Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Nissan Altima Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Nissan Altima Overview

Body

The Altima continues to win over converts who have been hooked by the car's good looks, powerful standard engine and attractive window sticker. In just one year, Nissan has transformed the Altima from everyday transport to sizzling hot-rod sedan ready to take on the best from Honda, Toyota and VW. What a difference a year makes.

If the Altima has a clear advantage over the competition, it has to be in the area of power. The standard 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine turns out 175-horsepower—that's equivalent to some V6's— and is teamed to a solid-shifting 5-speed manual transmission. This engine pulls strong right off the line and keeps right on moving until you let off the throttle. If you think the base engine could still use some more muscle, you should opt for the V6 models, which feature a 3.5-liter engine rated at an eye-popping 245 horsepower; did we mention that this is supposed to be a family sedan? What ever Nissan has in mind, it is apparently resonating well with the public because not only are Altima sales going through the roof, the car is winning award after award, including the 2002 North American Car of the Year, awarded at last years Detroit auto show.

The V6 does have a few quirks not found on the lighter in-line four. As with any powerful front-drive car, there is plenty of torque steer (a front-wheel drive car's tendency to pull one direction or the other under power), but if you keep your hands firmly on the wheel you should have no problem. On the upside, the Altima has an independent rear suspension that makes quick work of twisting back roads and smoothes the ride over less-than-optimal pavement. The chassis feels tight and the springs and shocks are well suited to each other; the ride is stiff when it needs to be, but never harsh.

Inside, Nissan has provided an equally pleasing interior, with an ultra-modern dash and an instrument cluster that moves up and down with the tilt/telescopic steering wheel. The seats are covered in a soft terry-cloth like fabric but the foam underneath is a bit on the soft side and the seats could do with some more sculpting and side support. The audio system sounds great and is easy to operate while driving, though the orange digital readout display cannot overcome the bright sunlight that pours through the steeply sloping windshield. The instrument pods for the speedometer, tach and fuel gauges are deeply recessed and are constantly lit in a soft orange glow. Rear seat passengers will find a generous amount of legroom, but taller passengers may find their heads bump up against the sharply raked rear C-pillar.

The plastics on the dash and door panels look good, but some of our testers wondered if the lightweight pieces would hold up over repeated use. We also discovered a few minor items that struck us as odd for a car in this price class. For example, beneath the hood we found a prop rod where hydraulic struts should be, and in the trunk the absence of an interior deck lid liner and molded covers to protect the speakers and amp. These are all weight and cost cutting measures that are designed to be invisible from outside the car and to Nissan's credit, they have kept the price of a well-equipped Altima well inline with that of the competition.

The Altima offers a choice of four trim levels, each designed to suit the needs and budgets of differing individuals. The base car, the 2.5, comes standard with 4-wheel disc brakes, rear defroster, power door locks, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, split-folding rear seats, one touch up/down power windows, 16-inch wheels with covers and illuminated entry. The 2.5 S adds air conditioning, keyless entry, dual power mirrors, speed control, upgraded audio and a longer options list. The 2.5 SL and 3.5 SE add such luxury items as leather seats, heated outside mirrors, automatic day/night rear view mirror, power driver's seat, AM/FM CD audio and much more. Options include a power moonroof, alloy wheels, side-impact airbags and a Bose audio system.

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