Welcoming a new car to our Four Seasons fleet is one of the most enjoyable things we do here at Automobile Magazine. Family sedans such as our new Nissan Altima aren't the most exciting vehicles we test, but they still offer us -- and consumers -- superb everyday usability. We broke in our new Nissan very quickly.
On its first day with us, our Altima barely touched tire to our parking lot before Laura Sky Brown, executive editor of JeanKnowsCars.com, pointed it toward Bloomington, Indiana. Brown has made the trip dozens of times in the past three years and found the Altima to be extremely pleasant: "It's comfortable without being too cushy or pretentious, fast without being intimidating to the normal driver, and attractive without being ostentatious in any way. Yet it's not a boring car at all. I wasn't as sedate behind the wheel as I was expected to be."
The Altima traveled far away from Ann Arbor the very next weekend, as Mark Mastropietro, able assistant to photographer A. J. Mueller, steered the car to northern Michigan and then on to Chicago before returning to southeastern Michigan. Mastropietro loved the Altima's styling: "It has a bit of a Lexus look to it and looks great in red. Not too many heads turned as I drove it through Chicago, but it might be perfectly under the radar for a cool dad." Substance also met Mastropietro standards: "It takes off quite quickly after a good punch to the accelerator. Cruising on the highway was a breeze, but I had several of those 'whoa, I didn't know I was going that fast' moments. I was supercomfortable in the driver's seat, too, and that's not always easy for a tall guy like me."
Not keen to leave our test cars parked for very long, we sent the Altima back to the west side of Michigan the very day that Mastropietro brought it back. The destination this time was South Haven, site of our annual Automobile of the Year testing. The Altima didn't win the major award, but many drivers put it through its paces on local back roads and, in a few cases, on GingerMan Raceway. The car doesn't feel nearly as sporty or tied down as the mid-size rivals we had on hand -- the Ford Fusion and the Honda Accord -- both of which impressed us greatly with their fun-to-drive characteristics. The softer Altima sat idle for most of the track day, but those who drove it on the 2.14-mile road course enjoyed its powerful engine and its obedient continuously variable transmission but found the car reluctant to change directions quickly.
However, our Four Seasons car looked very good when compared with the four-cylinder Altima 2.5 SV that was also present. That car, which cost $5130 less than our 3.5 SL, felt much less pleasing both to sit in and to drive. "As with most things, more power helps," said design editor Robert Cumberford. "In this case, the CVT is a whole lot calmer and agreeable than it is in the 2.5-liter four-cylinder. This is a really powerful family car, able to provide a good ride, decent roadholding, and, presumably, good economy. Nicely finished and likely to stay that way for a goodly time."
Since its first days in our fleet, the Four Seasons Altima has slowed its pace quite a bit, but we're still racking up miles and comments. Check back next month to learn how we like the car for day-to-day commuting.