2006 Nissan Altima review
Sports car power in a midsize sedan body, excellent handling, roomy and comfortable interior, high level of features, distinctive styling.
Considerable road noise, overboosted steering, no stability control, ABS still an extra-cost option.
What's New for 2006
Changes to the Nissan Altima for 2006 are limited to package revisions and the addition of optional satellite radio.
Introduced in 1993, the first-generation Altima sold well, proved reliable and was rather fun to drive. A solid car all around, even today as an inexpensive used vehicle. Then, in 1998, Nissan redesigned it into obscurity. The car was still reliable and rather fun to drive, and it was even bigger inside and out than the original. Surefire recipe for success, right? Problem was it had the personality of a bowl of dry Grape Nuts. Staid styling, obvious cost-cutting and an overall tinny feel did the Altima no favors, and the "affordable luxury" advertising tag line no longer rang true. The car faded from consumer shopping lists, kept alive thanks only to fleet sales and hefty rebates.
With the third-generation Altima, Nissan said it wanted to bring a sense of passion and driving spirit back into the segment. Wanted? More like needed. Since its redesign in 2002, the Altima has been a wild success for Nissan as buyers have been won over by its likable combination of performance, space and comfort. Interior design and materials have never been its strong suit in a class populated by the ever refined Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat, though Nissan improved the cabin quarters somewhat for 2005. Many competitors now have big V6s of their own to keep up with the Altima, while the Mazda 6 and Mitsubishi Galant hold a slight edge in dynamics. Even so, the Altima still delivers a well-rounded package in either the sedate 2.5 S or the zoomy 3.5 SE. A slightly more powerful SE-R model with a firmer suspension was added to the lineup last year, so for those looking for a family sedan that can still thrill in the turns, the Altima deserves serious attention.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
Six models are offered: the base 2.5, 2.5 S, 3.5 SE, 3.5 SL and SE-R. The 2.5 is a bare-bones model with minimal features. Most buyers will want to start with the 2.5 S as it has air conditioning; cruise control; a stereo with a CD player; power windows, locks and mirrors; and keyless entry. Next up is the 3.5 SE, which adds V6 power, 17-inch alloy wheels and sportier suspension tuning. The 3.5 SL has a softer suspension and smaller 16-inch wheels, but adds more upscale amenities like leather seating, a sunroof, a trip computer, power driver seat, automatic climate control, a Bose audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and steering wheel-mounted controls; many of these features are optional on the 2.5 S and 3.5 SE. The performance-oriented SE-R has all of the above features, plus an even firmer suspension than the 3.5 SE. It also has 18-inch wheels with summer tires, bigger brakes, unique gauges, dark chrome trim, sport seats and HID headlights. The only major stand-alone option for the Altima is a DVD-based navigation system.
Powertrains and Performance:
The 2.5 Altima models are powered by a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated for 175 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque (170 hp and 175 lb-ft in PZEV states). The base 2.5 takes a five-speed manual transmission only, but 2.5 S buyers have their choice of the manual or a four-speed automatic. The 3.5 SE, 3.5 SL and SE-R come with a 3.5-liter V6. In the 3.5 SE and SL, this engine cranks out 250 horses and 249 lb-ft of twist. Tuning enhancements on the SE-R push horsepower and torque to 260 and 251, respectively. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a five-speed automatic on 3.5 SE and SE-R models; the 3.5 SL comes with an automatic only.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard; ABS is standard on the SE-R, 3.5 SL and automatic-equipped 3.5 SE and optional on all other Altimas, except the base 2.5. Also optional are front-seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Traction control is optional on V6 automatic models only. In government crash tests, the Altima received a perfect five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. An Altima without side airbags earned three stars for side-impact protection. In IIHS frontal offset crash testing conducted by the IIHS, the Altima received the top rating of "Good."
Interior Design and Special Features:
The dashboard features a sporty three-pod instrument layout and an uncluttered center stack. The steering wheel offers tilt and telescoping adjustment. Both the front and rear seats are comfortable and roomy, and the trunk has a generous 15.6-cubic-foot capacity.
Both engines render the Altima fun to drive, and its capable suspension gives the Nissan a more sporting character than most family sedans. True enthusiasts will want to check out the SE-R performance model as it offers the most aggressively tuned suspension.
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