In the past couple of years overseeing The National’s Motoring section, I have driven more than 100 cars. That works out at an average of at least one a week. Unfortunately, I can categorically say that, in that time, the Nissan Altima is my least favourite.
A big call, perhaps, when in recent weeks those test cars have included Chinese takes on a classic British sports car brand (MG) and a variety of other budget buys.
The 2018 Altima, however, is not a budget buy. Its base price in the UAE is Dh78,000. The SL model that I drive starts from Dh97,650. Therefore, it is harder to excuse the mid-size saloon’s (many) downsides. It might sound like an exaggeration, but I would happily swap it for my first car, a 1.2-litre 1989 Vauxhall Nova, which cost – from memory – less than Dh6,000 when I acquired it after passing my driving test in the UK in 1997.
The Altima, admittedly, isn’t without some redeeming features, most notably its excellent fuel economy. During the unrequited weekend affair I have with the car, a single tank of fuel gets me from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah and back again – and there is enough left to do 200 kilometres more. It’s also a comfortable cruiser, which partly explains those figures; the flip side of the coin is that you will want to get it on cruise control as quickly as possible, because its continuously variable transmission manages to aid my test car’s 2.5-litre engine in a quest for maximum ear-irritating whirr versus absolutely unimpressive acceleration. The “thrills” of putting your right foot to the floor can be obtained without any other motorists visibly noticing that you are pedalling it to the maximum.
The go-slowly frustrations might tempt you to switch into DS (also known, in the loosest sense, as sport mode). Please don’t. It just becomes more unbearably whiny, with little in the way of perceptibly improved pep.
Lack of alacrity aside, the imprecise feedback from the skinny steering wheel is truly unnerving, as the Altima flops round corners with all the accuracy of a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
The parking brake is operated by foot – an archaic feature usually reserved for big 4x4s and pick-up trucks. That lever typifies a very tacky, dated cabin, from seat fabric that feels like cheap curtains to the prehistoric-looking infotainment touchscreen, which mirrors its, ahem, retro charms in its functionality, by refusing to be particularly responsive and randomly pausing during auxiliary playback. Pretty much the only laudable feature inside the cabin is a sizeable glove box.
Granted, my test car looks bright and breezy enough from the outside in a metallic red known as “scarlet ember”. Yet the Altima’s styling is crying out for a more radical overhaul to elevate it from the anonymous realms of a car for travelling salesmen. Even the inefficient windscreen wipers seem to have been fitted as an afterthought.
The only explanation that I can give for the proliferation of Altimas on the UAE’s roads at this time is that a large proportion of the driving population must be unambitious, fuel-economy-conscious middle managers who simply need a car to set to cruise on their daily commute.
There is also a 3.5-litre V6 Altima – and that surely has to be your choice if you really have to buy this car. Because 1,000 cubic centimetres down from that, the Altima really fulfils little other purpose than highway drudgery – and the sooner it gets a serious update, the better.
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