SR models replaces last year’s SE offerings at the top, so the Altima line now includes S and SR trims for both sedans and coupes; there’s also a separate price-leader Base version of the sedan, priced at less than $20,000. Models with the 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine can have either a 6-speed manual transmission or continuously variable (CVT) automatic, while the 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6 is offered only with the CVT in sedans but with either the CVT or a 6-speed manual in coupes.
No matter which model, the Altima feels sportier than most rival models. Well-bolstered sport seats and more of a cockpit-style interior also distinguish the cabin feel. With revised trims for 2010, the interior has more soft-touch materials and chrome accents. A revised ‘blonde’ interior theme is available on the coupe, and the new red-leather interior is especially distinctive. On the outside, all Altimas get dual exhausts for a sporty look, while Altima Hybrids, SR sedans and all coupes come with sportier alloy wheels.
In either case the Altima handles very well thanks to speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering and a suspension that’s tuned on the firm side yet compliant enough for most surfaces. V6 models get sportier suspension tuning, with thicker front and rear stabilizers to help get the most out of the additional power, while all models get 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes.
As a coupe, the Altima is somewhat more nimble, because it has a shorter wheelbase than the sedan and has a bit less back-seat space as well. Trunk size is quite a bit smaller in coupe models, but both have a split-folding back seat to expand cargo space for larger items.
The Altima Hybrid employs a full hybrid system that combines the 2.5-liter engine with an electric-drive motor/generator system and an electronically controlled CVT. Altogether, the powertrain produces 198 horsepower and gets EPA ratings of 35 mpg city, 33 highway; for 4-cylinder models with the CVT, the ratings are 23/31.
Base-model Altima sedans come with a surprisingly level of equipment, including air conditioning, power locks and windows, a trip computer, cruise control, tilt/telescopic steering, and rear-seat heated vents. S models include a 6-speaker sound system, Intelligent Key entry and ignition system, and variable intermittent wipers. At the top of the line, SR models get fog lamps, power heated mirrors with integral turn signals, wood-tone and leather interior trims, a power driver’s seat, a moonroof (optional in the sedan), and upgraded 18-inch alloy wheels. Safety is strongly represented now, too, with electronic stability control now standard, in addition to a full roster of airbags.
The star of the Altima’s options list is a new Nissan Hard Drive Navigation System, which includes XM NavTraffic and NavWeather with dynamic rerouting; a Zagat restaurant guide; Bluetooth Streaming Audio: a DVD player: an RCA input; and 9.3 GB of hard-drive capacity for music storage. Also newly available is a premium audio package with 9-speaker Bose system plus a color display, USB and iPod connectivity and a Bluetooth hands-free calling system.