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2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR

The most outstanding feature of the Altima is its powertrain, as the continuously variable transmission smoothly transmits the substantial 270 hp produced by the V-6 engine to the pavement. The exterior styling is nice but doesn't stand out in any meaningful way, and much the same can be said of the interior. In a category that is still dominated by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord powerhouses, and with the recently redesigned Ford Fusion and Subaru Legacy also making a place for themselves, the Altima seems to have become somewhat lost in the shuffle.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

If you want your front-wheel-drive family sedan with a strong dose of "oomph," the Altima is your ride. With a 270-hp V-6, acceleration is very strong and immediate. Yep, it's possible to spin the front wheels, but I didn't find torque steer to be a problem. At least not on Michigan's flat roads.

Within the Japanese family-sedan triumvirate of Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima, the Altima is by far the sportiest and most aggressive entry, especially when equipped with the optional V-6. And while some earlier applications of Nissan's continuously variable transmission (CVT) left me cold, this Xtronic CVT seemed to make good use of the V-6 and enables this car to achieve a respectable 27-mpg highway EPA rating.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

This Altima 3.5SR test car is particularly well-optioned, with lush leather seats, navigation, a crystal-clear backup camera, a sunroof, and many other handy features. As it should be for $32K. All that nice stuff isn't quite enough to camouflage the fact that this is merely an average contender in the hotly contested mid-size class. Even though the engine is quite powerful and acceleration brisk, as Joe noted, the Altima's driving dynamics are pretty soft while the ride quality errs on the harsh side in some circumstances (for instance, high frequency small bumps at about 45 mph). Worse, when the suspension is working hard, a fair amount of noise makes its way into the cabin. Still, anyone who likes straight-line get-up-and-go should be satisfied with the V-6-powered Altima. 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.

The 3.5SR trim level, by the way, replaced the previous top-of-the-line 3.5SE trim for the '10 model year, which also saw the entire Altima lineup face-lifted.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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

This is my first time behind the wheel of the Nissan Altima in over a year and, although the exterior styling is still a bit generic, it's clear that Nissan has upgraded some of its interior materials in this 2010 model. I'm not keen on the metallic trim in this 3.5 SR, but most of the plastics have a nice texture and the BMW-like matte finish on the upper dash virtually eliminates sun glare. The navigation display - a large 6.5-inch screen is part of the $1780 technology package - is colorful, bright, and easy to read and the system is straightforward to use.

The Altima's interior has a sportier character than many its competitors and the engine backs up that atmosphere with attitude. The 270 horsepower V-6 provides excellent straight-line acceleration and the 253 lb -ft of torque makes for neck-snapping take-offs. Unfortunately, Nissan still hasn't managed to give the Altima a sporty driving demeanor as body motions are not well controlled even without much provocation. Still, the overall sporting intentions of the Altima shine through making it a decent alternative to the more mainstream offerings from Toyota and Honda.

Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor

It amazes me that some automakers have the hardest time addressing torque steer, adopting all sorts of interesting designs and configurations attempting to curb the symptom. Others, however, seem to be able to drop a strong V-6 into a front-wheel-drive chassis, and have a balanced car without the technological crutch. This Altima seems to be the latter -- the venerable VQ V-6 throws down a solid 258 pound-feet of torque, yet the car never pushes to the side, even under hard acceleration. Impressive.

I'm generally impressed by the look and feel of the Altima's interior makeover, but it appears designers forgot one little detail: seat bolsters. The front seats are comfortable, but they're shaped like slabs, and offer little lateral hold when entering a corner.

Evan McCausland, Web Producer

I don't disagree with any of the positive praise delivered by my colleagues. The continuously variable transmission works pairs well to this 3.5-liter engine. Torque steer is practically absent. Cabin materials are quite nice. However, the Altima still rolls in as a rather bland entry in a bland category. The interior is comfortable and functional, but it's executed without any concerted effort at style. The ride and handling behavior, as others have mentioned, is acceptable yet characterless. For a mid-size sedan, I'd much rather spend my money on a Ford Fusion or Honda Accord.

Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

Had I not recently driven a 3.5-liter Altima on Florida's straight roads, I would think the rest of you were smoking a little crack. But it's true--on flat surfaces, the Altima is quite able to put its power down without yanking the wheel out of your hand.

That is most definitely not the case when the roads turn twisty and hilly. This is a lot of power for a front-wheel drive car, and the Altima's super-soft suspension does it no favors. I'm not sure I'd use the word "sporty" to describe it - "fast" is enough. Body control is pretty awful when you push it.

From a non-performance point of view, though, the Altima makes for a nice commuter car. As others have noted, the transmission does a great job of keeping the VQ-series V-6 away from its vibration-riddled trouble spots. It's as smooth as silk, and perhaps because it has so much torque, you never notice extended periods of high-revs like in other CVT-equipped cars.

Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor

Base price (with destination): $25,240
Price as tested: $31,945

Standard Equipment:
3.5-liter V-6 engine
CVT transmission
17-inch alloy wheels
Vehicle dynamic control (ESP)
Tire pressure monitoring system
Vehicle stability immobilizer system
8-way power driver's seat
Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Cruise control with steering wheel controls
Speed-sensitive intermittent windshield wipers
AM/FM/CD/AUX audio system with 6 speakers
Power windows/locks
Push button ignition

Options on this vehicle:
3.5 SR Premium package -- $2380
- Leather seats and shift knob
- Heated front seats
- Bluetooth connectivity
- BOSE audio system with 9 speakers
- XM satellite radio
- USB port with iPod connectivity
- 4.3-inch display and rearview monitor
- Auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass

Sport package -- $2370
- Rear spoiler
- Fog lights
- Xenon HID headlamps
- Dual zone automatic climate control
- Power sliding moonroof with sunshade

Technology package -- $1780
- Navigation system with 6.5" touch screen
- 9.3 GB music box hard drive
- XM nav/traffic/weather/sports
- Bluetooth streaming audio
- DVD player and VTR jack

Floor & trunk mat set -- $175

Key options not on vehicle:

Fuel economy:
20 / 27 / 23 mpg

Size: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm


Xtronic Continuously variable automatic

Curb weight: 3357 lb

17 x 7.5-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
P215/55R17 93V Bridgestone Turanza EL400 all-season tires

Competitors: Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Subaru Legacy