DISCERNING and a stickler for value, my father in-law always delivers an uncompromised verdict.
Retired and fitting nicely within the mid-size car buyer stereotype, he was the perfect test case for the new Nissan Altima.
You see, mid-sizers are typically bought by empty nesters, who don't have much need for the back seat, although they like space and aren't fussed about performance.
But they want bang for their buck. And that is what Nissan has delivered with the Altima.
This replaces the slightly larger Maxima and many Australians are already familiar with the name. Altimas have been getting around in the V8 Supercars Series for the past year and while there is no bent eight donk under the bonnet for road-going cars, there is a choice of a four-cylinder or a V6.
Our test was in what is expected to be the volume selling four-potter, in up-spec ST-L trim which retails for just over 35 grand.
There is a premium feel about the Altima.
Car makers measure cabin serenity on three levels - noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). And Nissan has done a stellar job with this sedan.
It's quiet, smooth and hushed.
Features and finish don't have the "wow" factor, although the styling is inoffensive and has premium touches courtesy of the leather trim and 17cm colour screen.
The front pews have been specifically designed to reduce fatigue on long journeys using NASA research, and after spending a week behind the wheel with some long highway stretches we had no complaints. They are still fairly flat at the base and could use some additional contouring.
Functionality of the centre console is excellent. The large cup holders allow for larger refillable bottles to be stored and there are some handy spots for phones, keys and other bits and pieces.
Access to USB and auxiliary ports is also simple at the base of the stereo and they can be easily hidden via a folding lid.
Rear seat space is appreciably large. Three adults can fit across the bench although two could enjoy a prolonged road trip with decent knee and leg room.
The gauges are easy to read while the buttons are large with extremely clear labelling. No need to dive for the reading glasses.
On the road
Unless you want to tow, there is little need to step up into the V6. This 127kW four-cylinder is good enough for daily activities.
It won't cause whiplash with outstanding acceleration or slingshot you out of a bend, but it is honest and willing in varying conditions.
Partnered to a well-tuned continuously variable transmission they form a responsive combination.
Cornering is relatively lazy, although the tradeoff is a cushioned ride which makes light work of long kilometres. Along rural roads, the Altima can bound over sharp inclines although it's undeniably comfortable and most drivers will be more than happy with its overall performance.
What do you get?
Base model Altimas come with alloys, six-speaker CD stereo with USB with USB/iPod and auxiliary ports, Bluetooth phone connectivity, cruise control, dual zone air-con, push button start as well as automatic lights and wipers.
The ST-L gains sat nav and rear view camera, parking sensors front and back, Bose stereo with embedded apps for internet access and Pandora radio using data and access from your smartphone, leather trim as well electric front seat adjustment.
Worthy competitors are the Toyota Camry (from $30,490), Holden Malibu (from $28,490), Mazda6 (from $33,490), Kia Optima (from $30,690), Skoda Octavia 118 TSI (from $29,490), Suzuki Kizashi (from $28,990) and Subaru Liberty (from $32,990).
Shock horror, we achieved the manufacturer's official fuel consumption figure. Normally fanciful numbers, we pulled 7.5 litres out of the Altima aided by the Eco function which dulls acceleration response and the air-con for thriftier driving.
Insurance should be pretty cheap, and capped price servicing is also available for six years. Servicing intervals are every six months…which is painful, especially when most others have pushed maintenance out to yearly.
Nissan has equipped the Altima with a sizable boot. We fit in three small suitcases, a brace of scooters, two skateboards and a small bike, with some room to spare.
The rear seats also split-fold, although the load through space is impaired near the wheel arches.
Like the engine, exterior lines of the Altima won't get hearts racing. Inside and out it's nice enough but doesn't push the design boundaries with anything outlandish.
"It's a beautiful motor car." That was the frank assessment from the bride's father.
Worthy praise indeed from a gent who has a Beemer parked in his garage.
The Altima is an easy car to live with daily. Its hushed ride, spacious interior and frugal four-cylinder engine delivers on the vital aspects for mid-size buyers.
What matters most
What we liked: Outstanding fuel economy from the four-cylinder, lovely quiet ride, plenty of interior space, large boot.
What we'd like to see: Slightly firmer suspension, longer servicing intervals as getting to the dealer every six months and be painful.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year 100,000km warranty with roadside assist. Six years capped price servicing, every six months or 10,000km. Average price for each service is $325.
Model: Nissan Altima ST-L.
Details: Four-door front-wheel drive mid-size sedan.
Engines: 2.5-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 127kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 230Nm @ 4000rpm.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 7.5 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on-roads: From $35,890.