Test Drive: Nissan Altima 3.5 SL

When Nissan reinvigorated its market presence in the Philippines last March 2014, it chose to bring in one of the bestselling cars in the United States as its flagship model. Here’s our take on the Nissan Altima 3.5 SL.

Design: 4.0/5.0

The Altima is a mid-size executive sedan with a muscular yet aerodynamic silhouette due to its fluid curves and sloping roofline. Nissan touts its sculpted steelwork and laser-precision panel fittings for the premium exterior look. The 3-dimensional chrome grille with the Nissan badge prominently displayed on the center makes a bold statement. Xenon projector headlights have a distinctive, almost-triangular shape, while the LED daytime running lights sit atop the foglights on the bumper. It also has an electric adjustable sunroof.

Inside, the beige color scheme highlights the plush and luxurious styling. Wood tone trim on the center console, and above the glove compartment, add style elements to the premium package. Soft leather encases the bucket seats that use NASA’s zero-gravity technology for utmost riding comfort. The driver’s seat is 8-way power adjustable with electric lumbar support. There’s lots of personal space in the rear passenger cabin, which is equipped with its own aircon vents for greater comfort.

Hardware: 4.0/5.0

Possibly the most persuasive selling point for the Altima 3.5 SL is its powerful VQ35DE V6 DOHC 24-valve engine that delivers maximum power of 270ps and maximum torque of 340Nm. Listed as one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines from 2002-2007, the VQ35DE combines superior performance with fuel efficiency.

Perfectly complementing the engine is Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) for silky smooth acceleration. Manual mode—via the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters—allows you to override the gearbox for when you want absolute driving control. Not to detract from the technology, but I found the size of the paddle shifters too large for my taste.

Front independent struts with coil springs and rear independent multi-link suspensions, plus high-end shock absorbers help cushion passengers from rough patches on the road.

User Experience: 4.0/4.0

The Altima’s intelligent key has a couple of extra buttons in addition to the usual close door, open door, and open trunk buttons. At the very top is a button that allows you to start the engine even from afar so you enter a cool car (provided you left the AC on). At the bottom is a panic button that I didn’t test, but that’s supposed to trigger an alarm and turn on the headlights when you’re feeling threatened.

In metro traffic, you don’t really appreciate the Altima’s powerful engine, and its dimensions don’t lend themselves to sudden maneuvers when you’re jockeying for position against everyone else on the road. Instead, at the forefront of your experience are the supremely comfortable seats and the premium Bose 9-speaker audio system that make the time spent inside the Altima more enjoyable.

Take the Altima out on the open highway, however, and that’s when you begin to love the power, as well as the superb handling that this sedan delivers. Thanks to the active understeer control (AUC) system, a safety feature that automatically brakes to slow the turning side, you get great balance and turning control even at speed.

Something that detracted from my stint with the Altima 3.5 SL: the accelerator is a hanging pedal, so instead of being able to comfortably rest my foot with the heel planted on the floor as is usual with a floor-mounted accelerator pedal, I often found my right foot slipping off the not very large pedal. It was also a bit of a reach when angling my foot from the brake pedal back to the accelerator. This may be too much hairsplitting on a small detail, but losing contact with the accelerator is, for me, always cause for concern.

Value: 4.0/5.0

The sticker price for the Altima 3.5 SL is
PHP 2,030,000—definitely not for the everyday salary man. What you’re really paying for here is the powerful 3.5-liter engine. It goes without saying that you’re also getting superior equipment and technology not found in most cars on the road.

There are certain rear passenger amenities, such as rear window shades, that are standard on competing brands but absent in the Altima, but these are just nice-to-have stuff that are not necessarily deal breakers. The Altima is still a solid contender in the executive car category.

In addition to the acclaim it has earned in the highly-competitive US market, you will also be reassured that you are getting a winning vehicle as the Altima 3.5 SL was awarded the Best Premium Midsize Car of the Year for 2014-2015 by local motoring journalists who make up the Car Awards Group Inc. (CAGI).

What’s Hot:
– Powerful 3.5L engine
– Comfortable and luxurious leather seats
– Bose 9-speaker audio system

What’s Not:
– Paddle shifters are too big
– My foot often slipped from the hanging acceleration pedal
– Amenities for rear passengers are quite basic

Bottomline:

The Nissan Altima will be best appreciated by an executive who enjoys taking the driver’s seat and so does not place too much of a premium on rear seat convenience features.

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE February 2015 Issue.

Reviewed by Maribelle Alba | Photos by Mika Fernandez-David & Nicolo David

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