Midsize car; Built in USA
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $4,000 – $11,200*

2002 Nissan Altima

2002 Nissan Altima

2002 Nissan Altima interior

2002 Nissan Altima

2002 Nissan Altima

  • Acceleration (3.5 SE)
  • Handling/roadholding
  • Instruments/controls
  • Engine noise (4 cyl)

Nissan finally got a genuine Camry/Accord alternative in the moderately priced midsize class. Strong on features for the money, the Altima gained a spunky personality, especially in sporty 3.5 SE guise. Not as refined or well-built as a Camry, Accord or Passat, the latest Altima is nevertheless strongly recommended. Four-cylinder models satisfy most needs.


Redesigned for 2002, Nissan’s second-rung front-drive sedan turned out to be slightly larger than the “flagship” Maxima, swelling from compact to midsize dimensions. Wheelbase grew by 7 inches, and the new Altima measured 5.7 inches longer overall.

For the first time, a V6 engine was available. Exclusive to the top-of-the-line 3.5 SE, the new 3.5-liter V6 produced 240 horsepower. Base, 2.5 S and 2.5 SL sedans used a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generated 175 horsepower (20 more than the prior model’s four-cylinder). All models were offered with either a manual or automatic transmission. When equipped with automatic, the 3.5 SE qualified for optional traction control.

Four-wheel disc brakes were standard. All except the base model could have optional antilock braking, which came bundled with front torso side-impact airbags and curtain-style airbags. Sixteen-Inch wheels were standard, but the 3.5 SE rode on 17-inch rubber.

Leather upholstery was standard in the 2.5 SL sedan and optional for the 3.5 SE. All models had a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, split-folding rear seat, power windows, and power door locks. The 2.5 S added air conditioning, cruise control, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, and a CD player. Moving up to the 2.5 SL brought an eight-way power driver’s seat, steering-wheel radio controls, a Bose stereo with in-dash six-CD changer, and alloy wheels.

An upgraded suspension and foglamps were included on the 3.5 SE. Xenon high intensity-discharge headlights were optional on the 3.5 SE sedan. Altima rivals included the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat.

Yearly Updates

2003 Altima
Except for some trim and equipment shuffling, not much changed for 2003. The 2.5 SL sedan now came only with an automatic transmission and featured imitation-wood interior trim, as well as heated seats and mirrors. Other models had titanium-color interior accents. An expanded Sport Package for the 3.5 SE included a sunroof and rear spoiler, and a new Sport Plus Package added premium audio and xenon headlights. The SE’s Leather Package now included premium sound, a sunroof and heated seats, while a new SE Leather Sport Package added a rear spoiler and xenon lights.
2004 Altima
The Altima is unchanged for 2004.
2005 Altima
A sporty new top-line model joins the 2005 roster of Nissan’s best-selling vehicle. The sporty new SE-R model has a 260-hp V6. Manual and optional automatic transmissions are offered, but V6 now use a 5-speed automatic vs. 4-cyl models’ 4-speed. All models get revised interior trim for ’05, and a navigation system joins the options list.
2006 Altima
No significant changes for the 2006 Altima.


transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Nissan’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine developed 175 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque. Installed only in the 3.5 SE, the 3.5-liter dual-overhead cam V6 produced 240 horsepower and 246 pounds-feet. Both engines were offered with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. For 2005, an added SE-R model gets a 260-hp V6. Manual and optional automatic transmissions are offered, but V6 now use a 5-speed automatic vs. 4-cyl models’ 4-speed.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 175
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 175-181
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.5/214
Engine HP 240-260
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 246
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
5-speed automatic

Road Test

There’s a lot to like about the latest Altimas. Nissan forecasted that four-cylinder engines would account for 80 percent of Altima sales. Early tests put automatic transmission versions at 8.6 seconds for 0-60 mph acceleration. That’s competitive with rival four-cylinder Honda Accords and Volkswagen Passats, and slightly quicker than Toyota Camrys. But Altima’s four cylinder is unrefined compared to its rivals’, being buzzy and coarse in all but gentle cruising.

The robust V6 is as smooth and responsive as any competitor’s. Acceleration to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, with automatic, places the 3.5 SE among the quickest midsize sedans.

EPA gas-mileage estimates are similar to those of Accord and Camry, which have less horsepower. A 2.5 S averaged 23.9 mpg in mostly highway driving. An SE with automatic got only 17.6 mpg including performance testing, but 24.9 mpg when traveling mainly on the highway. Altima’s 20-gallon fuel tank is the largest in the midsize class. Nissan recommends premium fuel for the V6.

A rigid structure and smart suspension design pay off in a comfortable, controlled ride. Four-cylinder models feel particularly absorbent over ruts and crests. More-aggressive tires firm up the 3.5 SE’s ride, but it’s not jarring.

Handling is good overall, despite overly sensitive straightline steering feel. Confident roadholding and good balance in turns help make the 3.5 SE crisper in all respects, thanks to its wider, lower-profile tires. On the other hand, a wide turning circle frustrates around-town driving and parking. Also, torque steer can make the 3.5 SE feel a little too spirited during brisk acceleration. Braking is strong, and easily modulated in ABS-equipped models.

The growling, vibratory four-cylinder engine offsets fine suppression of road and wind noise. All models suffer a metallic drumming resonance on coarse pavement.

Gauges are deep-set in instrument-panel coves, but brightly backlit for great readability even in daylight. Dashboard design is clean, contemporary, and user-friendly. The wiggle worm automatic-transmission shift gate invites easy manual gear changes, but doesn’t suit everyone. Manual gearboxes on early models worked crudely.

An arching roof creates generous head room. Leg room also is good, as is seat comfort and bolstering. The driver gets height adjustment in all but base models. All Altimas have handy height-adjustable center armrests. Separate levers for steering-wheel tilt and telescoping adjustments is unorthodox, but provides greater-than-usual range of motion. Outward visibility is hampered slightly by a tall rear deck and by occasional reflections off light-colored dashboard tops.

Large, wide rear door openings ease entry/exit. Comfortable well-contoured seating offers plenty of knee and toe space. But head room for those over 5-feet-8 is constrained, and three-across adult seating is a squeeze. Two cupholders sit in the folding center armrest. Low-grade plastics inside, and a tinny clang of the trunklid, proved disappointing.

Altimas have a wide trunk with low liftover, but lid hinges dip into the cargo area. All models have a 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback for added versatility.


Model Tested: 2002 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE w/automatic transmission

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 6
Steering/Handling - 7
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 7
Room/Comfort Front - 6
Room/Comfort Rear - 5
Cargo Room - 4


Value - 6

Total: 57


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
110.2 191.5 70.4 57.9
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
15.6 20.0 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
40.8 37.6 43.9 36.4
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 2002 Altima 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
Front Passenger Injury - 4

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: On some early production vehicles, the manual adjuster for the air conditioner fails because the gear that controls the air blend door falls off. (2002)
Description: On some early build cars, the original-equipment clutch disc causes a howling sound during release (pedal being depressed) and a countermeasure disc with different friction is available. (2002)
Engine stalling
Description: A problem with the ignition coils causes stumbling during light throttle cruise or stalling at idle, requiring installation of a resistor between the coils and spark plugs. (2002)
Description: The wheel covers chirp or squeak because they rub on the wheel (balance) weights which must be covered with felt tape to prevent the noise. (2002)
Electrical problem
Description: The exhaust manifold heat shield on early production cars cuts the oxygen sensor wires, resulting in lack of engine power. (2002)

Recall History

2002 Altima
Description: One of the sensors for the airbag system does not work as well as expected in high-speed offset crash situations. Dealers will replace the airbag sensor.
2002 Altima
Description: On certain vehicles, driver’s-side-airbag electrical connector may come loose. If the connector comes loose, the supplemental airbag warning light flashes intermittently. In this situation, the driver’s-side airbag will not deploy in the event of a crash. Dealers will install a retaining clip on the clock-spring electrical connector.
2002-03 Altima w/2.5-liter engine
Description: Exhaust-pipe hanger pin may catch debris from that could be ignited by contact with the main catalyst. Dealers will remove the protruding pin and install heat shield(s).
2002-03 Altima in cold climates
Description: Moisture in fuel tank could freeze and form ice crystals that may obstruct the suction opening of the fuel pump causing the vehicle to stop running. Dealers will install a screen at the suction opening of the fuel pump.
Description: The engine may stall while being driven at low speed due to an overheated crankshaft position sensor. Dealers will reprogram the ECM. Certain 2006 Altimas, which have been previously remedied under, recall campaign 06V223 (Nissan R0606) are not included in this recall since the reprogramming for that recall also included this reprogramming.
2006 Altima
Description: The rear subframe may have been manufactured incorrectly, which affect the rear suspension and cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle. Dealers will inspect the rear subframe to determine if it was manufactured incorrectly and replace it, if necessary.
2006 Altima w/2.5L engines
Description: Excessive engine oil consumption as a result of improper performance of the piston rings may occur. If the oil is not maintained at least at the minimum level, engine damage can occur, and in extreme cases, an engine fire. Nissan notified owners of the possibility of excessive oil consumption and the importance of maintaining the oil at a proper level.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


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