In the ‘90s, the Maxima was Nissan’s flagship sedan designed and marketed as the “Four-Door Sports Car” that bridged the affordability of a midsize family sedan with the luxury of European performance-oriented sedans. Meanwhile, the Altima, a compact sedan, struggled to find a solid consumer base. But by the 2002 model year, Nissan addressed the shortcomings of the Altima that made it more competitive with the Maxima.
The 2002 Nissan Altima had the benefit of restyling as the inaugural model of the nameplate’s third production. The enlargement of the Altima automatically vaulted it to the midsize sedan segment, thus placing it in direct competition with the 2002 Maxima, which was stuck in the third model year of its fifth production cycle. Both the Altima and the Maxima were now competing with industry leaders like the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. Nissan provided four trims of the ’02 Altima: the 2.5, 2.5S, 2.5 SL and 3.5 SE. The ’02 Maxima had three: the base-level GXE, sport-oriented SE and luxury-oriented GLE.
For the first time in its history, the Altima received a V-6 engine. The 24-valve dual overhead cam V-6 engine was exclusive to the 3.5 SE trim and generated 240 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 246 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. It was no match for the engine on the ’02 Maxima though; it produced 15 more horsepower and 6 more foot-pounds of torque. The other ’02 Altima trims had a 2.5-liter, 16-valve DOHC inline four-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 180 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission was standard on each ’02 Altima. The ’02 Maxima received four-speed automatic gearboxes on the GXE and GLE and a six-speed automatic on SE.
Thanks to the V-6 engine, the 2002 Nissan Altima marked the first model year of the nameplate being competitive in acceleration with its Maxima counterpart. The ’02 Altima’s 3.5 SE trim shaved off a tenth of a second from the ’02 Maxima’s 0-to-60 mph and quarter-mile times. Thanks to the four-cylinder engine-equipped trims, the Altima was a generally more fuel-efficient vehicle. The vehicle’s peak fuel economy was 23 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The ’02 Maxima, on the other hand, offered up to 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.
With its redesign, the 2002 Nissan Altima had a width of 70.4 inches and height of 57.9 inches. By contrast, the 2002 Nissan Maxima was narrower and shorter, with a width of 70.3 inches and height of 56.3 inches. Also, at 110.2 inches, the ’02 Altima had a longer wheelbase by 1.9 inches. Both cars, however, share a length of 191.5 inches. Each vehicle had 16- or 17-inch wheels. Interior space on the ’02 Altima consisted of a passenger volume of 103.2 cubic feet and cargo volume of 15.6 cubic feet. The ’02 Maxima was a little smaller, with a passenger volume of 102.5 cubic feet and cargo volume of 15.1 cubic feet.
As a sedan that leaned towards luxury, the 2002 Nissan Maxima had the upper hand in comfort and convenient features. While the 2.5 SL and 3.5 SE were the only trims of the 2002 Nissan Altima to possess alloy wheels, all Maxima trims had them. On all ’02 Maxima cars there was cruise control, power side mirrors, steering wheel-mounted controls and power-adjusted driver seat. The Altima 2.5 did not have cruise control, power side mirrors or audio controls mounted on its steering wheel; and Nissan omitted the power driver seat from the 2.5 and 2.5 S trims.
Each 2002 Nissan Altima and 2002 Nissan Maxima had dual frontal airbags for safety. Each vehicle also received child safety features on its rear power door locks for protecting younger occupants. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Maxima four out of five stars for safety in frontal and side crashes, as well as rollover. The Altima matched all Maxima ratings except frontal crash test performance for the driver’s side, for which it received three stars.
The 2002 Nissan Altima had an manufacturer's suggested retail price range of $16,649 to $22,649. The 2002 Nissan Maxima was way more expensive, with an MSRP of $24,699 to $27,099. Interestingly enough – perhaps due to its advantages of size, performance and overall refinement – the 2002 Altima has a better resale value than its Maxima counterpart. As of 2013, Kelley Blue Book has a suggested retail value range of $6,676 to $8,628 for the ’02 Altima and $4,495 to $5,879 for the ’02 Maxima.
- Motor Trend: 2002 Nissan Altima Specifications
- Motor Trend: 2002 Nissan Maxima Specifications
- Safercar.gov – NHTSA: 2002 Nissan Altima 4-DR.
- Safercar.gov – NHTSA: 2002 Nissan Maxima 4-DR.
- Kelley Blue Book: 2002 Nissan Altima – Used Car Prices
- Kelley Blue Book: 2002 Nissan Maxima – Used Car Prices
- Cars.com: 2002 Nissan Altima
- Cars.com: 2002 Nissan Maxima
- Zero to 60 Times: Nissan 0 to 60