The term "family car" generally stirs up connotations of fun trailing far behind function. Add the term "sporty" and one assumes it's the same old car with bigger wheels, a rear spoiler and maybe some body cladding. Such is not the case with the 2009 Nissan Altima. Instead, the Altima is more of a sports-oriented car with the conveniences of a typical family car.
Available as either a coupe or sedan, the Altima delivers plenty of behind-the-wheel stimulation as well as enough comfort and tranquility to satisfy all five occupants. The coupe, which Nissan added last year, is more than just a sedan with two doors lopped off. It rides on a shorter wheelbase and has its own distinctive styling -- from a distance, you might think it's an Infiniti G37 that hasn't quite come out of adolescence. As you would hope, the coupe's smaller size makes it a bit sharper in terms of handling and road feel, though it does comes at the expense of rear passenger comfort.
Both Altima body styles can be luxuriously appointed with an impressive array of options, but those options are typically part of large and pricey packages. These feast-or-famine packages are further complicated by being conditionally paired with other packages. This structuring makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, to pick and choose among options you would consider essential or frivolous.
Despite its inconvenient options structure, the 2009 Nissan Altima is still a prime choice for a midsize sedan or coupe. Its closest competitors include the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord (also available as a coupe), the redesigned Mazda 6, the Saturn Aura and the Toyota Camry. All are worthy choices, but if you want your "family car" to have some "sports car" in it, the Altima is definitely worthy of your attention.