The new Altima is bigger and more muscular than its predecessor, with one of the most powerful engines in its class.

The 2002 Altima is a much larger vehicle than its predecessor — almost 6 inches longer, 2 inches taller, and more than an inch wider. And its wheelbase has grown by more than 7 inches. Yet Altima´s weight has barely increased, partly because designers replaced the steel hood and trunk panels with lighter aluminum ones — a first for Nissan.

Touted by Nissan as the ´cure
for the common sedan,´ the wedge-shaped 2002 Altima doesn´t break any new ground in styling, but it does have a sportier look than previous generations. The rear lamps, for example, resemble the exhaust pipes of superbike motorcycles.

Like Camry and Accord, Altima now offers a choice of a four-cylinder or V6 engine — the latter is easily the most powerful in this vehicle class. They´re both surprisingly smooth. The new 3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6 produces 240 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. The base engine, also new, is a 2.5-liter dohc 16-valve four-cylinder with 180 horsepower — an increase of 25 horsepower over the previous generation´s 2.4-liter engine.

Interestingly, we tested the Altima in California alongside Nissan´s flagship, the Maxima. The latter gets the same V6, but with 20 extra horsepower. Even so, the new Altima is actually bigger than the Maxima. So look for Nissan´s new centerpiece to steal buyers from its own flagship as well as from the competition. Prices have not yet been announced.