When Nissan set about overhauling its highly successful line of Altima family sedans, you would think that the company’s goal would be to hang on tightly to its usual hard-earned position as the third best-selling family sedan in the country. But as we all well know, the bread and butter family sedan segment has been turned up over onto its ear as of late what with the Camry suddenly discovering a “fun to drive” side and Hyundai, Kia and VW recently launching brilliant newcomers that brought them firmly in line with the family sedan mainstream in the form of the Sonata, Optima and Passat.
So given the depth and breadth of choice available, what is it that family sedan buyers want? Well, they demand that their next new purchase will exceed all of their expectations in areas like value, true stylishness inside and out, offering full luxury car amenities as well as a driving experience that is both soothing and athletic. Examples of this new family sedan work ethic can be seen in the recently released 2012 Kia Optima SXL Limited as well as in either the TDI or VR6 variants of the 2012 VW Passat. These aforementioned examples of the best of the best now manage to tickle our family sedan funny bones in a way we truly that we never thought possible. And looming still on the horizon is the next generation 2013 Honda Accord so you have to wonder what Nissan was hoping to accomplish with this very thorough redesign?
Well, first off in just its first month on sale the new 2013 Nissan Altima has usurped the current Accord’s long held rank as second best-selling car in this country (after Camry) thanks to a big boost in sales. And, no, after spending a week in a fully loaded 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL sedan we don’t think it was because a lot of those “early bird buyers” got a free maintenance package for two years as part of the deal. No, what we discovered during our week with the 2013 Nissan Altima was that we not only relished driving it but that it also passed the ever so elusive “snooty test.”
What is the “snooty test?” Well, in our case was performed in the parking lot of a very upscale and exclusive private Newport Beach Country Club where the response to the new sedan from the absurdly wealthy was overwhelmingly positive. People stopped and stared and wanted to pop their head inside to get a look at the vast improvement know as the interior of this sedan. In fact, we suspect more than one of these Club members saw in this Altima the perfect “financial downsize” as the mortgage on their McMansion and the Club dues are conspiring to make Audi or BMW payments impossible.
Yes, from the outside our 2013 Nissan Altima looked expensive but considering the fact that a lot of those Botox infused Newport Beach faces hadn’t exhibited emotion in decades, we took everyone’s interest as a sign that this family sedan can handle a morning commute plus even take you out to play 18-holes of golf with your old college buddies. The Altima’s capacious trunk can accommodate 15.4 cubic feet of golf detritus plus a couple of golf bags. Sadly, we are pretty sure there’s nothing that the Altima can do to help fix your wicked slice.
Exterior and Interior Design
For the first three days that we had our test 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL we really couldn’t decide if we liked the way the car looked from the outside because there are so many unique elements to the design. But thankfully, the guys who designed the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan were in no way involved in this project as we think the aggressive chrome front grille, whirling dervish-style headlamps and oversized tail lamps all work together to turn this Altima into the howling banshee of mainstream family sedans—yes Nissan, that’s a complement. In such a conservative market segment, we appreciate Nissan’s styling boldness.
One odd note, however, as we could never figure out our tester’s exterior color due to the fact that in different sunlight it would go from green to blue to black as if it was somehow all three colors at once. No matter, however, as we thought the Altima looked good in all three of those colors. And, yes, other people thought our Altima was changing color too.
But the exterior color is not what impacted the success of this 2013 Altima in our eyes because for the first time we have found a Nissan product with a tan interior that successfully marries darker plastics and real looking wood trim (black interiors use chrome trim accents) in order to offset the feeling that you are wading in a vat of Tapioca pudding. Clearly Nissan stole some plays from Audi in this regard and we can only hope Nissan plans to extend this new interior trick to the Murano most especially.
Otherwise, however, the design and execution of the 2013 Nissan Altima’s interior is an overall winner which should greatly improve the showroom appeal and longtime customer enjoyment of this roomy, airy and comfortable family sedan. Front and rear occupants will have plenty of legroom although it is not quite up to the NBA friendly Passat but still plenty for ordinary folks. Five will fill fit in a pinch but you could very easily take a nice and long relaxing family road trip with just four of you aboard in the 2013 Nissan Altima.
As for storage space, Nissan seems to have thought of everything with nooks placed everywhere sized just for your iPhone and assorted junk all the while giving buyers a roomy center console, lots of hidden cubbies and most importantly—two North American 64 oz. size cupholders for the proper cradling of a Double Gulp of Diet Coke. Yes, it’s wrong but we don’t live in New York City so we can still make whatever irresponsible soda choices we want to. As it happens, the Altima’s cupholders can even hold a Red Bull can so the residents of New York can rest easy knowing they will also find things to enjoy in the 2013 Nissan Altima.
Features, Value and Fuel Economy
The 2013 Nissan Altima with the 3.5 liter V6 and CVT auto are EPA estimated at 28 city/31 highway on regular unleaded although we averaged 26.3 miles per gallon no doubt due to our judicious application of the “add more points onto your driver’s license” pedal. The Altima does boast an 18 gallon fuel tank meaning this Nissan qualifies as a wise choice for the brave and soon to be weary souls who take family or friends on a long term, multi-state road trip. Remember to pack your sunscreen, lots of water, healthy snacks and a number to a hotline should one of the other passengers tend to become a bit abrasive. On a road trip, annoying people become people you want to throw from an opened passenger door—at 70 miles per hour.
Our top of the line 2013 Nissan Altima SL started at $30,080 with standard features like a 9-speaker Bose audio system, leather seats, a back-up camera, dual zone climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, stylish 18-inch alloy wheels, a power glass moonroof, HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlamps, a power driver’s seat, Bluetooth, push button start and keyless-go, USB-iPod integration and more. On top of that we added to solitary option which is positively a steal at $1,090 for the Tech Package which not only includes a full in-dash navigation system but a litany of cutting edge safety technology.
So what new safety technology does the 2013 Nissan Altima offer to buyers? The Tech Package has a lane departure warning system (it beeps at you if you veer out of your lane), a blind spot warning system, a back-up protection system (it also beeps at you) as well as navigation traffic, weather and the ability to download local Google Points of Interest right to your vehicle. See why we thought the 2013 Nissan Altima would make a great road trip car?
Driving Experience, Safety and that CVT
Looking down at the positively Vulcan and very “Star Trek” steering wheel design of this 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL, we were amazed at the sportiness, tactility and user friendliness on display most especially given the inclusion of two oversize paddle shifters lying right behind the wheel’s beefy leather wrapped rim. Although we often forget about such manual systems in most automatic cars, the size of the paddles forced us to play with the system and we came away amazed at how much control it afforded driver’s over the 3.5 liter 270 horsepower V6 via a very, very clever new CVT automatic transmission.
Yes, folks, we have complained about Nissan’s loud, moaning and recalcitrant CVT automatic transmission but we can honestly say that in this application when mated to the 3.5 liter V6 that it is quiet, smooth and even manages to enhance the Altima driving experience. We would just use the sportier manual shift mode and after launching from rest with serious authority we would hold that perfectly tuned V6 motor right at as it smashes headlong into its werewolf howl sweet spot near redline. We cannot yet say, however, how the Altima with the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder and CVT will fare on the refinement front but we can confirm that Nissan really did overhaul the unit extensively.
Steering feel was a touch on the light side but not anywhere near the extreme of a Camry Hybrid’s so despite the Altima’s larger size you do feel like it’s easy to maneuver in crowded parking lots. We think the common way to put it is that the Altima “drives smaller than it is.” Too bad it doesn’t corner and handle the way you would expect given the fact that this is the brand that created the Z and the Maxima, both known uniquely as affordable sporty driving icons even to today.
There is a bright side to all of this, however, as the Altima now has one of the quietest interiors and probably the smoothest ride over even the once pillow top smooth Camry at all cruising speeds. A funny thing happened during Toyota’s 2012 redesign of the Camry because now it handles better than the Altima but its ride is much, much worse. Sigh. The 2013 Nissan Altima has yet to be crash tested by the NHTSA or IIHS but considering all of the safety equipment that came with our tester, we can safely assume that the Altima’s performance in this category was a top priority for Nissan engineers from even the earliest stages.
We love the loud, brassy style of the Altima’s exterior design as well as the simple, elegant and high quality feel of its roomy and comfortable interior. Thankfully Nissan has managed to tune its 3.5 liter V6 engine properly to a CVT automatic and for that we truly say hallelujah! We have been at best unbothered in the past by CVT automatics but never before did we think that one actually enhanced the driving experience in a certain model. This second generation Nissan CVT truly impressed us not only for what we could tell it was doing but also for the fact that we didn’t even think about its behavior in most driving conditions.
Now, if Nissan could just go back and add some feel to the steering and get the sloppy wallow out of the suspension when going over bumps, then this might just be the V6 powered family sedan to beat. As it stands now, Nissan is definitely in a great position with the 2013 Altima to bring the fight to the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, VW Passat and the many prime contenders also looking to expand their slice of the family sedan sales pie.