and a moving object-detection system.  All that for $1,090.  Not a bad deal.

Nissan has been touting the Altima for its near-luxury appeal at a relatively affordable price, and after a week in this ride, I have to concede that the marketing is pretty much spot-on.  With all badging removed, I’d figure paying $35,000 to $40,000 for a car like this.  Even with the extras, the bottom line on my tester was $30,625.

Oh, it looks pretty sharp too.  Sporty lines and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels are eye-catching, and the “Cayenne Red” paint job on my ride certainly didn’t hurt.

Hate to call this a compromise car, but I mean that in a good way.  Maybe you’re looking for a nicely appointed sedan for $35,000 or more, but if that was my money to spend, I’d compromise and take the Altima for a serious test drive.  You might find that your compromise was really the only logical choice from the beginning.

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