Mountain Wheels: Big-selling Nissan Altima provides predictable charms |

Mountain Wheels: Big-selling Nissan Altima provides predictable charms

The 2015 Nissan Altima is not only Nissan's best-selling vehicle but also one of the top-selling cars in the United States - thanks to its distinctive exterior and interior design, rewarding driving experience and innovative, driver-focused technology.
Nissan | Nissan

2014 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL

MSRP: $27,920; as tested, $30,830 (destination included)

Powertrain: 182-HP 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, CVT automatic transmission

EPA figures: 31 mpg combined (27 city, 38 highway)

The mid-sized sedan segment, the bread and butter of folks living in non-snow-covered regions of the country, accounts for something like 9 jillion cars a year; each of the major players in the segment has presented an entry that does its job to be almost interchangeably sleek in design, increasingly efficient and both engaging and totally boring all at the same time.

That was my general consensus with Nissan’s version of the everycar, the Altima, though I must admit that when parked in the tall, comfortable perch in the sizeable rear seat — with leg room to spare, accentuated by curved front seatbacks — I might not mind so much to be hauled around by my mom from mall to lacrosse practice in Cleveland or Akron, in a vehicle of this size.

It is not to say that the Altima, completely redesigned for its 2013 model, is ultimately forgettable or even poorly crafted; it is a finely assembled machine laden with the standard litany of modern conveniences.

And with the smaller of two available engine choices, a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, connected to a one-speed continuously variable transmission that nearly replicates a multi-geared automatic transmission, some real magic happened: I got a remarkable 44 mpg, albeit during a very calm 60 mph journey in mixed urban conditions, no yawning uphill jaunts or high-speed highway cruising involved.

Nissan says the car is good for at least 38 mpg on the highway, and as a full-sized machine that doesn’t require hybrid nonsense to do so, that’s a pretty good starting point. If you need more boost, the 270-HP 3.5-liter V6 is also available, with a 32 mpg highway figure.

If it were the only player in a very busy segment, you’d be floored by Altima’s looks, from the chrome-edged and mirrored headlamps and tail lamps, the Volvo-inspired side mirrors, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and a smoothly swept body line that’s … well, not that much different than the Malibu, Mazda6 or Fusions that also crowd the competition. Nice, but not especially notable.

I can’t say that its driving dynamic sets it apart, particularly: That CVT can be just a tad slow to respond in lower-speed circumstances, but it becomes wonderfully imperceptible at higher speeds, and can even be clicked into a sport mode to boost the artificial revs. I would call the electrically assisted hydraulic steering purposefully vague, as well, and the suspension — with shocks supplied by high-end parts company ZF Sachs — stiff but stable.

Altima’s interior details are a tasteful, upmarket rendition of some of the Nissan bits and pieces you’ll see in lower-tier makes, including attractive wood-relief trim, lots of chromed hardware and a piano black center stack. Orange-lit instrumentation, a decent, 7-inch touchscreen navigation system (part of an optional $1,090 technology package upgrade) and Bose speakers also bump things up a notch or two. The seating, said to be inspired by NASA’s research, is indeed pleasant.

Not unlike the high-profile Kia K900 I wrote about last week, Nissan’s lane-departure warning system — visualized in the Altima’s mid-instrument cluster video screen — is also jarringly loud, making me wonder in general what kind of drivers need such unbelievably loud warnings that they’ve strayed out of their lanes. It’s part of Nissan’s “Safety Shield” technology package, which also includes blind spot warnings and moving object detection.

More interesting is an available hands-free text message interception and response technology, keeping things safer on the road.

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