The Nissan Altima is all-new for 2013. With a combination of innovative mechanical components, carefully tuned ride and handling, advanced cockpit connectivity features and sleekly contemporary styling that belies its price class, the fifth-generation 2013 Altima feels like it's a class above its mid-size segment while providing comfortable, efficient family transport.
Most 2013 Altima models will come with a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but a a vigorous, upscale 270-hp 3.5-liter V6 is available. The thrifty four-cylinder engine is newly redesigned and, combined with a vastly improved Nissan CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the result of 20 years of refinement, this drivetrain results in a segment-leading 38 mpg EPA Highway rating. That's better than Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu ECO, Hyundai Hybrid or any other competing mid-size sedan.
We found the Altima 3.5 with the V6 engine a brilliant performer, but the Altima 2.5 with the four-cylinder engine delivered just average performance.
Inside, the top-of-the-line Altima SL trim was very luxurious, and the SV trim with cloth upholstery was also very nice. All of them are very quiet underway.
Combine headline-making fuel efficiency with a variety of features and creature comforts not generally found in non-luxury mid-size sedans, and the 2013 Altima, already shouldering its way into Nissan Maxima territory, makes a stylish, affordable and tempting choice for families working their way up the scale.
Nissan Altima competes with Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.
Nissan Altima 2.5 ($21,500), Altima 2.5 S ($22,500), Altima 2.5 SV ($24,100), Altima 2.5 SL ($28,050); Altima 3.5 S ($25,360), Altima 3.5 SV ($27,780), Altima 3.5 SL ($30,080)
The 2013 Nissan Altima has a sleek, dynamic, cutting-edge stylishness that is decidedly imposing. The new Altima is in some way a class above its competitors. For instance, the 2013 Altima has the same wheelbase as the previous-generation model, but both its front and rear track are 1.4 in. wider, and its fenders are deeper. This gives it a muscular, sporting stance that sets it apart from some of the others.
The car features a blacked-out grille with a chrome surround, very a la mode, and a zoomie, striking headlight cluster. A short hood blends with a steeply canted windshield in what was once called cab forward styling. A pronounced character line runs high along the side of the cab towards the rear, but the Nissan stylists have avoided using multiple character lines and cluttering Altima's look, as some others do. The profile is clean and elegant. Chrome trim around the windows and bright, dressy 10-spoke wheels give the Altima a near-luxury glamour.
At the rear, a bold chrome bar, almost startling in its impact, rides above the ending of the side character lines at the bottom of the trunk. The trunk lid reveals a conveniently low lift-over height of only 26.9 inches, and there are dual chrome tailpipes, de rigeur these days, no matter what the engine.
Side mirrors with redundant turn-signal lights are a nice safety provision.
Overall, the Altima looks stylish, aggressive and sporting. In the upper level of trim packages, it looks more expensive than it is. Nicely done.
The 2013 Altima lineup offers a broad range of interior furnishing levels. The SL trim is positively elegant and richly equipped. In the SV, the interior is a step down from the top-end SL but still highly satisfactory.
The 2.5 SV we used for our test drive had fawn cloth upholstery. The white-on-black gauges were handsome, immediately legible, and were surrounded by excellent soft-touch dashboard padding. The tachometer displayed a 6600-rpm redline for the 2.5. We missed the paddle shifters, available only on the 3.5 models. But in the 2.5, intelligent circuitry and the CVT continuously variable transmission regulate engine speed automatically. The power driver's seat had 6-way adjustability, and a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel presented the usual audio and cruise controls, plus controls for the navigation system. The Navigation system in our SV delivered good information via simple, effective graphics. A one-touch open/close moonroof with a manual sunscreen was included as part of the SV Convenience Package.
One point particularly worth mentioning about the Altima is its quietness. Considerable effort was made to rigidify the body structure and soundproof its panels. This contributes strongly to the car's class above impression, quietness being one sure hallmark of luxury cars. But the materials that silence cars also add weight. Nissan was nonetheless able to reduce the 2013 Altima's weight from that of the previous model by 79 pounds, no mean achievement.
Nissan's Zero-Gravity seats are designed to provide uniform support from pelvis to chest. The benefits of these seats are said to be felt on long motor trips. They seemed comfortable enough to us, but we didn't take a long enough trip to notice anything exciting.
More exciting is the new Altima's electronic connectivity packages. All models are furnished with Bluetooth hands-free phone systems and streaming audio. Also available is hands-free messaging assistant, Pandora integration, USB connection for iPod interface and satellite radio. The advantages of managing text messaging hands free are so enormous, we can't begin to say enough about them. You can reply with pre-set texts like driving, can't text, on my way, or a custom message. Invaluable.
And there's more. Advanced Drive-Assist Display, standard on every model, is located between the speedo and tachometer, a four-inch color display that is much easier for the driver to use than the console-mounted navigation monitor. It delivers mpg, audio information, trip computer, tire-pressure information, and importantly, turn-by-turn navigation.
Perhaps the most likable of the Altima's provisions is a fully automatic tire-pressure monitor that tells you exactly which tire is low, by how much it is low, then tells you when you are beginning to refill it, and gives you a little toot of the horn when you've reached the proper inflation! Goodbye tire gauge.
All in all, regardless of the trim level you choose, the 2013 Altima interior feels like anything but a skimpy car. And the higher trim models are positively lavish.
The 3.5-liter V6 Altima, with its 270 horsepower and sporty paddle shifters, can accelerate from zero to 60 mph, Nissan says, in 6.2 seconds. That's very quick for the class in our book and Nissan proudly notes it's fastest in class.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 182 hard-pressed horsepower, is considerably slower. Nissan says the Altima 2.5 can perform 0-60 in just 7.14 seconds. We're skeptical. AutoWeek reported this feat took 8.0 seconds, and we think that's closer to reality. Of course, achieving 38 mpg, one necessarily must accept a bit of huffing and puffing, and with the 2.5, we got it. As the song says, it works hard for the money.
On the other hand, if you don't mind a bit of yowling from underneath the hood, or better yet, if you're not in a breathless hurry, as many hundreds of thousands of Altima drivers before you have not been, the 2.5 will be satisfactory. Not vigorous. Satisfactory.
And startlingly efficient. The secret of the Altima four-cylinder's thrift is a quantum leap in efficiency and reduced internal friction in its very unusual CVT continuously variable transmission. Nissan has fought long and hard to develop this transmission, and for a number of years, it delivered woozy forward progress that made you feel like you were being dragged behind a huge rubber band. But the potential of the CVT was always there, chiefly that when an engine reached its cruising speed, the transmission could drop the engine down to an extremely low engine speed and deliver stunning fuel mileage. The 2013 Altima is there. At 70 mph, with the help of its CVT, we saw the Altima's engine speed maintain an ultra-low 1650 rpm, barely a pulse, barely sipping gasoline. While the competition is loading up its invoices with the expense and complexities of hybrids, Nissan sneaked under the wire and beat them all.
In keeping with its upscale aspirations, the Altima's ride and highway behavior are suitably quiet and refined. All models of the new Altima have Active Understeer Control, a system which applies small amounts of braking to the inside front wheel to overcome the Altima's tendency to resist vigorous turning into a corner. Cornering poise is further aided by stabilizer bars front and rear and new ZF Sachs shock absorbers that provide sturdy body control. We weren't in driving circumstances where this hardware could be fully tested, though in forceful driving on normal roads, the car's turn-in and stability were good.
Similarly, the new Altima rear suspension is a fully redesigned multi-link system with firm bushings, providing solid lateral response. Overall, the Altima is a family sedan with little sporting character. It is assuredly a safe over-the-road package, but it lacks the agility and fun-to-drive spirit of a true sports sedan. But the active presence of understeer control, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) and traction control, each fully automatic and self-activating, combine to give this car the full degree of modern safety and security.
The four-wheel disc brakes, too, are equipped with ABS and electronic brake distribution, delivering minute degrees of braking control in slippery conditions that even the most skilled driver would be hard pressed to match. And when the rains come and the Altima's wipers are switched on, the headlights come on automatically, complying with laws in effect in many states.
The 2013 Nissan Altima is a social climber in all the right ways, more comfortable, attractive and better-equipped than its price suggests. It is also an extremely frugal fuel user, while still providing full five-seat family accommodation. We found the standard four-cylinder engine sluggish and the sedan offered only average dynamics and feedback on the road.
Ted West filed this report after his test drive of the Nissan Altima near Nashville, Tennessee.