The third generation Nissan Altima has been an unquestionable success since its introduction as an all-new design for 2002. With its distinctive exterior design, choice of powerful 4-cylinder or V6 engines, performance-oriented suspension and class-leading roominess, Altima has had an immediate impact on Nissan sales, image and in bringing new buyers into Nissan dealerships. Altima has also garnered outstanding reviews, including the 2002 North American Car of the Year award.
For 2003, Altima features refinements to the interior, along with a new packaging system designed to simplify option choices for consumers. Its technologically advanced 3.5-liter V6 engine has also been retuned to provide five additional horsepower, bringing it to 245 hp (up from last model year's 240 hp).
“Despite a rookie season that was highlighted by great reviews, record sales and winning the most prestigious media award, we're not about to let the 2003 Altima rest on its laurels,” said Bill Kirrane, vice president and general manager, Nissan Division, Nissan North America, Inc. “Once you've set the bar in class, everyone is chasing you – we're determined to keep Altima in front through continuous upgrades and enhancements, starting in year two, with more power, more refinement and simplified equipment choices for our customers."
In redesigning Altima for the third generation, Nissan’s designers and engineers started with a clean sheet of paper, focusing on three key areas – design, performance and roominess. "Using a whole new platform and new attitude – one that decreed mid-size sedans no longer have to be boring – they created a vehicle that we believe sets a new standard in its class," said Kirrane.
Expressive Exterior Design
Altima’s powerful design begins with its wedge shape with a high waistline and pronounced character lines. An arched silhouette slanted back window and integrated front and rear bumper shapes give the sedan a fluid, smooth form. Large 16- and 17-inch wheels give Altima a performance look with an aggressive stance.
This generation Altima is a much larger vehicle than before – wheelbase was increased 7.1 inches to 110.2 inches, overall length increased 5.7 inches to 191.5 inches and width increased 1.3 inches for a total of 70.4 inches. Height was also increased by 2.0 inches to 57.9 inches and track was increased by 1.8 inches in front and 2.4 inches in the rear for increased handling capability and a substantial look.
Again in 2003, finely crafted combination headlights, with optional xenon bulbs on V6 models and large round taillights with clear lenses give Altima an upscale appearance. Green-tinted UV-reducing solar glass enhances Altima’s luxury look, protects interior fabrics and improves passenger comfort.
Altima is assembled at the award-winning Nissan North America Manufacturing Smyrna and Decherd Tennessee plants using the Intelligent Body Assembly System (IBAS), which produces panel fit accuracy within +/- 1.0 mm. Altima is the first Nissan assembled in Tennessee to utilize a one-piece bodyside structure – a key feature for uniform panel gap and quality.
Body and structural improvements made to the third generation Altima add up to a 170 percent increase in overall body stiffness versus the 2001 model. The increased stiffness and solidity increase driving stability and ride comfort while reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
For 2003, Altima is available in two new exterior colors – Sonoma Sunset and Crystal Blue – among a choice of ten exterior colors selected to complement the sedan’s body and personality.
Dynamic Performance and Innovative Technology Systems
Altima's 245-horsepower 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with 246 lb-ft of torque offers an increase of five horsepower over the 2002 model. The 3.5-liter V6 is part of the VQ engine series, which has been recognized as one of the “Ten Best Engines” by Ward’s Auto World magazine for eight consecutive years. V6-powered Altimas qualify for Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) status.
Also available on 2003 Altimas is a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder producing 180 lb-ft of torque. This engine, called QR25, features a silent chain drive and a balancer system that effectively negates vibrations without taking up much space – combining ideal packaging and smoothness. All 2.5-liter 4-cylinder-equipped Altimas qualify for Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) status.
Both engines feature continuously variable valve timing, modular engine design, microfinished crank journals and cam lobes, molybdenum coated lightweight pistons and electronically controlled throttles.
Backing either engine is a choice of 5-speed manual (not available on 2.5 SL 4-cylinder models) or 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmissions.
Automatic transmission-equipped V6 Altimas offer an available traction control system. This advanced system uses a combination of throttle, fuel cutoff and shift schedule to aid traction in off-the-line starts and slippery situations. A 20-gallon fuel tank provides a long range between fill-ups.
The 2003 Altima features an advanced front suspension design with extensive use of aluminum parts, which is eight percent lighter than a comparable steel design. A cradle-type frame with an offset coil spring and lower transverse link layout provides better handling and riding performance, cutting 30 percent of lateral forces acting on the front suspension.
The rear multi-link independent suspension was adapted and improved from the Japanese-market Nissan Skyline supercar and is similar to Infiniti’s flagship Q45 sedan. The rear shocks and springs are separated for reduced friction and the shock is in line with the center of the rear wheels, providing better damping and less harshness. In addition, the rear suspension is approximately six percent lighter than the rear suspension in the previous generation Altima.
Overall torsional rigidity has increased by 70 percent, which helps provide confident handling. For a quiet ride in this generation Altima, numerous countermeasures were taken to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
All 4-cylinder Altimas come with 205/65R16 tires on either steel or aluminum-alloy wheels and V6 models feature standard 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 215/55R17 tires.
Braking is provided by standard 4-wheel disc brakes with an optional 4-wheel, 4-channel, 4-sensor Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). ABS-equipped Altimas feature two advanced braking systems - Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), which optimizes brake force depending on load condition (passengers and cargo) and Brake Assist, which senses hard or panic pedal application and helps provide maximum braking capacity.
Inviting Interior Design
The 2003 Altima continues to offer a contemporary interior design that is relaxed, modern and comfortable and emphasizes a harmony between driver and machine. Refinements include new charcoal seat fabric (late availability), padded cloth front center armrest cover (genuine leather appointments on leather-equipped vehicles) and bright titanium interior accent colors on all models. Wood-tone trim color has also been enhanced.
As with last year, the 2003 Altima's large cabin is designed to be among the best in class with cabin volume at 103.2 cubic feet, up 9.2 cubic feet from the previous generation Altima. All major interior dimensions increased from the previous vehicle, including a 1.3-inch increase in front head room, 1.9-inch increase in front leg room, 2.6-inch increase in rear leg room and increases of front and rear hip and shoulder room.
Altima again offers three distinctive interior “environments” that encompass both seat cloth or (optional) leather color and interior surface trim finish, including audio faceplate and HVAC controls. The three environment choices feature colors of Charcoal, Blond and Frost.
The instrument panel, designed to fall away from the occupants for increased leg room and improved ingress and egress, is a high tech design with a three-gauge “cockpit” instrument pod. The gauges feature a fine vision meter illumination system for superior visibility.
In the gauge cluster is a multi-function trip computer, which includes an odometer, twin trip meters and a display for outside air temperature, driving time, average speed, fuel consumption and distance to empty.
For the driver, there’s a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable center console armrest and gated automatic transmission shifter with a formed gearshift knob design. HVAC and audio controls are grouped in a single unit, reducing complexity.
Additional features include a power port inside the center console storage area for a mobile phone, large cup holders that can hold up to a one-liter bottle, roof-mounted map light and sunglass holder. Power windows and locks are standard and windows can be opened remotely via key fob for cabin venting.
Audio systems include a standard 6-speaker AM/FM/CD with an available in-dash 6-disc CD changer with radio data system (RDS), speed-sensitive volume control and steering wheel audio controls. Optional is an 8-speaker Bose® premium audio system with an AM/FM/in-dash 6-disc CD changer with RDS, speed-sensitive volume control and steering wheel audio controls.
Altima also features a large trunk with standard cargo net. The trunk measures 15.6 cubic feet.
From a safety standpoint, Altima comes with standard dual-stage supplemental air bags that sense seatbelt use and collision severity and deploy accordingly. Optional are front seat side-impact supplemental air bags and roof-mounted side-impact curtain air bags for front- and rear-seat occupant head protection. Also standard are seat belts with pretensioners and load limiters and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tether for CHildren) child seat anchors and tether system.
Models and Options
The 2003 Nissan Altima is available in four well-equipped models – the base 2.5, mid-grade 2.5 S, luxurious 2.5 SL and the V6-powered 3.5 SE. For 2003, the 2.5 SL now offers many features which were previously available as part of option packages, including a standard automatic transmission, heated front seats and outside mirrors, trunk lid trim and simulated wood trim. The 3.5 SE features extensive reworking of its equipment packages, including the addition of a new Sport Package (which includes sunroof and spoiler) and Sport Package Plus (which includes sunroof, spoiler, Bose® audio system and xenon headlights). A new 3.5 SE Leather Sport Package includes the Leather Package, spoiler and xenon headlights, while the new 3.5 SE Premium Leather Package includes the Leather Sport Package plus simulated wood trim.
Other 2003 options and packages include the Convenience Package, Convenience Package Plus, Premium Convenience Package, power glass moonroof, as well as optional side air bags/ABS combination and side air bags/ABS/Traction Control combination.
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