We closed last month's Nissan Altima update by saying "the Altima's sales results prove that the [car's middle-of-the-market] approach is working well." That turned out to be an understatement, as the model leap-frogged the Camry as the best-selling car for the month of March. According to Ward's Automotive Group, it was only the second time that the Altima has ever been at the top of the monthly car-sales numbers, whereas the Camry has been the best-seller 139 times since 1980 and the Honda Accord has achieved that status 90 times.
We hope that none of the 37,763 new Altima owners experience a couple of the recent glitches that we've seen with our Four Seasons car. For one, the front doors squeaked slightly upon opening, especially during cold weather. The passenger-side door even rubbed a bit against the fender, but a dealer technician adjusted the door and remedied the problem under warranty.
It seems that the service visit created a new issue, however, because now the mirror on the driver's side seems to be the cause of an unprecedented amount of wind noise, particularly at speeds right around 60 mph. Fortunately, this writer wasn't particularly bothered by the noise during a recent trip to Pittsburgh because the highways permitted speeds of 65 mph or more.
My logbook report follows: "The Altima was a very comfortable ride for me and three friends to drive to Pittsburgh for the NCAA men's college hockey Frozen Four tournament. (Underdog Yale University-alma mater of Automobile Magazine's own West Coast editor, Michael Jordan-won its first NCAA hockey title ever, in case you hadn't heard the news.) After the 613 miles we racked up during the trip, the car reported an average fuel economy of 28.7 mpg at an average speed of 52 mph over 11 hours and 46 minutes of driving. If not for the thirty or so sight-seeing miles we accumulated on the hilly surface streets of Pittsburgh, the average mileage surely would've been even closer to the EPA's quoted 31 mpg on the highway, which seems pretty darn solid for such a spacious and powerful non-diesel car filled with four people and their luggage.
"Before we'd left Washtenaw County, my buddies already agreed that the Altima is easily the least interesting new car I've driven to a Frozen Four (see the seven others here). Still, I figured the Nissan would be the best choice in our current Four Seasons fleet because it (a) has such a spacious back seat and trunk and (b) could use the miles more than some other suitable choices, namely the Volkswagen Passat TDI and the Mercedes-Benz GL450.
"Only one other person, Bob, drove the car (starting at midnight on the drive home). His first unsolicited comment was that the big paddle shifters hang down so low that the driver can't really steer with his knees. That's not something I typically test, but many drivers do this more than occasionally. I noticed for the first time that said paddles are both large and not really necessary at all with the Altima's continuously variable automatic transmission.
"Bob's other main comments were that he would've expected a car this new and well-equipped to have adaptive cruise control, and that the indicator for the high-beam headlamps is distractingly large and bright.
"I heard no complaints about comfort or legroom. I think we would've been just as comfortable on a trip twice this distance. There was plenty of extra trunk space for our four-person, two-night excursion. The two guys who usually sat in the back found the seat angle very comfortable and more conducive to dozing than almost everything I've driven on our annual excursion to the Frozen Four, with the notable (and predictable) exceptions of the Lexus LS460L and the Chrysler Town & Country. During my stint in the back seat, I appreciated that the rear door pull is the perfect size to stow an iPhone 4s and that wind and road noise aren't too bad back there."
It's no surprise that one of the most popular cars in America is a great road-tripper. We'll fill you in on more of our experiences with the Altima next month.