Test Drive: 2011 Nissan Altima

When it first came out, the Nissan Altima was a compact economy car, with emphasis on the economy.? That?s a far cry from the 2011 Nissan Altima, which boasts a 270 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and all the interior comforts that used to define a luxury car. Give this Nissan a snazzy clock and it would be an Infiniti!

Seriously, if you?ve been shopping the low end of the BMW 3 series or any of the upscale brands for a nice C-platform 4-door sedan, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the Altima.

The 3.5-liter engine pulls the car powerfully through the front wheel drive continuously variable transmission. If you?ve tried CVT before but found it unpleasant, put that aside and try the Nissan. Like most automatic-style transmissions, a CVT mated to a small displacement 4-cylinder engine can tend to be buzzy ? keeping the engine in the upper registers of its range in search of horsepower. But the larger displacement and torque of the V6 makes the CVT a natural choice to maximize torque and acceleration. ?Plus, you get good fuel economy out of the combination ? 20 MPG city and 27 on the highway.

The test vehicle was the SR edition. The base price of the Altima is just $24,740, and you get a good value for that money, including the V6, CVT, 4-wheel disc brakes, Air, Cruise, a full suite of safety features, tilt-telescoping leather-wrapped wheel, trip computer, and a nice stereo.

With the SR edition, you pay an extra $2,380 for the SR Premium Package. This includes heated leather seats, Bluetooth phone support, and a better Bose stereo with iPod and satellite radio support, and a backup camera. This test car also had the Sport Package, which includes HID headlights fog lights, moonroof, zone climate control, and a snazzy spoiler. All told, purchase price on the test car was $30,415.

Driving the Altima is a thoroughly pleasant experience. The car is quiet, comfortable, and does everything well. It looks good on the road and has plenty of gumption. In the course of a week in the Altima, I liked it more on the last day than I did on the first. I was sorry to have to send it back.

The bottom line on the Altima is simple ? if you?re looking to save money in the third straight year of the great recession, but you want a nice car that doesn?t look like you?re saving money, the 2011 Altima is a great choice for you.

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