2009 Nissan Altima Introduction

The Nissan Altima line includes sedans and coupes and a gas/electric hybrid. Altima represents a sporty alternative to mid-size stalwarts like the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Noteworthy changes for 2009 start with a substantial upgrade in standard equipment and a wider range of paint color choices. Most models add automatic door locks, and the Altima Coupe adds an 18-inch wheel option with larger tires. For 2009, the coupe has a glossy, painted grille. The Altima sedan launched as a 2007 model. The Altima Coupe and the Hybrid were introduced for the 2008 model year.

The Altima is a driver's car among work-a-day mid-size sedans and coupes. For drivers who appreciate sharp handling, the Altima excels. It connects with its driver and inspires confidence. It's steady and predictable in fairly extreme situations. Its suspension is firm compared to some competitors, but the Altima's ride isn't harsh.

The standard four-cylinder engine is one of the strongest in the class, but it still affords good fuel economy. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is rated 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque (170 and 175, respectively, in California).

The upgrade V6, closely related to the engine in Nissan's 370Z sports car, delivers exciting performance to those who seek it. The 3.5-liter V6 is rated at 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque.

The gas-electric Altima Hybrid sedan boasts an EPA-rated 35 miles per gallon City, extending its range past 600 miles between fill-ups. The Hybrid features a less powerful version of the four-cylinder (158 hp) and Toyota's proven electric hybrid drive. Its electrically powered air conditioning works even when the engine is stopped.

Most Altima models are equipped with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which works like an automatic. Nissan has excelled at CVT technology. Most Altima models are available with a six-speed manual transmission.

The Altima sedan is comfortable, practical and well suited to growing families. It gives up little rear seat room to the larger Nissan Maxima, with plenty of room in the trunk for stuff. In both sedan and coupe, Altima's cargo space can be expanded into the cabin, thanks to a standard fold-down, locking rear seatback.

The two-door Altima Coupe looks a bit sportier than the sedan, perhaps a bit more stylish, but it sacrifices a substantial amount of rear seat room. We'd say it's basically a car for two passengers.

The Altima line fits a wide range of tastes and budgets. The base sedan comes with the essentials (except a radio), while the line-topping Altima 3.5 SL has features and leather-trimmed ambience that hints at luxury class. The Altima 2.5 S can be optioned with leather, navigation and just about everything offered in the V6-powered cars, with the improved fuel economy of the four-cylinder engine.

All variants offer a sporting flair that separates them from the pack, yet Nissan has done a good job in recent years of smoothing some of Altima's rougher edges. Interior finish and overall smoothness have improved considerably, and are now more competitive with the best in the class.

The Altima models get high marks for safety, earning the full five stars in government front- and side-impact crash tests. All are equipped with a full complement of airbags and standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. A rearview camera is optional. Unfortunately, electronic stability control is optional, and not even offered on gas-only four cylinder models.

We'd venture the Altima sedan stands out from the competition a bit more prominently than the coupe. Still, drivers who put an emphasis on bang for the buck will find both variants worth a look.

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