- Responsive steering
- Capable chassis
- Quiet ride
- Many available electronic features
- Available coupe body style
- Smaller backseat than rivals
- Complex options structure
Sooner or later, most everyone reaches that point in life where they feel compelled to trade their stylish, fun-to-drive set of wheels in for something more sensible. What many don't realize, however, is that cars like the 2012 Nissan Altima don't force you to choose between those two extremes.
While both the midsize Altima sedan and Altima coupe are handsome automobiles, that's only part of their appeal. Choose the V6-powered 3.5 SR model, for example, and you'll get both a robust 270-horsepower V6 engine and a firmer suspension that makes this Altima feel more like an expensive sport sedan. Even without these upgrades, the entry-level 2.5 and midrange 2.5 S models offer a decidedly more engaging driving experience than you'd expect from such practically oriented automobiles.
Inside, the Altima sports an attractive and comfortable cabin. The interior can also be fitted out with upscale options like a hard-drive-based navigation system with music storage, Bluetooth streaming audio and a rearview camera. These and many other high-end goodies are bundled together in a number of different packages, meaning some buyers will be forced to shell out money for features they don't really want in order to get those they do. Another downside to the Altima is that rear seat headroom is a bit tight in both coupe and sedan body styles.
Those issues aside, the Altima is still one of the better choices in the crowded midsize category, even though many competitors are newer designs. For those interested in checking out a few worthwhile alternatives, we'd recommend having a look at the well-rounded Ford Fusion, the roomier Honda Accord and the similarly sporty Mazda 6. Other top choices include the very impressive Hyundai Sonata (and related Kia Optima) and the European-influenced Volkswagen Passat. While it's impossible to go wrong with any of the above, few offer the combination of driving enjoyment and everyday practicality offered by the 2012 Nissan Altima.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012
Other than minor feature availability adjustments, the 2012 Nissan Altima is unchanged. Nissan has also discontinued the Altima Hybrid this year.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2012 Nissan Altima is offered in coupe and sedan body styles. There are three trim levels: 2.5, 2.5 S and 3.5 SR.
The 2.5 base model's (sedan only) list of standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a trip computer. There are no options offered here, not even a stereo, though the interior is pre-wired with four speakers. The 2.5 S trim, which can be had on both body styles, adds 17-inch alloy wheels (coupe only), keyless ignition/entry and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
Available options include a new Value package that comes with automatic headlights, Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The Special Edition package adds alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, a rear spoiler and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
Many of the following optional packages serve as requirements for more expensive packages, making getting what you want a bit tricky. The Convenience package (sedan only) includes much of the equipment from the Value package but also gains a power driver seat. The Convenience Plus package (sedan only) adds mirror-mounted turn-signal repeaters, a sunroof and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Premium Audio package (sedan only) adds a rearview camera and a nine-speaker Bose stereo with satellite radio and an iPod interface. The Premium package (coupe only) combines all the options above.
The 2.5 SL package for the sedan adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rear A/C vents. On the coupe, the SL package is essentially called the Leather package; it lacks rear A/C vents but gains xenon headlights.
Standard equipment on the top-of-the-line 3.5 SR model includes a V6 engine, 17-inch alloy wheels (18-inch on the coupe), a sport-tuned suspension, heated side mirrors and the contents of the 2.5 S Convenience package. The 3.5 SR Sport package (sedan only) adds xenon headlights, foglights, a sunroof and dual-zone climate control. The 3.5 SR Premium package (offered on both coupe and sedan) combines all the items in the 2.5 S coupe's Premium package, SL package and Premium Audio package.
The Technology package can be added to all 2.5 S and 3.5 SR models and includes a hard-drive navigation system with real-time traffic and weather updates, digital music storage and Bluetooth streaming audio capability.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
Inside, the 2012 Nissan Altima's passenger cabin offers top-quality materials and attractive, if a bit plain, styling. Up front, Altima coupes feature nicely bolstered sport seats in place of the sedan's flatter front buckets. Both the Altima coupe and sedan offer a bit less rear-seat head- and legroom than some of their competitors, though it's really only an issue in the coupe and even then there's enough space to squeeze in a couple of adults for a short trip.
Gauges and controls are simple and uncomplicated, even when it comes to the available navigation system. Most other top family sedans have caught up to the Altima in regards to technology features, though the Altima still has an impressive collection, including its hard-drive-based navigation system and Bluetooth streaming audio.
Sedan models have a good-size trunk with 15.3 cubic feet of cargo room. Altima coupes buyers will have to make do with a significantly smaller 8.2-cubic-foot cargo hold.
Every 2012 Nissan Altima comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags that cover both rows. In Edmunds brake testing, most Altimas regardless of body style came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, a number that's a bit longer than average for the category.
In government crash tests, the Altima sedan received an overall safety score of four stars (out of a possible five), with a four-star rating for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts. In the Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side crash tests, the Altima sedan received the best possible rating of "Good."
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Under the hood, the front-wheel-drive 2012 Nissan Altima can be had with one of two engines. All 2.5 models get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that generates 175 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard on all sedans, but it's optional on the coupe, which has a six-speed manual standard. In Edmunds performance testing, a 2.5 S sedan sprinted from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 8.5 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2.5-liter engine is 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined with the CVT, and 23/31/26 mpg with the manual.
The sportier 3.5 SR is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The transmission choices are the same. In our tests, a 3.5 sedan went from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds, while the 3.5 coupe did the same sprint in 6.7 seconds with the CVT and 6.5 seconds with the manual. EPA numbers for the 3.5-liter V6 are 20/27/23 mpg for the CVT and 18/27/21 mpg for the manual.
Which 2012 Nissan Altima model is right for you depends a lot on your expectations. The four-cylinder engine under the hood of 2.5 models feels lively enough that it should be more than adequate for a majority of buyers. The CVT pleased several of our editors with its smooth and responsive performance, while others felt it made the engine seem noisier under hard acceleration. The suspension here is biased toward ride comfort, though handling doesn't suffer all that much for it. On the highway, the Altima's ride quality never feels harsh or busy, and wind and road noise are muted.
The V6-powered 3.5 SR is another matter altogether, with strong acceleration that's better complemented by the CVT than the rather unrefined six-speed manual. This powertrain, combined with the sport-tuned suspension and precise steering, makes this model the best choice for driving enthusiasts.
The 2012 Nissan Altima is a solid pick for a midsize sedan or coupe, particularly if you're looking for something with some sporting flair.