Seen any nifty Nissans lately? You'll be surprised by the 2002 Altima on sale this month. The midsized sedan moves to a more luxurious level. High-class style and performance from a new 3.5-liter V6 engine mark the handsome passenger car's debut as a sweet deal in the $20,000 price bracket. (Prices are lower for 4-cylinder versions.)
Nissan began with a clean slate when it redesigned the Altima, aiming toward offering an alternative to the standard Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. With a bigger trunk and a longer, wider and taller build than both competitors, the wedge-shaped Altima also provides 10 more cubic feet for passengers than its predecessor. The powertrain pumps out 240 horsepower, beating the current Camry's 194 hp and Accord's 200 hp. Power points front and rear let you plug in laptops and other devices. Optional side-impact air bags and side-curtain air bags cushion the driver and front-seat passenger. Standard front air bags sense collision levels and react accordingly. One big advantage: a 20-gallon fuel tank.
Chrysler brings its 2002 minivans to market this month, but you won't see many changes because the company's 2001 models were redesigned across the board this year. New features for 2002 include adjustable pedals, a DVD player,a tire-pressure-monitoring system and a rear-seat video screen. Dodge's 2001 Grand Caravan EX and Chrysler Town & Country, both with extended wheelbases, grab attention with some industry firsts: power up-and-down liftgates, a removable center console with power you can use in the rear of the minivan, rollout seats and power sliding doors on the passenger side to make deliveries and entry and exit easier. For several months this year, Chrysler was offering $2,000 rebates on vans that ranged in price from $19,800 to $38,165. Sticker prices for 2002 models were not available at press time.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has reported on the automotive industry for 23 years.