The redesigned Nissan Altima accelerated to the top of Consumer Reports'ratings of family sedans in tests for the March 2007 issue. Rated "Excellent" overall the Altima now ranks alongside CR's top-rated Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry.

The Altima 3.5SE virtually ties with the Honda Accord V6, Consumer Reports' top-rated family sedan. Among four-cylinder sedans tested by CR, the Altima 2.5S ranks just behind the Volkswagen Passat 2.0T.

"The redesigned Altima is a well-rounded family sedan in both 2.5S and 3.5SE trim levels," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. "Both the 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V6 engines deliver very good performance while getting good fuel economy."

The magazine tested basic and uplevel versions of five family sedans -- the Altima, Kia Optima, Saturn Aura, Pontiac G6, and Chrysler Sebring. Prices ranged from $20,785 for the base model G6 to $31,995 for the Altima 3.5SE.

With a "Very Good" overall score, the V6-powered Optima ranked midpack, roughly on a par with the Hyundai Sonata and Mercury Milan Premier; the four-cylinder Optima also achieved a "Very Good" overall score and ranked alongside the four-cylinder Accord and Camry.

The upscale Saturn Aura XR also scored "Very Good" overall, as did the less expensive Aura XE. Both trim lines of the Pontiac G6 and Chrysler Sebring finished at the bottom of the pack with "Good" overall scores.

Among the vehicles in this test group, Consumer Reports recommends only the Pontiac G6 GT.

CR does not yet have reliability data on the Altima, Optima, Aura, and Sebring. It recommends only those vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR's Annual Car Reliability Survey of its own subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

Both trim lines of the Altima have responsive and secure handling. The sportier 3.5 SE ($31,995 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price as tested) handles more sharply, but rides stiffly. Interior fit and finish has improved from the previous generation, but the rear seat is less roomy.

The smooth and punchy 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6 in the SE delivers excellent acceleration and returns 23 mpg overall in CR's tests-comparable to some four-cylinder engines-but requires premium fuel. The four-cylinder gets 25 mpg on regular fuel. The continuously variable transmission used in both trim lines of the Altima is excellent overall. Braking performance is very good.

The redesigned Optima is a pleasant sedan that is available at a low price. Both its four-and six-cylinder engines deliver competitive fuel economy and performance. Controls are easy to use, the interior is nicely detailed, and the rear seat is the most comfortable in this group. The Optima EX ($23,900 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 2.7-liter, 185-hp V6 that is smooth, quiet, and delivers very good acceleration. Both trim lines of the Optima use a smooth and responsive five-speed automatic. Braking performance is very good.

The Aura shares underpinnings with the Pontiac G6 and is more capable than its corporate cousin, but it still doesn't rank with the better vehicles in this group. Both trim lines of the Aura have responsive handling, but the XE has an absorbent ride while the more expensive XR has a stiff ride. Fit and finish is marred by some details. The Aura XR ($26,820 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 252-hp, 3.6-liter V6 that delivers excellent acceleration. Still, it was easy to provoke torque steer and wheelspin. The six-speed transmission in the XR is both smooth and responsive. Braking performance is generally very good.

The G6 is a mediocre car at best, particularly with the noisy four-cylinder engine. The V6 is quieter and performs better. Both suffer from sloppy handling at their limits, difficult cabin access, an uncomfortable rear seat, and subpar interior materials. The G6 GT ($25,989 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 224-hp, 3.5-liter V6 and four-speed automatic transmission that delivers very good acceleration and smooth shifts, though not on par with segment leaders. Overall braking performance is unimpressive.

The Sebring brings some improvements over the previous version, but still it's a big disappointment for a redesigned model. Both four- and six-cylinder powerplants are noisy and unrefined, ride and handling are mediocre, and the interior is not well finished. The Sebring Touring ($24,465 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 189-hp, 2.7-liter V6 engine that delivers very good acceleration. Both trim lines of the Sebring come with a four-speed automatic transmission that is smooth but not very responsive. Braking distances are just average.