Since unveiling its revival plan only two years ago, Nissan has gone from a bloated, bureaucratic, money-hemorrhaging behemoth, to a lean, mean, competitive machine. True, much of that success has come from slimming down the work force and trimming supplier costs. But it’s also come from injecting a large dose of excitement into a product line that was once considered too staid and boring. Two words that cannot be used to describe this all-new 2002 Nissan Altima. But is the excitement real, or just more automotive smoke and mirrors?
After two weeks of getting acquainted with our all-new 2002 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE tester, its crystal clear to us that the excitement is real! And, starting with a clean sheet of paper, the changes Nissan designers and engineers made to the new Altima are also very substantial. The 2002 Altima is not just an all-new car, but an all- new way for Nissan to attack the bread and butter Amerian family sedan market.
For one thing, this third generation Altima is much larger than its predecessor, and larger than its main competitors Accord and Camry. Wheelbase has been stretched a wopping 7.1 inches to 110.2. Overall length is 191.5 inches, an increase of 5.7. The car is also 2 inches taller and 1.3 inches wider. And the track has been widened 1.8 inches in the front,2.4 inches in the rear, for both more stability and a more muscular appearance.
And muscular is the word for the Altima’s overall look. As the new sheetmetal projects an in-your-face demeanor. It’s also a very fluid looking car. The bejeweled rear lamps help emit an aura of speed even when sitting still.
And as it turns out, when powered by the new V6, the first time ever for an Altima, that speed is also very real. How real? How about 0 to 60 in just 5.9 seconds, with a quarter mile speed of 100 MPH achieved in 14.4 seconds. Power hits hard right from the get-go, with a noticable amount of torque steer that nonetheless remains manageable. The 5-speed manual transmission that came in our V-6 tester, a combo Accord lacks, is ideally suited for the 6’s powerband. And, although the shifter feels a tad rubbery, it’s not enough to affect its precision.
The responsible party for this rocket- like velocity is the new 3.5 liter, DOHC, 24-valve, V6 that generates 240 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. Part of Nissan’s award winning VQ engine series, the 3.5 V6 utilizes a modular engine design, continously variable valve timing, and a responsive electronic “drive-by-wire” throttle. Altima 2.5 models come with a 2.5 liter, DOHC, 16-valve, in-line 4 cylinder with 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. That’s a 40 horsepower advantage over Accord’s standard 4, and 18 more than Camry. Like the 3.5 V6, the 2.5 I-4 can be mated to a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Automatic equipped V6s are also available with traction control.
Supporting the Altima’s svelte new bodywork and more potent powertrains, you’ll find an all-new chassis and suspension as well. Overall torsional rigidity is up 70 percent and the use of aluminum components throughout the all- independent suspension saves weight and adds strength. A strut type set up is used up front. And replacing the former car’s rear twist beam is a multi-link design. Adapted from Nissan’s desirable Japanese-market Skyline, its similar to the unit found in the Infiniti Q45. It’s a competent set up that handles the larger Altima with ease. Giving the Altima a ride that is sporting, but never harsh. Altima 2.5s are shod with 16 inch wheels and 65 series tires. While SE V6 models like our tester, come with standard 17 rims and 55 series tires.
Both models come with 4-wheel disc brakes with vented discs up front, solids in the rear. Brake assist is standard, 4-wheel, 4 channel ABS with Electronic Brake force Distribution are part of the ABS package. Our tester came with the ABS system and we averaged stops from 60 in 126 feet. Our driver’s noted stability and control are excellent, but found the ABS system quite noisy.
Inside, like Audi, Nissan offers the Altima in three distinct ‘‘atmosphere’‘, each with a different color scheme and texture for the seats and dash. The new Altima also offers segment leading passenger room too. Our 3.5 SE tester came with comfortable heated leather seating with the driver getting power 8-way adjustments and manual lumbar supports. A fully adjustable steering wheel features on-wheel audio and cruise controls and fronts a clear and concise analog gauge cluster. Our car’s available Bose audio system includes an in-dash 6-disc CD changer and 8 speakers, a single CD player is standard on most models. While below are the single zone climate controls with automatic settings added as part of the leather package.
On the safety front, there are available side impact airbags and a side impact head curtain protection system for front and rear outboard passengers.
In the back, room for two is downright spacious, adequate for three. And the 60/40 split seatbacks lead the way to a whopping 15.6 cubic feet of trunk space.
What isn’t whopping is the price. 2002 Altima 2.5 4 cylinder models start at just $16,889. While V6 SE models like our tester start at $22,889.
Bigger, better, faster. The new 2002 Nissan Altima is all this and more, with no smoke and mirrors. And if this is the direction the revival is leading the folks at Nissan, their competitors had better start paying attention to the preacher!
Engine: 3.5 Liter, Dohc, 24-valve, V6
Torque: 246 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.4 Seconds @ 100 MPH
60-0 MPH: 126 Feet
EPA Mileage: 21 MPG City 26 MPG Highway