2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL Long-Term Update 8
How About an Altima Nismo?
Some people need a little push to consider midsize sedans -- perhaps that's why Toyota offers the Camry SE and Honda now sells an Accord Sport. These trim levels are sportier and flashier than other variants, partially removing the stigma some might feel comes with driving a boring midsize sedan. So where's the Nissan Altima Nismo or Altima SE?
Nissan has made clear it wants the Altima to become an even bigger player in the midsize sedan segment, and I've found our long-termer to be a good car -- for the most part. Still, there's enough room in the Altima lineup for a sportier trim level, perhaps as a 2015 or 2016 model when the car's newness has faded away. Once that happens, an Altima with a more emotional appeal could be just the thing to remind loyal Camry and Accord owners that Nissan sells a midsize sedan, too.
With the Altima, Nissan has a decent foundation for a Nismo or SE model. You'll never confuse the responses of an Altima 2.5 SL for that of a hot hatch, but for a midsize sedan, it holds its own on spirited drives on winding roads. The suspension is communicative and there's even a little weight to the steering. The CVT and engine might need to be retuned for an Altima Nismo, though, as there's too much noise from the transmission when you're really hustling. If that update isn't in the cards, we'd ask Nissan to at least eliminate the two beeps that sometimes sound when you approach sharp curves. That safety feature quickly becomes annoying on fun roads with many turns.
Paddle shifters from the Altima V-6 or a manual gate on the shifter would be a meaningful upgrade and again increase the car's emotional appeal. Don't think a sporty trim is important? In a 2013 comparison of a Camry SE, Mazda6 GT, and Accord Sport, we noted that a full 40 percent of all Camry sales are of the sportier SE variant. Just keep the Altima Nismo/SE to the four-cylinder model to avoid cannibalizing Maxima sales and you've got potential to improve the car's image.
To steal potential Accord Sport and Camry SE buyers, Nissan must offer more eye-catching and, if possible, bigger wheels; hopefully that won't add much road noise. Our Altima rolls on 17-inch alloys and the car produces an acceptable amount of wind and tire noise for a midsizer. A boost in horsepower -- even with a slight drop in fuel economy -- would follow the model of the Accord Sport (from 185 to 189 hp), providing owners bragging rights over other Altimas in the neighborhood.
There is precedence for a sportier Altima. For the 2005 and 2006 model years, Nissan offered the Altima SE-R with forged 18-inch wheels, a performance exhaust system, painted brake calipers, and plenty of visual cues to show the car was no ordinary Altima. The SE-R had 260 hp -- 10 hp more than regular V-6 models -- and even an available six-speed manual transmission.
So we've seen a sportier Altima before, but that was when the midsizer was one of the most attractive cars in its class. The Nissan no longer holds that advantage -- just compare the 2005 Kia Optima and Ford Fusion to their modern equivalents. A supercharged Altima Hybrid might be on the way, but based on my time so far in the long-term 2013 Altima 2.5 SL, I wonder if an Altima Nismo or Altima SE might be worth consideration, too.