Now in its second year on the market, the redesigned Nissan Altima continues to win awards and fans, and has brought stiff competition to Honda and Toyota for dominance in the midsize-sedan class.Sitting in my driveway, the 2014 Altima looked more like an Infiniti or BMW than the affordable mass-market sedan it actually is. And an up-close look, inside and out, reinforces that image: This car has more class than its price tag implies.For 2014, there are seven versions of the Altima available, ranging from the base model with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine ($22,110 plus $810 freight) to the top-of-the-line 3.6 SL model ($30,760), with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine.In between are the 2.5 S ($22,630); 3.5 S ($26,260); 2.5 SV ($24,280); 3.5 SV ($28,460); and 2.5 SL ($27,860).Our tester for this report was the midlevel 2.5 SV version, which, with freight and options, topped out at $27,715.It came in a pleasing Java Metallic (brown) exterior color, with charcoal cloth seats and a gray cloth headliner. The only thing that would have made the car more elegant would have been leather upholstery, which is standard on the top-end models.New for 2014 is the expanded NissanConnect system with more apps. This is a system that integrates an iPhone or Android smartphone with the in-dash audio and navigation systems to bring popular apps to the vehicle.In addition, the NissanConnect system with navigation now includes SiriusXM Travel Link, which provides real-time, location-specific fuel prices, movie times, stock updates and weather.Also added for 2014 are upgraded seating materials and some tweaks to make the cabin quieter and more comfortable, Nissan says.There’s also a new 2.5 Sport Value Package ($850) offered, which brings 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, remote engine start and a trunk lid spoiler. In addition, the Technology Package ($1,090) is now available on 2.5 SV and 3.5 SV models, and was included on our test vehicle.This package brings NissanConnect with navigation and the SiriusXM Travel Link, along with Blind Spot Warning, Moving Object Detection and Lane Departure Warning.A new Display Audio Package ($320) is available on 2.5 S models (standard on 3.5 S), and adds a 5-inch color display, RearView Monitor, USB port, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, NissanConnect Apps and a diversity antenna.There is a new Gun Metallic exterior color, which has replaced last year’s Metallic Slate; there are a total of eight available colors. Chrome exhaust finishers are new for the base 2.5 model. The luxury look and feel of the Altima is not an accident: Nissan benchmarked the new model against the Mercedes C-class, BMW 3-series and Audi A4, rather than other, less-expensive cars in its own segment.Nissan says the car was designed to be "a cut above" its competitors – including the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.It’s the fifth generation of the Altima, which originally debuted in 1992 and has totaled more than 4 million sales in the 21 years it’s been on the market. It plays in the biggest vehicle segment – mass-market midsize sedans, which account for 2 million U.S. sales annually.Competition is fierce, as the Camry got a complete makeover for 2012, a new Accord arrived for 2013, and other key models in the segment are new, as well, including the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.The Altima boasts the best fuel economy in its class, excluding gasoline-electric hybrids. Its EPA ratings are 27 mpg city/38 highway for the four-cylinder models.The four-cylinder engine cranks out 182 horsepower and 180 foot-pounds of torque, and is connected to Nissan’s newest-generation continuously variable automatic transmission, which has the equivalent of at least eight forward speeds.Part of the Altima’s 38 mpg highway mileage can be attributed to this transmission, which allows the car to cruise at 60 mph at just 1,450 rpm engine speed – not much higher than some engines’ idle speed.Although the engine sounded a little buzzy at times, especially on a quick takeoff, the 2.5-liter gave us plenty of power for highway merges, passing, and even uphill runs on some of our favorite country roads.We averaged 30.6 mpg during our test, which was primarily on city and secondary roads, with some limited freeway driving.Nissan chose to include a V-6 option for the new Altima for those who want a sportier driving experience. Some of the top midsize competitors, including the Malibu and Hyundai Sonata, no longer offer a V-6.The 3.5-liter engine cranks out 270 horsepower and 251 foot-pounds of torque, and is connected to its own continuously variable transmission. EPA ratings are 22 city/31 highway.The new Altima also has the most-advanced technology ever offered in this car, including optional features normally reserved for expensive luxury models. Among them is a rearview camera system that can detect moving people, animals or objects in a nearly 180-degree sweep behind the car and warn the driver to help avoid an accident.Nissan emphasizes the car’s "premium driving experience," something that was readily apparent in my test drive on some fun roads. The tight suspension, responsive steering, and excellent brakes proved to be a great combination, especially on twisty roads.In spite of its front-wheel-drive architecture, which usually isn’t very conducive to sport driving, the Altima’s handling and performance stood out – and I wasn’t driving a V-6 model.The interior is roomy and comfortable for up to five adults, with plenty of leg, head and knee room. I took a turn sitting in the back seat, and had plenty of room for my legs. There is a pull-down center armrest in the rear that includes two cupholders, and there are bottle-holder pockets in the rear doors. Map pockets were provided on the backs of the front seats.Up front, a four-inch color driver-information display in the center of the instrument panel offers such features as advanced drive assist, navigation info, blind-spot warnings, distance to empty, and tire-pressure information. Actual pressure is shown for each tire, and the "easy fill" alert system beeps the horn when the tire reaches sufficient pressure when air is being added.The rearview camera with moving-object detection is an option (part of the Technology Package on our tester); otherwise, there is just a regular rearview camera.For our mobile devices, the Altima provided us a deep cubby in the front of the center console, and it also had a 12-volt outlet, USB port and auxiliary input, easily accessible rather than being hidden under a lid inside a console.There are two cupholders up front, as well as a bottle holder in each front door. The steering wheel had controls for both the cruise and the audio systems.Standard on the 2.5 S are a six-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, the Advanced Drive-Assist display, the steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, keyless entry and pushbutton start, six speakers, auto on/off headlights, in-cabin micro filter, and tire-pressure monitoring. The 3.5 S gets these features, plus 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and manual paddle shifters for the transmission.SV models come with most of the S features, along with dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum-alloy wheels (17-inch on 2.5 SV, 18-inch on 3.5 SV), rearview monitor, NissanConnect with Pandora radio capability, satellite radio, five-inch color audio display, USB port with iPod connectivity, hands-free text messaging and more.The 3.5 SV adds a moon roof, fog lights and universal garage opened.SL models include leather seats, Bose premium audio with nine speakers (including woofers), eight-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats/steering wheel/outside mirrors, LED taillights, LED outside mirror turn signals, premium interior trim, power/sliding moon roof, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and universal garage opener. Our SV tester came with the Convenience Package ($1,350), which added a one-touch up/down front passenger window (standard on the driver’s side), rear air conditioning vents, the moon roof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage opener, compass, fog lights, manual folding outside mirrors with built-in LED turn signals, a side cargo net in the trunk, and mood lighting in the roof console.The trunk is quite roomy – 15.4 cubic feet – and has electric releases on the dash and on the remote key fob. The little cargo net, on the rear left side, is perfect for keeping small objects secure so they don’t slide around the trunk – such as a fire extinguisher, first aid kid, highway emergency kit, gallon of milk, or whatever. Standard safety features include front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and active understeer control.Also included is a feature that turns on the headlights when the windshield wipers are turned on. This activates after the wipers have made three sweeps.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com.