Introduced in 1993, the first-generation Nissan Altima sold well, proved reliable and was rather fun to drive. A solid car all around, even today as an inexpensive used vehicle. Then, in 1998, Nissan redesigned it into obscurity. The car was still reliable and rather fun to drive, and it was even bigger inside and out than the original. Surefire recipe for success, right? Problem was it had the personality of a bowl of dry Grape Nuts. Staid styling, obvious cost-cutting and an overall tinny feel did the Altima no favors, and the "affordable luxury" advertising tag line no longer rang true. The Nissan car faded from consumer shopping lists, kept alive thanks only to fleet sales and hefty rebates.
With the third-generation Altima, Nissan said it wanted to bring a sense of passion and driving spirit back into the segment. Wanted? More like needed. Since its redesign in 2002, the Nissan Altima has been a wild success as buyers have been won over by its likable combination of performance, space and comfort. Interior design and materials have never been its strong suit in a class populated by the ever refined Accord, Camry and Passat, though Nissan improved the cabin quarters somewhat for 2005. Many competitors now have big V6s of their own to keep up with the Altima, while the Mazda 6 and Galant hold a slight edge in dynamics. Even so, the 2006 Nissan Altima still delivers a well-rounded package in either the sedate 2.5 S or the zoomy 3.5 SE. A slightly more powerful Altima SE-R model with a firmer suspension was added to the lineup last year, so for those looking for a family sedan that can still thrill in the turns, the Altima deserves serious attention.