2012 Nissan Altima Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jul 15, 2011

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2012 Nissan Altima Buying Advice

The 2012 Nissan Altima is the best car for you if you’ve been eyeing this sporty-flavored model and want one before it gives way to a redesigned replacement.

The 2012 Nissan Altima steers this 2007-vintage midsize-car design into the homestretch. Nissan is readying a next-generation Altima for model-year 2013, where it will tussle with the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord, 2013 Ford Fusion, and 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The 2012 Altima essentially reprises the 2011 Altima, although the gas-electric hybrid model is discontinued. The 2012 Altima otherwise carries on in four-door sedan and two-door coupe form. The sedan is by far the better seller and a fine example of a contender whose talents are still apparent but not nearly as vivid as they once were.

Should you buy a 2012 Nissan Altima or wait for the 2013 Altima? Buy a 2012 Altima if you need a good transportation value before the all-new 2013 model arrives and you don’t place a premium on the latest styling or technology. You’ll also avoid the almost-inevitable price increases that accompany an all-new model. Wait for the 2013 Altima if you want the advances in fuel economy, features, and safety that accompany an all-new design. Waiting will also mean your car’s styling will look current for several years and it’ll be worth more at resale than the outgoing 2012 models. Plus, you’ll give yourself a chance to compare the redesigned Altima with all-new versions of key rivals: the 2013 Honda Accord, 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, and 2013 Ford Fusion.

2012 Nissan Altima Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Altima is a visual rerun of the 2011 Altima. That means a four-door sedan marked by arched forms free from extraneous decoration and a lower-slung two-door coupe built on a shortened version of the sedan’s chassis. The Altima sedan traces its roots to model-year 2007, the coupe to model-year 2008. Both got a facelift for model-year 2010, but the confident lines and considered details that once helped Altima stand out in the crowded midsize segment no longer look so fresh. More contemporary new rivals also have overtaken Altima for roominess, refinement, and cabin-materials quality.

The 2012 Altima again lends much of its engineering to the upscale Nissan Maxima, including the basics of its front-wheel-drive platform and available V-6 powertrain. Front-wheel drive puts the weight of the engine over the wheels that propel the car, to the benefit of snowy-surface traction. But in powerful cars such as a V-6 Altima, front-wheel drive can diminish steering precision during fast takeoffs. Driving enthusiasts tend to prefer the more equitable balance of weight and traction afforded by rear-wheel drive, which Nissan reserves for cars from its premium Infiniti division.

The 2012 Altima returns sedan and coupe models badged 2.5 S and 3.5 SR, as well as an entry-level sedan tagged simply 2.5. The 2012 Altima coupe adds Dark Slate as an exterior color choice.

Mechanical: The 2012 Nissan Altima returns with four- and six-cylinder power. The discontinued Altima Hybrid teamed a four-cylinder engine with an electric motor, but was not available in all 50 states. The 2013 Altima line is expected to revive a hybrid model, which should continue in sedan form only.

A majority of 2012 Altima buyers will continue to choose the four-cylinder engine. This 2.5-liter powers the 2012 Altima 2.5 and 2.5 S models and again makes 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. The 2012 Altima 3.5 SR sedan and coupe again use a 3.5-liter V-6 that repeats at 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The 3.5 SR models also feature a sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels versus other model’s standard 16s.

All 2012 Altima sedans are again equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as a stand-in for a conventional automatic transmission. Designed to more efficiently balance engine power and fuel consumption, CVTs use an internal belt-pulley system instead of static gear ratios. The 2012 Altima coupes are available with the CVT or a six-speed manual transmission.

Features: Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity is available for the first time on a four-cylinder Altima for model-year 2012. It’s part of the new Value Package for the 2.5 S trim; the package also includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Bluetooth also is newly available as part of the 2.5 S Convenience Package and is standard on the 2012 Altima 3.5 SR models.

The best way to equip a 2012 Altima with the latest in infotainment is to order one of the premium or navigation packages. USB iPod connectivity is unavailable on the base 2.5 sedan but is part of the $900 Premium Audio package for the 2.5 S and is included in the $2,130 Premium Package on 3.5 SR models. That Premium Package encompasses the Premium Audio gear and also a navigation system with a rearview camera and a 6.5-inch color dashboard display screen. The navigation setup includes Zagat restaurant guide, XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, and 9.3GB of music storage. A navigation system is also included as part of the $1,780 Technology Package that’s optional on all 2012 Altimas except the base 2.5 sedan.

Such features as leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, remote keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, and xenon headlamps are standard or optional on all but the base 2.5 sedan.

Every 2012 Altima comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, locks, and mirrors, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, manual driver’s seat height adjuster, outside-temperature indicator, and split/folding rear seatbacks to enhance cargo-carrying versatility.

2012 Nissan Altima Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Nissan Altima is $21,700-$31,520. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer's mandatory destination fee; Nissan’s fee for the 2012 Altima is $760.)

The 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 starts at $21,170. It comes only as a sedan and includes among its standard features the CTV, air conditioning, power windows, locks, and mirrors, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, manual driver's seat height adjuster, and an outside-temperature indicator.

The 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 S returns in coupe and sedan form. Base price is $23,330 for the sedan, $24,860 for the coupe. The 2012 2.5 S models build on 2.5 sedan equipment by adding such standard features as Nissan’s Intelligent Key and a CD audio system that includes an auxiliary jack for digital players.

The 2012 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR sedan and coupe expand on 2.5 S equipment to include the V-6 engine, as well as a power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, heated outside mirrors with turn-signal indicators, and a firmer, performance-tuned suspension.

The 2012 Altima 3.5 SR sedan starts at $26,190 and the 2012 Altima 3.5 SR coupe is priced from  $29,190. The 2012 Altima 3.5 SR coupe's steeper price reflects its higher level of standard equipment, including its own alloy wheels and low-profile tires, plus features that are optional on the 3.5 SR sedan, including the power moonroof, xenon headlamps, and rear spoiler.

2012 Nissan Altima Fuel Economy back to top

Altima's fuel-economy ratings once were at the upper range of the midsize class, thanks in large measure to the efficiencies of the CVT. Over the past two years or so, however, rivals have tweaked engines, revised transmission gear ratios, and improved aerodynamics while Altima has essentially tread water. The result: the 2012 Altima’s gas mileage is roughly mid-pack among midsize non-hybrid cars.

With the CVT, four-cylinder 2012 Altimas are unchanged at 23/32 mpg city/highway and 27 mpg combined city/highway for the sedan and 23/32/26 for the coupe. With the six-speed manual transmission, the four-cylinder 2012 Altima coupe retains a 23/31/26-mpg rating..

Fuel economy ratings for 2012 Altima 3.5 SR sedans and coupes equipped with the CVT repeat at 20/27 mpg city/highway, 23 combined. The 2012 Altima 3.5 SR coupe with the six-speed manual transmission repeats at 18/27/21 mpg.

Incidentally, the 2011 Altima Hybrid was rated 33/33 mpg city/highway and 33 mpg combined.

2012 Nissan Altima Release Date back to top

The 2012 Nissan Altima went on sale in early summer 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Nissan Altima back to top

Toyota will steal a beat on the midsize field when it introduces its all-new Camry for model-year 2012. Otherwise, model-year 2013 will be something of a watershed for this class, with all-new versions of the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu set to challenge the redesigned Altima.

Looking back years from now, however, we might consider the new age of the midsize car to have begun with the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. That all-new replacement for the dowdy 2006-2010 Sonata emphasizes adventurous styling and a spacious cabin with a level of features and materials that were until recently the province of premium-class cars. Most important, this Hyundai has an all-four-cylinder powertrain lineup. Expect future midsize cars to follow this Sonata’s formula: a highly efficient base four-cylinder engine as a foundation, a turbocharged version for sporty types, and a hybrid edition for green enthusiasts.

How many of these ingredients will show up in the redesigned 2013 Nissan Altima won’t be known until the fifth-generation model hits showrooms. But expect Nissan to reassert Altima’s restive character with extroverted styling. The body shouldn’t be too much larger than the 2007-2012 generation’s, but will likely have more interior room thanks to a slightly stretched wheelbase. At the same time, Nissan ought to introduce a degree of refinement absent in current Altimas. That’ll help strengthen this car’s appeal to family oriented buyers who like the image of sportiness but place a high value on comfort and practicality, too.

We’d expect Altima’s performance image to dictate the return of a V-6, though a four-cylinder engine will remain the high-volume application. Front-wheel drive will continue unless Nissan changes course and decides all-wheel-drive shouldn’t be exclusive to its premium Infiniti lineup. The next-generation Altima will share with the Infiniti line Nissan’s first in-house-developed hybrid system (the current Altima Hybrid borrows its technology from Toyota engineering). Nissan also is working on plug-in hybrids as well as pure-electric vehicles. Those technologies seem slated for cars smaller than the Altima. But Altima’s alternative-fuel future could include an advanced turbodiesel engine.

A sedan body style is a lock for the 2013 Altima. It remains to be seen if demand and image-burnishing justify a coupe, too. And Nissan probably will keep close watch on public acceptance of the station-wagon crossovers recently introduced by its archrivals in the form of the Honda Accord Crosstour and the Camry-based Toyota Venza.

2012 Nissan Altima Competition back to top

Honda Accord: Perennially the No. 2 selling car in the U.S., the Honda Accord matches up well against the Nissan Altima. Both offer front-wheel drive sedans and coupes, and both offer a choice of four-cylinder engines for fuel economy-minded buyers or V-6s that appeal to performance-minded drivers. The Accord excels in terms of its engineering, build quality, and reliability. And, given its affordable pricing, it is arguably one of the world’s best cars. That’s not to say Accord is perfect. It could be quieter and more generous with modern features, issues that Honda is likely to address with an all-new version expected for the model-year 2013.

Toyota Camry: The Toyota Camry has been America’s top-selling car for 11 of the last 12 years. It has earned that distinction by offering a winning combination of stylish — but not too stylish — looks, a roomy and comfortable interior along with affable ride and handling characteristics that satisfy its legions of loyal mainstream buyers. Camry is set to beat the Altima and Accord to market with an all-new design for model-year 2012. The redesigned 2012 Camry will repeat its standard front-wheel-drive, four-door-sedan format, but with evolutionary styling that is crisper with swept back headlights and hardened edges. Hopefully, Toyota will give the Camry a more precise steering feel and a little more road feel. Expect the outgoing Camry’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine to be replaced, perhaps by the notably stronger 2.7-liter four from the Venza crossover. The smooth 3.5-liter V-6 is likely to return, and a Camry Hybrid will continue to be part of the lineup.

Hyundai Sonata: Don’t dismiss the Ford Fusion, which offers available all-wheel drive, four- and six-cylinder engines, plus a hybrid delivering 41/36/39 mpg. But no car in the midsize class is more boldly styled, more spacious inside, or furnished with higher-caliber cabin materials than this sedan from South Korea’s Hyundai brand. All-new for 2011, Sonata broke new ground by equipping all models only with four-cylinder engines, a move that is likely to become the standard in the midsize class. Showing that fuel economy and performance are not mutually exclusive, engines range from 189 horsepower and a 24/35 mpg city/highway and 28 mpg combined city/highway rating, to 274 horsepower and a 22/34/26 mpg rating. Big enticements for midsize car buyers are pricing that starts under $20,000 and a warranty that includes 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and 10-year/100,000 powertrain coverage.

UPDATED BY LARRY E. HALL