Two years ago I drove the then all-new, fifth-generation Nissan Altima and despite only spending an afternoon in the vehicle I knew it was a hit for the automaker. Fast-forward a couple of summers, and after spending an entire week behind the wheel of a 2014 Nissan Altima SL I am further convinced this may be one of Nissan’s best.
The new Altima was made longer, wider and lighter with great efforts to be outstanding in the midsize sedan segment for economy and value without sacrificing driving pleasure. Nissan has done that with this car as it achieves up to 38 mpg highway thanks to the miserly 182hp 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine backed by CVT gearbox.
Our SL tester also featured Nissan’s new Active Understeer Control that seemed to constantly keep steering response tight and crisp – a bit too tight at times I felt, like the steering response is permanently set to sport mode. But combine this with a taut chassis and suspension setup and the Altima feels exactly as if it is always in sport mode and – for many – that is a most desirable quality.
Styling is modern and attractive with the Altima resembling Mazda’s new 6 sedan in many, many ways. That is a very good thing given the crowded nature of the segment Altima competes in against the likes of the aforementioned Mazda, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and the new Chrysler 200 just to name a few.
The car rides fairly tight on the road but not to the point of discomfort but rather more “European” while proving very quiet and well-balanced. The Xtronic CVT transmission does offer a sport mode for those preferring to feel shift points while dialing up the engine revs but I found little in performance response difference between this setting and normal “Drive” mode.
While not a big fan of black leather interiors, the SL was quite comfortable and somewhat supportive although still a bit shy of the racecar image Nissan portrays in its TV campaign. And down here in the sunbelt, black leather interiors are a bear in daylight.
New technology offerings include NissanConnect app suite for enhanced integration of Android and iOS devices along with SiriusXM Travel Link for the Navigation system. Perhaps my favorite feature in the Nissan Altima is the Bose Premium audio system. Incredible audio imaging up front makes you feel like you have the best seat in the house at a concert while sound reproduction is crisp, tight, clear and accurate. This is the best sound system I have heard in a non-luxury vehicle in a long time.
Pricing for the 2014 Nissan Altima begins at $22,170 with our SL tester arriving at $31,060. For me, I would keep the technology package but shun the leather in favor of cloth seating. Nissan does offer a V-6 in Altima but with the package we tested and the accompanying 27 mpg city and 38 mpg highway I would opt for the four. We put the 2.5 through its paces and it passed with flying colors.