After time away from the Four Seasons Nissan Altima, Ann Arbor staff members recently reiterated some of their feelings about the car, commenting on familiar topics such as the strong, smooth powertrain (discussed at length last month) as well as the infotainment system (refreshingly easy to use), the backup camera (nearly worthless), and the seats (extremely comfortable).

As we near the end of our year with the car, several of us appreciate the Altima's exterior styling more than we did when it entered our care. "I've grown to really admire the Altima's styling," says associate editor David Zenlea. "It is, perhaps, the only mid-size sedan besides the Kia Optima that's not trying to look like something else. And it really doesn't have an ugly angle. Design editor Robert Cumberford told me as much last autumn, but it took me several months to realize that he was right. Don't tell him."

Senior web editor Phil Floraday adds, "I like the look of the Altima, even though it's a bit forgettable. That's what I want in a basic mid-size sedan. The interior is every bit as plain as the exterior, again in a good way. The elegant design has probably lured new buyers while pleasing the many thousands of loyal Altima customers. The design isn't as daring as the Ford Fusion's, but that car already looks old and bloated to me."

Floraday's comments speak to the Altima's target market. It doesn't thrill the car enthusiasts at Automobile Magazine, especially ten months into our test, but we realize that this Nissan isn't really intended for enthusiasts.

"The Altima is a fairly bland, forgettable car," says associate web editor Jake Holmes. "But let it be known -- that is no insult, especially in this segment. For one, it means the Altima has no bad habits or awkward traits that stand out in your memory. It's the perfect car for those evenings when you just want to drive home and drive back to work the next day."

"Nissan product planners had a very clear idea of whom they wanted to buy this car, and it wasn't us," Zenlea concurs. "Rather, it was the typical American driver who wants a car to demand as little of him/her as possible. We may deride that attitude, but we're not gonna change it."

"The Altima is pitched directly at the mainstream American consumer, and I can see why sales are so strong," says associate editor Greg Migliore. "Still, it's pretty sedate for anyone who considers himself any sort of enthusiast, even with the powerful engine."

Executive editor Todd Lassa has more of a sour taste: "The Altima hasn't changed much since the breakthrough 2002 model. Nissan is chasing market share and sales in the U.S. with discount pricing, and, by gosh, it works. Sales are up largely because so many people will be satisfied with cars like this at Costco/Walmart prices."

Just as a big-box store can't give you the intangible satisfaction of shopping at a distinctive mom-and-pop business, you won't get the intangible satisfaction of driving a distinctive car from the Altima. As Zenlea notes: "Around 3:30 today (a Wednesday), it occurred to me that I'd not yet entered my notes from the car I drove yesterday. Trouble was, I couldn't remember what I drove. It took about five minutes of serious concentration to recall that I had, in fact, driven our Altima. That pretty much sums up the driving experience."

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