2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL review: It’s a nice car, really

2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan

2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan

When we test drive vehicles, we’re frequently asked, “What’s it like?” And we’re expected to answer with a one sentence summary. It was no different with the recently driven 2012 Niisan Altima 2.5 SL.

Our response? We said, “It’s a nice car.” If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not. The Nissan Altima is a nice car. It isn’t exciting. It isn’t opulent. And it’s styled like a component in a suburbia kit, complete with a dog, two-point-five kids and a three bedroom house on a cul-de-sac.

2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan

2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan

About that styling. Nissan calls it “dynamic simplicity.” Vibrantly plain? Vigorously unfussy? Nissan tries too hard. The styling is, well, nice. It’s well balanced and devoid of goofy elements and embellishments used too often by desperate designers. Let’s just say the Altima looks nice.

Nissan offers three basic Altima models, the Altima sedan, subject of this review, 2012 Altima coupe we tested recently, and the 2012 Altima Hybrid. The first two models have a choice of engines, the 2.5-liter four of our test vehicle and the 3.5-liter V-6 in the coupe we tested. The Hybrid has a hybrid powertrain. While the coupe with the big engine and front-wheel drive does what it’s supposed to do—see our review—the smaller-engined sedan fulfills its obligations as well.

And those obligations are to transport five people in relative comfort with appropriate economy, the better the better, of course. The 2012 Nissan Altima sedan goes about this in three ways, with the base Altima 2.5 CVT and the upgrade 2.5 S CVT, and the V-6-powered Altima 3.5 SR CVT. The entry Altima starts at $20,550 though the better equippped 2.5 S has a starting price of $22,570. The subject of our test is the 2.5 SL, as the model is unofficially named. Officially it’s the 2.5 SL with the SL package for $1,540. The Altima 3.5 SR requires a leap to $25,570 before options.

2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan interior

The 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan’s steering wheel has multiple buttons on its steering wheel.

It’s easy to escalate those prices upwards, of course, as Nissan doesn’t follow the Honda practice of a several take-it-or-leave-it trim levels with no options or packages. Our test Altima, for example, had a base price of $22,570, and twelve options and the destination charge later, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price was $31,550. Our recently tested sport-trim 2012 Toyota Camry SE 4-cylinder had, for comparison, a base price of $23,000 and a total price of $27,568, or the 2011 Hyundai Sonata Limited for $28,250 all told.

Of course, Nissan threw almost everything on its option list at our test Altima 2.5 S, not the least of which was the 2.5 SL package with heated leather seats (driver side power lumbar) and more for $1,540. A Convenience and Convenience Plus package add $1,350 and $1,150 respectively (see the window sticker on page 3 of this review for details), plus a premium Bose audio system for $990, a Technology Package (navigation with NavTraffic, Bluetooth and DVD) for $1,780. Throw in additional bits like fog lights, rear spoiler, trunk sub-floor organizer and more and before you can say Jack’s your uncle, the price bumps over $31k and a half. Which is approaching near-luxury territory.

2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan back seat

The 2012 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL sedan has gathered upholstery.

The trim inside would be at home in a near-lux vehicle, though. The touch is soft where it’s going to be touched, and the upholstery is artfully gathered where it should be gathered if one is to be artful. The controls, switches, dials and systems are some of the easiest to use as we’ve used. The navigation system, for example, doesn’t require even a shallow dive into the manual for help. One thing we appreciate on this and other Nissan products is a button just to the left of the screen that is dedicated to switching the screen between day and night mode.

The Nissan could borrow its description of the styling of the 2012 Nissan Altima to describe its driving characteristics. Somehow, “dynamic simplicity” sums it up. The Altima 2.5 SL won’t have driving enthusiasts lining up to hustle it down a winding road, but it will be short of terrifying the general motoring public on cloverleafs.