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2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: What Is It
The next 15 months are going to be crucial for Nissan. Five of its core products - representing 70 percent of its total annual sales in the United States - will be redesigned in this time period, and the first of which to hit dealerships is the all-new 2013 Nissan Altima. After 20 years on the market and more than 4.4 million units sold since, the Altima is easily one of Nissan's strongest products as evident by the fact that the car was a runner up to the Toyota Camry as the best-selling car in the U.S. last year despite being one of the oldest cars in its segment. Aside from the Ford Fusion, all other mid-size sedans have either been redesigned or introduced to the market since the fourth-generation Altima debuted back in 2007, and with the 2013 Nissan Altima due to hit dealerships in July, we recently went to Nissan's North American headquarters in Franklin, Tenn. to put some miles on the new car for this first drive review.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Smyrna, Tenn., the 2013 Nissan Altima will be available in seven engine and trim level combinations with a starting MSRP of $21,500. This starting price is for the base 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5, and while it is almost $1,000 more than a 2012 Altima, there are plenty of added features on the new car including standard push-button start and Bluetooth phone and audio. The 2.5S will be the Altima's volume seller starting at $22,500, but we spent our day with both SV models (2.5SV and 3.5SV). The Altima 2.5SL and 3.5SL will stand as the luxurious, top-of-the-line models starting at $28.050 and $30,080, respectively, and each come loaded with plenty of standard features. Factoring in the $780 destination charge, the 2013 Altima will have a price spread that starts at $22,280 and goes all the way up to $32,540 for a fully loaded Altima 3.5SL.
While there is no indication what the future holds for the Altima Hybrid, the good news is that the Altima Coupe will be around for 2013. The bad news? It is the old body style and likely won't be around much longer. Buyers who pre-order a new 2013 Altima (excluding the base Altima 2.5) now through July 9 will not only be guaranteed to get the car he or she wants (instead of being limited by dealer inventory), but they will also receive a complimentary pre-paid maintenance program. This incentive has a value of $700, and it provides free maintenance for three years or 45,000 miles including oil changes and tire rotations.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: What It's Up Against
Not only is the mid-size sedan segment consistently growing, it’s also getting a lot better every year with the 2013 Nissan Altima going up against cars such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata and, of course, the top-selling Toyota Camry. Nissan pointed out that its goal with the new Altima isn’t to outsell the Toyota Camry (although we're sure it wouldn't mind those bragging rights), it is to out-class the entire mid-size segment. Compared to the Camry's 308,510 sales in 2011 representing a drop of 5.9 percent from 2010, the Nissan Altima posted sales of 268,981 last year which was an increase of 17.3 percent year over year. The Altima has definitely been a factor in helping Nissan's U.S. market share increase from 7.8 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent in 2011, and Nissan is expecting even better numbers from its new quintet of products (Altima, Pathfinder, Sentra, Versa Hatchback and Rogue) with a goal of achieving a 10 percent market share within the next few years.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- more expressive, premium styling
- wider stance
- improved aerodynamics
How It Looks:
It isn't hard to notice the styling similarities between the 2013 Nissan Altima and the sportier Nissan Maxima, but while the Maxima aims for an aggressive look with its blunt front end, the new Altima is designed with better aerodynamics in mind with its bullet-shaped nose. Inspired by the 2010 Nissan Ellure Concept, the new Nissan Altima is sized about the same, but it is wider than the outgoing model to cover the car's wider track. The 2013 Altima's wider stance and sculpted body lines help give the car a very athletic look while the rounded front wheel arches and tasteful chrome accents give it an upscale appearance almost worthy of an Infiniti badge. Along with the new styling, the 2013 Altima also showcases Nissan's new grille design that has a more flowing and energetic shape than the corporate grille found on most current Nissan models.
Even some of the Altima's traits that were carried over to the new generation have been improved upon in the name of styling and driver comfort. For instance, the 2013 Altima features a similar roofline to the fourth-generation model, but the new design improves rearward visibility with an extended daylight opening (DLO) that stretches beyond the rear doors. For those moments where a car still manages to sneak into the driver's blind spot, the new Altima also offers a Lane Departure Warning system that uses the backup camera instead of more expensive radar-based systems. A unique element of this new LDW system is that the camera can be automatically sprayed with water and air to clean and dry the camera lens keeping the field of vision clear.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review Interior
What's New for 2012:
- unique NASA-inspired seats
- all-new NissanConnect hands-free system
How It Looks and Feels:
When the 2013 Nissan Altima was unveiled at the New York Auto Show earlier this year, it wasn't the car's exterior styling that was getting all the attention, it was the interior. The mid-size segment has definitely come a far way in recent years in regards to both styling and fuel economy, but the new Nissan Altima shows how much Nissan still paid attention to interior comfort and quality. Some other cars in the segment (cough cough... the Fusion) sacrifice rear passenger space in the name of a sportier design while the Altima focuses on the interior since mid-size cars are used as family vehicle more often than not. Like the exterior, the 2013 Nissan Altima has an interior that brings a more upscale atmosphere to the segment, and it does so with styling, technology and innovations.
Upon entering the new Altima, the first thing we noticed were the seats. Although Nissan calls them NASA-inspired, "zero-gravity" seats, we'll just refer to them as some of the most comfortable seats in the automotive world. The unique seats provide perfect support for just about any body type, and they were firm enough to enjoy curvy roads while still being plush enough for long highway jaunts. The rear seats are just as comfortable with plenty legroom and headroom, but taller passengers might have been overlooked since the car is lacking adjustable rear headrests. As for the cabin design, the Altima got about as flashy as it could without stepping outside of the safe zone that most mid-size sedan shoppers are looking for, and while the interior isn't as flashy as some other models in the segment market such as the new Malibu or Camry, the available technology should be more than enough to stand out.
All 2013 Altima models get a 3-D Driver-Assist Display which is a four-inch color display located in the instrument gauge cluster that shows all vehicle information in a compact, attractive screen - the display even has an image of the Altima that can be customized to match the color of the customer's car! The 2013 Nissan Altima can be optioned up to include features such as Lane Departure Warning, Moving Object Detection and NissanConnect. This latter option is Nissan's new infotainment system that includes Pandora integration, Google POI search, Google send-to-car map directions and hands-free text messaging assistant. One of the new Altima's most innovative features is the Easy Fill Tire Alert that takes the guess work out of airing up tires by chirping the horn when a low tire is filled to its proper inflation level.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- reworked Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
- expected best-in-class fuel economy
- great acceleration
How Does It Go:
On paper, the powertrain options for the 2013 Nissan Altima read identical to the previous model with a base 2.5-liter inline-four, an optional 3.5-liter V-6 and all models getting the next generation of Nissan's impressive Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), but Nissan made plenty of changes to make the new Altima more engaging to drive and more fuel efficient. Nissan says that 90 percent of all sales are expected to come from the four-cylinder models, so this engine got all the changes for 2013 with the addition of variable valve timing (intake and exhaust), lighter weight and more horsepower. This engine produces 182 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.5-liter V-6 carries over the same 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque as the 2012 model. The big news for the 2013 Nissan Altima a CVT that has been mostly redesigned with a wider gear ratio comparable to an eight-speed automatic transmission that improves acceleration while practically eliminating all of the negative aspects commonly associated with CVTs and less internal friction for improved efficiency. Speaking of efficiency, official EPA fuel economy estimates have yet to be released, but Nissan expects its new Altima to get 27 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and a rating of 31 mpg in combined driving with the inline-four engine and 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and a rating of 25 mpg in combined driving with the optional V-6. This 38 mpg highway should be good enough to give the Altima "best-in-class" status, and it did so good old-fashioned reengineering. No direct injection. No active shutters. No special trim levels.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: How It Drives
During our first drive review of the 2013 Nissan Altima, we had a chance to test out both engine options, but we were most impressed with Nissan keeping the optional V-6 considering that most mid-size sedans are dropping the V-6s in favor of turbocharged four-cylinder engines. This engine is definitely the way to go for a sportier, more exciting driving experience, and these cars also come standard with shift paddles mounted to the steering column for a little extra driver control. One of the best parts of this engine with the updated CVT is that under hard acceleration, the transmission actually hits some pretty hard shift points helping the car feel sportier than - dare we say it? - the Nissan Maxima! As for the 2.5-liter inline-four, Nissan says this will be the volume engine accounting for about 90 percent of all Altima sales, and these base models still feel pretty stable on the twisty Tennessee back roads thanks to a curb weight that has dropped by about 79 pounds, an innovative multi-link rear suspension and a hybrid steering system. This power steering system blends an electric pump for improved efficiency with a hydraulic rack and pinion that delivers a responsive steering feel. Nissan even included a standard high-tech Active Understeer Control that keeps the Altima in its intended path since front-wheel drive cars are known to plow through corners when taken a little too fast.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
Being the runner up in one of the most competitive vehicle segments is nothing to bat an eye at, and based on what we saw during our day with the newest Altima, it definitely has what it takes to knock the Camry from its throne. As Nissan's best-selling model here in the U.S., the Altima is a very important product for Nissan, so there is no doubt that this is its biggest product launch ever. It will be interesting to see how well the new 2013 Nissan Altima does launching at about the same time as the 2013 Fusion, but if it can meet its projected fuel economy numbers, this car already has quite a leg up on the competition. Of course, this doesn't even factor in the improved ride and handling, premium styling, innovative technologies or the spacious, comfortable interior that the new 2013 Nissan Altima possesses.
2013 Nissan Altima First Drive Review: Pros and Cons
- the best CVT on the market gets even better
- more cabin space with impressive comfort and technology
- great fuel economy and performance
- looks too much like a Maxima
- not as advanced as 2013 Fusion
- rear seat does not have adjustable headrests
Nissan provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross