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The award-winning Nissan Altima is a fun-to-drive family sedan.
2002 Nissan Altima Road Test
Nissan Altima: Why it's Canada's coolest car
By Bill Roebuck
There was little surprise among the members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada members when the Nissan Altima was named the winner of the group's Canadian Car of the Year Award for new 2002 models, as well as the leader in the Best New Design and Best Family Sedan categories.
Each year, AJAC holds a Test Fest in Ontario at the Shannonville racetrack and on roads around Belleville to evaluate the year's new cars and trucks in various categories.
The Altima was the winner in the Family Sedan category, and also beat several other individual category winners to take the top honours -- including the BMW M3 coupe, the Mazda Protégé ES sedan and the Mercedes Benz E320 Wagon. (Rating points are combined with pricing factors to come up with final scores.)
In October 2001, 61 vehicles were entered in eight categories during the four-day Test Fest where competitors are judged back-to-back under identical conditions.
Category winners were announced in December 2001 and the overall winners of the car and truck of the year were revealed at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto in February 2002. Full Test Fest rankings and other test data for all the vehicles that were compared can be found on the at www.ajac.ca.
The Altima also was named the North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show in the U.S. in January, 2002.
Why all the awards?
Well, the Altima always was a nice car in its previous versions, but the new design for 2002 excels in several areas. At first glance, it's a looker. Despite being a four-door compact sedan, it turns heads. Doesn't matter what colour it's painted.
Inside, it's really roomy and comfortable. The new Altima is better looking, roomier and not that far behind the upscale Nissan Maxima in perceived performance. I think it's nice enough to make Maxima owners jealous, since they would have paid a lot more than the Altima costs. The base price is $23,498 for a four-cylinder S model; a V6 in SE trim is $27,698 and can run up to $32,798 (a wide array of trims and configurations accounts for the broad price range).
The seats are firm and comfortable, the visibility fore and aft is good, and the front and rear head, leg and shoulder room are excellent. The ride is smooth and quiet, although the suspension is a bit soft on cornering.
On the road, both the four-cylinder and V6 engines are powerful and peppy, with lots of acceleration and torque. Testing with a five-speed manual-transmission, V6 SE model produced a 0-100 km/h time of 7.4 seconds, making it the quickest in the Family Sedan category in AJAC's TestFest testing. It was also the quickest in passing acceleration from 80-120 km/h, at 5.4 seconds. The four-cylinder S model also is a speedy sedan, with a hint of sports-car handling.
The 240-hp, 3.5-litre six is a bit smoother than the 175-hp, 2.5-litre four. Both engines are quiet, even at high revs. The standard transmission is a bit noisier than the automatic, but that's not unexpected.
The Altima's not perfect, though. Some of the displays are difficult to read in bright sunlight, the console design with its lift-up armrest didn't lock into place effectively in our test models, and the seat heater buttons are poorly located. I also found the door detents weak, keeping them from staying open when the car was parked in an incline. The front cupholders are way too deep for a small Tim Hortons coffee.
These criticisms are but minor quibbles. After all, the Altima beat its competitors in a wide range of evaluation categories. If you want a roomy family sedan that's stylish and is a blast to drive, give the Altima serious consideration.
© Copyright Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca 2002.