THERE is a changing of the sedan guard at Nissan. Maxima has been ousted, with Altima now filling the void.
Technically the Maxima was in the large car category while the Altima is a mid-sizer, although there isn't a monumental sizing difference.
Made in Thailand, but designed in Japan with the United States market in mind, the Altima has been embraced by the Yanks. More than 270,000 units have been sold there this year and it remains entrenched in the top 10 sellers.
Starting from just below $30,000 and topping out at $45,390, this is really Nissan's play for a foothold in the fleet market.
The mid-size segment is forecast to grow by 6% between now and 2016 and the Japanese carmaker wants to take on the likes of Toyota's Camry and the Mazda6.
Spacious and well designed, the cabin has a familiar feel across the four specifications.
Base model ST is focused on the fleet market with cloth trim and a basic stereo, although step up just one rung into the ST-L and you get more refined leather accented trim and a 17.7cm screen with sat nav which really lifts the ambiance.
Altimas also have what Nissan calls "zero-gravity" inspired front pews. Using research from NASA, the seats are designed to aid a "neutral posture" by reducing muscular and spinal loads which improves blood flow and in turn reduces fatigue.
Can you tell? In a word, no. They are nicely supportive and comfy but on our initial introduction they don't feel rocket-science-inspired.
Those in the back don't get any special seat treatments but astronauts of all sizes would be able to find ample space. Head, leg and knee room is excellent.
On the road
Quiet and well behaved, the Altima is a perfect fit for the medium-size buyer.
Typically this a genre where drivers want value, space and comfort. The Altima ticks those boxes.
There is limited road noise even on coarse chip surfaces and it moves along without much prodding.
Two engine choices are available, an honest 2.5-litre four-cylinder and a muscular 3.5-litre V6 both partnered to one of the best continuously variable transmissions we've sampled.
Nissan doesn't expect the latter to account for much more than 10% of sales - consistent with sales across the segment.
The V6 is obviously stronger and smoother, but the four-potter is no slouch. Test its mettle with hefty acceleration and it can be noisy but it answers each summons with a handy shunt good enough for overtaking and punching into traffic.
It tracks pretty well in the bends and manages not to plough wide when entering corners with too much speed courtesy of Active Understeer Control.
Its United States intentions are exposed on bumpy surfaces as it tends to float and bounce, but Altima owners won't mind this as its worth the comfort trade-off.
What do you get?
Base model Altimas come with 16-inch alloys, six-speaker CD stereo with USB/iPod and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth phone connectivity, cruise control, dual zone air con, push button start as well as automatic lights and wipers.
ST-L gains larger alloys, sat nav and rear view camera, parking sensors front and back, Bose stereo with embedded apps for internet access and Pandora radio using data from your smartphone, leather trim as well electric seat adjustment.
When you get into the Ti it adds 18-inch alloys, around view monitor, Xenon headlights with auto levelling, power rear shade, and the "Intelligent Technology Suite" which includes blind sport warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection.
The range-topping Ti-S simply gains the V6 donk with steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Capped price servicing is available, but the intervals are at six months or 10,000km whereas most other manufacturers are annual nowadays.
Fuel consumption is frugal in the four-cylinder at less than eight litres for every 100km, expect the V6 to deliver something closer to 10.
With split-fold seats and a massive boot, families will appreciate the space. Up front there are two cup-holders, a good console along with space for phones and MP3s, while each door can house a bottle.
There are some interesting lines about the Altima, and it has an especially good-looking rear end while the front has an alluring appeal.
Medium-size cars really aren't excitement machines.
Nissan has done a solid job with a good all-rounder in the Altima which should appeal to buyers shopping in this aisle.
The suspension is soft and the steering feel light, but it is a wonderful traveller with impressive cabin serenity.
The Altima is a really likeable car with a good features list which should find favour with those seeking value.
What matters most
What we liked: Quiet ride with excellent NVH levels, cabin space, features list, good value.
What we'd like to see: Slightly firmer ride for better cornering, extra steering feel, longer servicing intervals.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year 100,000km warranty with roadside assist. Six years capped price servicing, every six months or 10,000km. Average price for the four-cylinder servicing is $325, while the V6 is $388.
Model: Nissan Altima.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive large sedan.
Engines: 2.5-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 127kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 230Nm @ 4000rpm; Ti-S - 3.5-litre six-cylinder 183kW @ 6400rpm and 312Nm @ 4400rpm.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 7.5 litres/100km (combined average); 9.3L/100km.
CO2: 174g/km; 216g/km.
Bottom line: ST $29,990, ST-L $35,890, Ti $40,190, Ti-S $45,390. (Plus on-roads).
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