Pauls Valley, Oklahoma —
If you haven't driven one before, you may be surprised to find the Altima is only available with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. Some weird things about it:
— It doesn't actually shift like a normal automatic transmission. There are no gears to select between, so you don't have that "vroom-kachunk-vroom-kachunk-vroom-kachunk" feeling as you accelerate. It's just a perfectly smooth change in speed, as if the car was moving with rubber bands instead of metal gears.
— If you hold the gas pedal all the way down to accelerate, the engine revs up to the redline and stays there. You get a steady, high-pitched shriek that sounds like you're whipping the engine in a torture chamber.
— It gets better gas mileage than it would with a conventional automatic. A regular transmission has a fixed number of gears, but the CVT has unlimited gear ratios. That means it can pick the ratio that's most efficient for the precise speed you're driving, and you get slightly better mileage as a result.
Even though it doesn't get any changes for 2011, the Altima is still worth looking at if you want something hard-edged and sporty. It lets you feel the road even better than a Honda Accord — which is really saying something — and it has a sleek body to match.
Derek Price writes for CNHI News Service, which distributes his column.
What was tested?
2011 Nissan Altima 2.5 S ($22,070). Options: Splash guards ($135), convenience package ($1,150), convenience plus package ($1,150),
premium audio package ($1,240). Price as tested (including $760 delivery fee): $26,505.
Why buy it?
The sporty, precise driving feel is the best reason to look at this car. It has an attractive body, too.
Why avoid it?
An all-new Altima is going to be coming before too long, and the Korean and American brands have learned how to make more upscale
interiors than this one.