What happened to the Altima? Six or seven years ago, the 3.5SE was, without a doubt, the cowboy of the midsize family sedan segment. With its powerful V-6 and available manual transmission, it could blow away any Camry or Accord, and it looked a whole lot more youthful, to boot. It was a family sedan teenaged boys hoped their parents would buy. I know I did.

Since then, though, the Nissan seems to have stood still, and even lost a step or two. It looks pretty much the same as it did a decade ago, save for some new creases here and and a few tucks there. The only transmission is a CVT automatic, and the 3.5-liter engine, though still powerful, isn't at all remarkable for the segment anymore. I realize more family sedan buyers couldn't give a hoot about these particulars, and this still is a refined, comfortable offering. The interior, always a weak point, has made strides, and the CVT does a good job mitigating the vibration and harshness inherent to the aging VQ. Still I wonder: without its athletic edge, what makes an Altima stand out against class leaders Accord and Camry, not to mention significantly improved upstarts like the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata?

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

"The only way to get a stick-shift V-6 Altima, it should be noted, is to spring for the $5000 more expensive Altima coupe, but the sedan's CVT does its job very well."There it is, the dreaded, life-sucking shiftless CVT. I remember the days when Nissan was the standout, the sporty alternative to a field of blandmobiles that still offered a truly slick manual shifter. Perhaps those days are gone for good, but because of this, the Altima is no longer a stand out for me.

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