The Nissan Altima launched in 2002 to compete directly with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry; it holds up pretty well against both. Nissan designs it to bring decent performance to the family sedan class. The larger engine only comes in the SE, but it brings significantly more power to the table.
Steering feels good on all of the models but particularly so with the traction control added in the higher-end models. The stiffness of the post-2002 models really adds to the reliability of the steering and handling.
Body Styles: sedan
Engines: 2.5-liter four-cylinder, 3.5-liter V-6
Transmissions: four-speed automatic, five-speed manual
Models: Nissan Altima, Nissan Altima S, Nissan Altima SL, Nissan Altima SE
Nissan made only minor changes after a total overhaul in 2002. Additional fabric and body colors join the lineup, and the option packages have been simplified. More standard features on the high-end models like simulated wood-tone trim and heated seats enhance the lineup for 2003.
The overall shape looks attractive and not too boxy. It seems pleasant and remarkable at the same time. The Altima sits on a 110.2-inch wheelbase with a total length of 191.5 inches, a width of 70.4 inches, and a height between 57.8 and 57.9 inches. The 2003 Nissan Altima has nice round brake lights reminiscent of the Jaguar S-type. Nissan offers an optional sunroof on the SE.
Functionally designed, ergonomic controls improve throughout the interior. All but the basic have CD player stereos, and the SE has a premium Bose stereo system. Features such as power door locks and keyless entry also come standard on the S, SL, and SE. The SL and SE both feature heated front seats. All models of the 2003 Nissan Altima include one-touch down and up power windows. The center stack buttons seem easy to operate, but their similar size and shape require the driver to take his eyes off the road. The back seat looks very roomy, although the headroom would be better without the roof arching downward.
Overall the interior seems more appropriate for the downscale base, S, and SL than it does on the SE, where its wood-tone trim looks cheap for the cost.
Performance & Handling
The larger 3.5-liter, 24-valve, DOHC V-6 delivers significantly better performance than the 2.5-liter, 16 valve, DOHC four-cylinder. In use the smaller engine has less pickup and some rough shifting. However, it also has an aluminum block, balance shafts to cancel second-order vibes, continuously variable valve timing, and a pretty impressive 180 horsepower at 6000 rpm.
The 2003 Nissan Altima offers good mid-range torque and feels substantially stiffer than pre-2002 models. The 3.5-liter handily beats both the Accord and Camry in engine power, and even the four-cylinder proves perfectly adequate for most driving. The Altima reaches 60 mph in 6.5 to 7.5 seconds and completes the quarter mile in less than 16 seconds.
The tires do not work well in snow, but otherwise they perform just fine. The four-cylinder models carry 16-inch wheels with 205/65R-16 tires, and the V-6 models roll on 17-inch alloys shod with 215/55R-17 rubber.
The 2003 Nissan Altima includes driver and passenger side airbags with an upgrade of the airbag available in some models. ABS and traction control remain optional.
EPA Fuel Economy
Nissan Altima 2.5-liter, automatic: 20/27 mpg city/highway
Nissan Altima 2.5-liter, manual: 20/27 mpg city/highway
Nissan Altima 3.5-liter, automatic: 17/24 mpg city/highway
Nissan Altima 3.5-liter, manual: 19/24 mpg city/highway
- Power and torque in the SE V-6
- Comfort features
- Solid feel, particularly at highway speeds
You Won't Like
- Some rough shifting with the four-cylinder
- Loud plastic noises with the manual transmission
- Lack of headroom in the rear
Good performance and a fun drive for a family sedan, but outclassed by competitors.
If You Like This Vehicle
- Mazda MAZDA6
- Honda Accord
- Toyota Camry