Great looking, great performance, super safe, solid base; but poor components and faulty sensors
A few days after driving the car off the lot, the engine light went off. We took it back and found it was an engine knock sensor. The engine wasn't knocking, the sensor simply went bad. They replaced it no problems.
A month later, an O2 sensor went out. We paid about $120 to replace that. Perfect for about 1 year and a half. Then the car started making a "bumping" noise when going over rough surfaces or speed bumps. We didn't know what it was at first, and when another check engine light went off, we took it in.
The check engine light was the 2nd O2 sensor located on the exhaust manifold. The O2 sensor is welded into place and cannot be replaced - the entire exhaust manifold had to be replaced, and it's a dealer-part only.
The bumping noise was worn engine mounts. They replaced 3 of them. I also replace the belt with a shorter one, because it would belt-slap when you put the car in reverse. Because we let the engine knock around with bad engine mounts so long, it knocked the pre-catalytic converter core loose; so when the engine hit around 3000 RPM, it would sound like my old high school lunch bell.
A year after getting all of that fixed, another check engine light went off. We never had a chance to check it, as the car was involved in a high-speed highway accident, ending with the car being totaled. The safety ratings are warranted, as the car did its job keeping my family safe - they walked away unscathed.
As a side note, another thing I do not like about the car is the non-standard in-dash radio proportions. I stuck a 7" touch screen DVD player in my Mustang and Saturn no problem, but the Altima... nope - guess I would have needed some kind of dress-up kit to fill in the odd gap.
Lastly, aftermarket performance parts for this model Altima are almost non-existent. When a part goes out, I usually like to replace it with a higher quality piece, usually built for racing applications. There was hardly any aftermarket exhaust kits for the 2.5 liter models, and nothing from the engine all the way back to the tail pipes, but a slew of stuff available for the V6 model. So I was stuck flicking the bill for a new exhaust manifold with a welded in O2 sensor from the dealer for a premium price, just because the O2 sensor went out.
I needed a car, and I needed one quick, so I went to the local dealership and said, "show me the cheapest car on the lot." They presented the 2003 Altima, and we took it for a test drive. I was impressed with the performance as I peeled out of the dealership, and flew down the street so I could stomp on the brakes as I rushed up on red lights. I don't just test drive, I REALLY test drive. The dealer was hanging on for dear life. The car looked great, forest green with metal flake, and it was a 4 cylinder that literally smoked the tires. On the highway, it had no problems kicking down a gear to pass people up at any speed.
The check engine light going off a total of 4 times while I had it was irritating, because it was always the sensor itself that went bad. The car itself never did, except the 3 engine mounts that had to be replaced along with a shortened belt to reduce the belt-slap when you were in reverse. The base of the car was solid; it's the the surrounding components that were cheap and seemed to fail.
I purchased 18" X 8" aluminum rims made for a 2004 Nissan 350Z, and it really enhanced the look of the Altima. The stock stereo system sounded great, and with good comfy shocks, the car rode smooth as butter.
I don't know if I would buy another one, I'm conflicted since I want to give other cars a chance, but this one was good to me.
One thing I have to say is that it probably prevented serious injury or death when it was in the accident. Everyone in the car was a little shaken but OK. No injuries. However, the Altima was totaled. It has outstanding safety ratings that can be backed-up with my wife and daughter describing to me about how scary the accident was while following the tow truck taking the Altima to the body shop, where in a different car it could have been a different story, where I might have been following an ambulance to a hospital.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 29th December, 2010