2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 S
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, reliable, mid-sized family sedan, you’ve probably got the Nissan Altima 2.5 S on your list of cars to check out. And, on paper, nearly everything tells you that it should be a serious contender.
Sure, if you’re a serious car aficionado, you might quibble over the front-wheel drive, but practically everything in the class is front-wheel drive, and literally everything in its price range is. Everything else on the spec sheet should fill you with a bit of enthusiasm, though. Like I said, on paper, it looks good.
The last Altima I drove was the previous model year’s 3.5 S, and I liked it. The extra power from the 3.5L 6-cylinder motor gave it much more charm than I expected. So, how does the 2.5 stack up to the 3.5?
How it looks
It’s an attractive car. There’s no doubt about that. Unlike, say BMW, who’ve apparently decided that there needs to be a sharp crease or two on every 6 inches of the body’s surface, Nissan has gone with a much smoother, cleaner design, although Nissan has blatantly stolen BMW’s Hofmeister Kink for the rear window. Happily, Nissan has resisted the pernicious influence of Audi’s “unified grille” concept—so unhappily implemented by Lexus—and remained with a more conventional design.
The entire exterior is conventional, really. One might even go so far as to call it bland, though attractively so. Which is really what you should expect in a car that seeks the widest audience possible. It’s a platform that you want to look unassertively nice, not one that you want to decorate with controversial design choices. In that context, the Altima’s exterior is perfectly fine.
Like most cars, the Altima has a “face” that we can anthropomorphize into a human expression. Mazdas, for example, look insanely happy. The Altima, on the other hand, looks determined. There’s a whole I-think-I-can vibe to the Altima’s face, which also reminds me very much of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Inside, the inoffensive design concept continues. The interior is attractively put together, with a soft-touch dashboard top—though plenty of plastic remains—and a nice 5-inch, color, info screen in the center console. The driver’s cluster sports an analog tach and speedometer. Sandwiched between them, in the center of the instrument stack, is another color display that tells you many things. The adjustable steering wheel is slathered with buttons that enable you to control all the things.
Some quibbles do arise with the interior, however. After a couple of hours in the driver’s seat, I began to feel a bit stiff and sore. It’s not quite as comfortable and supportive as it first seems. The back seat area is also a bit cramped, and the back seats themselves are a fairly unpleasant place to spend time, being not very comfy or supportive at all, so don’t expect any of your adult friends to be truly happy back there. It’s fine for your kids, though, mainly because they don’t know any better.
But look, this isn’t a Mercedes S-Class. The Altima costs $18,000. You’ve simply got to expect that it’s going to be a somewhat nasty place to spend time. Car-building economics requires it. Still, you get keyless entry and start, Bluetooth connectivity with your phone or iPod, and a nice stereo/information combo system. All of which, let’s face it, weren’t even available on the S-class a decade ago, but are the minimum you should expect on any reasonably specced modern car.
How it drives
Let’s take a look at the spec sheet, shall we. The Altima 2.5 S is powered by an Inline-4 that sends its 182 HP and 180 torques to the front wheels, though, sadly, through a Continuously Variable Transmission (about which, more in due course). This combination provides a field economy rating of 27 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. On top of this, there’s something that Nissan calls Active Understeer Control, which detects understeer, and applies a little braking to the inside wheel to keep you turning, rather than careening off the road into a sidewalk full of children. It does this, Nissan assures us, “subtly”. From a standing start, 60 MPH is, supposedly, 7.8 seconds away, which for a 3,200 lb. sedan, is entirely respectable. Again, on paper, it all seems quite nice for a reasonably priced sedan, and the Altima 2.5’s specs indicate a car that’s more powerful than you’d expect.
Sadly, though, thanks to the CVT stuck in the middle of the powertrain, it doesn’t seem all that powerful, and the actual experience of driving the Altima 2.5 is fairly disappointing. Every time you press the accelerator, the Altima complains, with an irritating, whiny groan. “Noooooooo!” it says. It’s almost as if it hates any demand for acceleration. “Yes,” it seems to say, “I will go faster. But I won’t enjoy it at all. Nor will you.” And you don’t. Perhaps it’s because the well-soundproofed Altima seems immune to transmitting wind noise into the cabin, and nicely isolates you from road noise, as well. This makes the moaning complaints from the engine compartment seem louder and more irritating. The annoying moans are magnified by the fact that the Altima 2.5 seems to run at a lower RPM than it should when cruising along at highway speed. So, when you try to pass, the engine seems to object quite loudly, “Noooooooo!”
After a couple of days, you begin to resent it lurking there in your driveway. You know that every time you drive off in it, it’s just going to whine at you every time you try to get it to do anything even remotely fun. It’s going to act like every request for acceleration causes it physical pain. Nissan uses the CVT transmission for fuel economy, and I must say, it’s quite successful, because you ultimately feel no urge to drive the Altima 2.5 anywhere, which saves tons of fuel.
I think the Altima 3.5 works because its 6-cylinder motor has the extra power—though it’s not a hugely powerful car—to overcome the fun deficit that’s baked into the CVT powertrain. Lack of power ruins the 2.5, though, which is sad, because its otherwise a fairly well-sorted car. And, frankly, it’s a little weird, because you’d think 178 horses would propel the Altima 2.5 along with some authority.
The steering, while not hugely communicative, responds well to your inputs. The braking is fine. And, of course, you know reliability won’t be an issue. But the powertrain spoils everything else. Yes, it actually does hit 60 MPH in 7.8 seconds, which, let’s face it, 20 years ago would’ve been hugely impressive, but it feels slower than that. I can’t help feeling that the Altima 2.5 would be greatly improved by a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission. Or, of course, a 5-speed manual. But I also know that would bring the 27/38 MPG figure down noticeably.
Some people, of course, will find the Continuously Variable Transmission perfectly acceptable, but for me, it’s a hump I can’t get over. Which, I must say, biases me against Nissan in general, because the CVT powertrain is their bread and butter, and it appears in nearly all of the cars in their lineup. Nissan, as I’ve mentioned before, is fully invested in the CVT, and they’ve done everything they can to make as good a CVT as possible. Yet, the end result is like a gourmet pastry, baked by Paul Bocuse, and made from the finest flour, the richest chocolate, the purest cane sugar, the freshest heavy cream, and bat guano.
What’s good about it
The Altima 2.5 has a nice technology package, and the keyless entry and start are pretty neat. The suspension, steering, and braking all work well. It’s attractive, without being over-designed, hitting the sweet spot of clean, simple, modern looks. The cabin is attractively designed as well, and insulates you nicely from wind and road noise. The performance is actually pretty good, even though it doesn’t feel that way, and the Altima handles well.
What’s bad about it
It could be roomier in back, and the seats could be a bit more supportive and less ache-inducing over a long drive. The motor seems to lug at highway speeds. And, of course, the Continuously Variable Transmission, which ruins everything else.
There is a car that fills the driver with excitement. Its surge of acceleration pushes you back in your seat when passing. The tight and firm steering transmits your desire to strafe the twisties to the wheels telepathically. Its luxurious interior swaddles you in comfort, as the firm ride damps body roll, yet glides over road imperfections without a hiccup.
The 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 S is not that car. So, if you really want an Altima, bite the bullet and shell out the extra cash for the 3.5, which is a far more satisfactory car to drive.