Car Review: 2014 Nissan Altima

At $27,578, Nissan’s Altima 2.5 SV is a nice, well-equipped car that holds many attributes for the driver seeking a generously proportioned sedan with decent economy and big-car ride and comfort.

I went into this vehicle anticipating something suited to rental fleets and came away more indulged than I expected. The latest Altima merits consideration, especially given its base price of $23,698.

The Altimas well-crafted cabin is remarkably spacious and easily adapted to thanks to its straightforward design uncomplicated switchgear.

The Altimas well-crafted cabin is remarkably spacious and easily adapted to thanks to its straightforward design uncomplicated switchgear.
Rob Rothwell, Driving

Expressive design with technology that works

The Altima was reworked for 2013, and is largely carried over for 2014, save for some varied option packages. The exterior design is certainly expressive, looking more upscale than something in its MSRP-range has a right to.

Interior real estate is plentiful. Regardless of which seat is occupied, leg and headroom are found in abundance, but this cabin’s not about space at the cost of style.

Nice quality materials highlight a well-organized centre stack and console.

As is generally the case with Nissan/Infiniti products, the set-up is easy to work with. Switchgear and the touch screen interface are pragmatic in design and logically placed, which is becoming less the case of late. Several other manufacturers are embracing tech-turmoil by doubling the number of information screens confronting the driver.

With patience becoming a diminishing social attribute, I was pleased that the Altima’s voice-activated navigation system accepted my destination input verbally in one go rather than grilling me like a robotic cop testing my alibi.

A large trunk and fold-down rear seats enable the Altima to carry a tremendous amount of cargo when necessary.

A large trunk and fold-down rear seats enable the Altima to carry a tremendous amount of cargo when necessary.
Rob Rothwell, Driving

Four-banger and CVT work in harmony

Out of the gate, I’m not a fan of CVTs (continuously variable transmissions), whether in use in cars or SUVs. That said, the unit in the 2014 Altima may be the best functioning example I have tested to date. There’s no argument that plenty of progress has been made in CVT technology over the last few years, and that CVTs generally provide greater performance and better fuel-economy over that of a conventional automatic transmission — all good.

Not so good is the elasticized effect they formerly produced and the sense of working the throttle on a motorboat due to the lack of defined gear changes. While the Altima still feels somewhat motorboatish at full tilt, its CVT is otherwise exceptionally well-behaved and surprisingly unobtrusive. It would no longer be a deal-breaker for me if I were in the market for a thrifty but comfortable mid-size sedan.

Connected to the Altima’s CVT is a 2.5L four-cylinder gas engine producing 182 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM and 180 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 RPM. This little gem grew on me during the week we sipped fuel together. It operated quietly in the background, only announcing its presence with any sort of auditory acerbity when pushed hard, but while doing so produced darn good acceleration.

I was impressed with the operational harmony inherent in the Altima’s powertrain. The engine and CVT worked in sync to deliver smooth, effortless power. And unlike some four-cylinder engines mated to conventional gear-based automatic transmissions, there wasn’t a tendency for the unit to downshift unnecessarily, sending the four-banger into a useless state of over-revving.

With operational refinement well in check, the Altima’s ride quality and handling come next under the microscope.

Steering-wheel-mounted controls are intuitive and easy to use.

Steering-wheel-mounted controls are intuitive and easy to use.
Rob Rothwell, Driving

Big-car ride combined with spry cornering

If you occupied the passenger seat during the first few kilometres I drove the Altima, I would have prattled on about the car’s smooth ride and rigid body structure, likely until you cranked up the radio to drown-out the babble. But that’s what hit me first. The Altima delivers a big-car ride but not at the expense of athleticism, within reason of course.

The car feels tight and composed while effectively absorbing the abuse inflicted upon it by rough stretches of pavement. It does so while remaining agile — and in fact almost fun — in the corners thanks in part to Nissan’s Active Control Understeer, which is standard tech across the Altima lineup.

According to Nissan, the system works by braking the inside wheels for better control when cornering briskly, producing a more confident feel behind the wheel.

To what degree Active Control Understeer contributes to the Altima’s predictable, easy-to-manage handling characteristics I’m not sure, but it’s one of the car’s key strengths.

2014 Nissan Altima SV - left side headlights.

2014 Nissan Altima SV – left side headlights.
Rob Rothwell, Driving

V6 power available but unnecessary

For those needing more burn in their pipes, the Altima is available with Nissan’s award-winning 270 horsepower 3.5L V6 engine, but it’s not in my view a necessary box to check. The four-banger is really rather delightful, and managed 8.4L/100km in the city under the domineering administration of my right foot.

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Type of vehicle: Mid-size 4-door fuel-efficient sedan

Engine: 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder

Power: 182 hp / 180 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: Continuously variable FWD

Fuel economy rating: 8.7L / 6.2L / 100km city and highway

MSRP: Base $23,698, as tested $27,578 plus dest. and handling fee of $1,695

Overview: Spacious yet frugal mid-size sedan with expressive styling

Pros: Plenty of leg and headroom, peppy performance, competent handling, easy on fuel

Cons: Some may resist its continuously variable transmission but this one’s very good

Value for money: good

What would I change?: Further enhance engine refinement under hard acceleration

About Rob Rothwell