2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR – the Performance Sedan that Can

10altima-s2.jpgWhile Toyota and Honda have been fighting for years over the top selling America car slot, Nissan has been carving out a niche of its own among American buyers. Where Toyota and Honda tend to cater to the average buyer who cares about as much for performance as an elephant cares for a banana, Nissan has been the place for the performance oriented import buyer. Since the 1980s, if a buyer wanted a performance oriented sedan from Japan the Nissan Maxima was the ticket. The Maxima was the first Japanese sedan that provided V8 type power from a V6. For years the Nissan Maxima offered more horsepower than the V6 equipped Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Unfortunately the Maxima recently has been a product of its own success. Its price has grown steadily over time. Currently the 2010 Maxima is a fine automobile which of course still stresses performance however at a base price of $30,460 (start adding the options and the price quickly approaches the $40,000 territory), it is no longer the great bargain it once was. This presents a big problem for Nissan, since some of the traditional Maxima buyers can’t afford the new higher priced Maxima. Nissan fortunately has the solution to this problem, it is called – Altima.

The Nissan Altima which started off as a smaller car has grown in size steadily. Currently the 4-door 2010 Nissan Altima (length 190.7 inches and wheelbase 109.3 inches) is the same size as the 2010 Maxima (length 190.6 inches and wheelbase 109 inches).  Also in the Altima lineup is a sporty 2-door coupe which is slightly smaller. The bread and butter of Nissan performance is the 4-door Altima 3.5 SR which produces a very mighty 270 horsepower (258 lbs. feet of torque) from its 3.5 10altima-2.jpgliter V6 (only 20 horsepower less than the 3.5 liter V6 in the 2010 Maxima). And when you factor in that the Altima 3.5 SR has a base price of only $24,520, it is easy to see that 270 horsepower can be had fairly cheaply. As a comparison the Toyota Camry XLE (V6) and Honda Accord 3.5 EX sedans both have base prices over the Altima 3.5 SR sedan ($25,925 and $26,805 respectfully). Even loading up the 3.5 SR with extra options, a buyer can still stay below $30,000 which is beneath the Maxima’s base price.

There is of course the standard Altima and the Altima S which can only be equipped with a 2.5 liter four-cylinder rated at 175 horsepower or the 2.5 liter four-cylinder hybrid motor rated at 170 horsepower. The Altima and Altima S are respectable, but nothing to get the performance heart a pumping. That’s where the SR comes into the picture, its Nissan’s and Japan’s best bang for the buck sedan (the SR replaces both the SE and SL nameplates for 2010). It is a driver’s car, having the “3.5” badges actually means something, it tells all onlookers that a performance oriented driver is behind the wheel. The dual outlet stainless steel exhaust (there is one chrome tipped exhaust pipe under each side of the rear bumper) is also another indicator that performance lurks in the Altima 3.5 SR’s presence. Acceleration for the SR is lightening fast for a sedan with the sprint from 0-60 mph taking around 6.5 second range and a 1/4 mile run taking around 15 seconds. These are performance numbers that are very impressive for a five passenger 4-door sedan.  And gas mileage is fairly good for this kind of performance with an EPA mpg rating of 20 city and 27 highway.

The 3.5 liter engine in the Altima SR is Nissan’s VQ35DE motor; a Double Overhead Camshaft (DOHC) aluminum engine block and aluminum head V6. The VQ35DE was first introduced for the 2001 model year and has ranged in horsepower from 240 to 10altima-3.jpg298 horsepower in the U.S. market. The VQ35DE also has variable valve timing and in the Altima SR it uses direct fuel injection as its induction system. In the Altima SR this engine is mounted transverse (sideways) which is typical of most front-wheel drive cars. In the past a high-horsepower motor like the VQ35DE in a front-wheel drive car like the Altima would have meant wicked torque steer. Torque steer is the phenomenon that occurs when you hit heavy on the throttle and have to hold on to the steering wheel for dear life in order to keep the car from turning. Fortunately Nissan engineers have kept torque steer to a minimum. In an ideal world the Altima SR would be better if it was rear-wheel drive and if that were the case it would be a serious threat to BMW. But it is understandable why Nissan keeps the Altima front-wheel drive seeing that all of its direct competition is also front-wheel drive.  Nissan has slated its rear-wheel drive Infinity G37 sedan and coupe as its main BMW competitors.

Even with front-wheel drive the Altima is a really first-class handler. Sharp turns are not to be feared, but actually desired. For rear-wheel drive performance car fans, the Altima SR does a great job of making you admire and respect a good handling front-wheel drive car like the Altima SR. The front suspension is a strut design while the rear is an independent multi-link setup. The suspension helps to make the Altima feel nimble in the turns and so does the low curb weight of 3,357 lbs for a car of its size. Steering is a rack and pinion design and is very precise.


Getting the power to the pavement is the Xtronic 2-speed Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Overdrive which has a manual mode if the driver so desires to manually shift the transmission. Unfortunately this is the only transmission available on the Altima 3.5 SR sedan, a buyer who wants a 3.5 SR with the smooth 6-speed manual transmission will have to buy the Altima SR coupe. It is a shame that a sedan as good as the 3.5 SR cannot be ordered with the 6-speed manual, however this situation seems to be par for the course for many new cars these days including some performance oriented sedans. 

Traction Control and four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes are standard on all Altima models. The SR’s brake system also incorporates Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and 11.7 inch front vented discs/11.5 inch rear discs.

Outside the 2010 Altima sedan has received some minor updates which include: a new front grill, hood, headlights, front 10altima-4.jpgbumper, and rear license plate frame. The new updated look has made the already attractive Altima seem even more appealing. The overlook look of the new SR sedan is one of a series performance sedan especially with its standard 17 inch x 7.5 inch 5-split-spoke aluminum wheels. These wheels are new to the Altima and almost give the car a track racer look.

Inside the Altima it is comfortable and inviting. The interior especially equipped with leather seats will have you believing that you are inside a more expensive premium car. The driver seating position is nearly perfect, with the plentiful gauges all readable it is a very functional interior. The dilemma here is that Nissan offers a whole hoard of options everything from a top-notch navigation system to heated seats; it is real easy to go a little crazy with the option list. Especially since most of these goodies can be had with what Nissan calls the “Premium Package”. Never-the-less even loaded down with options the Altima is still a bargain.  

The 2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR is the best performance sedan from Japan for the money and it carries an added bonus of a J.D. Power and Associates’ “Highest Ranked Midsize Car in Initial Quality” award. In these current tough economic times of stretching the dollar, the Nissan Altima 3.5 SR is a smart purchase for any driver who wants a budget performance oriented sedan. Since you get a lot of car and performance for the money, the Altima 3.5 SR is indeed the performance sedan that can.


Written contents in this article – © 2010 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved