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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: What Is It?
A decade ago, Nissan dropped the equivalent of a nuclear warhead into the midsize sedan class when it redesigned the Altima for 2002. Though imperfect, compared to the competition that third-generation Altima was a revelation. Stylish, almost sexy, the revolutionary 2002 Altima was also roomy, comfortable, and fun to drive. It was the best car in its class.
Today, many of the models jousting in the midsize family sedan arena are tough combatants, and more than half of the cars in the segment were redesigned for 2011, for 2012, or for this year. It is into this kerfuffle of combatants that Nissan sends its best-selling model – the redesigned 2013 Altima.
The new 2013 Altima Sedan reminds me of that 2002 model in many ways. It is stylish, roomy, comfortable, and fun to drive. Equipped with its new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, its also quite fuel-efficient. And based on crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the new Altima Sedan is safe.
The difference now is that the Altima’s rivals are equally so. As good as the redesigned 2013 Nissan Altima is, it blends into the scenery in a way that Nissan certainly mustn’t have intended.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Before we discuss details about the new 2013 Nissan Altima, a bit of housekeeping is in order. The Nissan Altima is sold as a 2-door coupe or a 4-door sedan. Only the sedan is redesigned for 2013, and it is the sedan that we’re discussing in this road test and review. The Altima Coupe continues on the previous generation Altima platform.
With that clarified, let’s talk specifics. Nissan sells the 2013 Altima Sedan as the Altima 2.5, equipped with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, and as the Altima 3.5, which gets a 3.5-liter V6 engine.
Once you’ve selected an engine, it’s time to pick from base, S, SV or SL trim levels. The base model is offered only for the Altima 2.5 ($22,280), and it includes everything you need and nothing you don’t.
The Altima 2.5 S ($23,280) costs $1,000 more, and supplies cruise control, a power driver’s seat, Nissan Intelligent Key keyless entry, and a handful of additional upgrades. Choose the Altima 3.5 S ($26,140), and the car comes with 18-inch aluminum wheels and paddle shifters for the transmission.
Stepping up to the Altima 2.5 SV ($24,880), predicted to be the most popular model, supplies 17-inch aluminum wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a reversing camera, remote engine starting, satellite radio, a USB/iPod connection, and NissanConnect smartphone pairing technology with text messaging assistant and the ability to run mobile apps like Pandora Internet radio.
A navigation system with traffic, weather, and Google point-of-interest search is optional on the 2.5 SV. A Convenience Package adds a power sunroof, fog lights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass, a universal garage door opener, and LED turn signal indicators embedded into the side mirrors.
Next on the model roster, the Altima 3.5 SV ($28,560) includes the contents of the 2.5 SV’s Convenience Package as standard equipment. A navigation system is optional.
The top-of-the-line 2.5 SL ($28,830) and 3.5 SL ($30,860) models add leather, upgraded cabin trim, an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated exterior mirrors, a Bose premium sound system, and LED taillights. The 3.5 SL also has Xenon headlights. An optional Technology Package includes a navigation system plus Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Moving Object Detection systems.
My test car was the Altima 3.5 SL with the Technology Package and a set of upgraded floor mats with a trunk mat, painted Metallic Slate with Charcoal leather, and it had a window sticker of $32,135.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: What It's Up Against
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned that the Altima goes head-to-head with formidable midsize sedan competitors. What are they? The redesigned 2013 Chevy Malibu, the redesigned 2013 Ford Fusion, the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord, and the refreshed 2013 Subaru Legacy.
Now, toss the redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry and redesigned 2012 Volkswagen Passat into the mix. Let’s not forget that shortly after the first of the year a brand new 2014 Mazda 6 arrives in showroom. Plus, there are the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima to consider.
Clearly, you can understand why I believe Nissan’s new Altima has a tough fight ahead of it.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- Completely redesigned for 2013
How It Looks:
The longer, wider, and lower 2013 Altima’s styling is derived from the company’s Ellure Concept vehicle, which set the stage for a shift in brand design philosophy referred to as “Kamashino” by Nissan. An ancient Japanese emperor’s coat is said to inspire the grille shape, while the Altima’s chrome window surrounds, chrome door handles, projector-beam headlights, and LED taillights aim to deliver what Nissan calls “Class Above” styling.
Personally, I think Nissan needs to ditch those skinny little 16-inch wheels bolted to the 2.5 S model. They look cheap and undersized, and make the Altima look fat. This car requires 17-inch wheels, preferably aluminum, at a minimum. Otherwise, the new Altima looks terrific, if somewhat generic.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- Standard Bluetooth with music streaming
- Optional NissanConnect smartphone integration
- “Zero-gravity” seat design
- Claimed 30% reduction in noise
How it Looks and Feels
The 2013 Altima’s interior is a dramatic upgrade from the previous model. Gloss, grain, and texturing of interior materials reflect Nissan’s desire for “Class Above” positioning, from the look and feel of the headliner to the suppleness of the perforated leather. Plus, Nissan installs soft-touch materials on the center portion of the dashboard and both the front and rear door panels. The only recommendation I have is to match the plastic pillar cover texture to the headliner for greater uniformity.
Displays and controls are clear and intuitive, for the most part. The fuel door release is located at the lower left edge of the dashboard, right next to the hood release. On at least one occasion, I accidently popped the hood. My bet is there will be lots of Altima 2.5 models with rental car bar code stickers running around with the hood open.
The driver’s seat, which employs “zero-gravity” technology sourced from NASA, is exceptionally comfortable, the driver almost feeling suspended in the air. It doesn’t matter if you’re cruising down the interstate or flinging the Altima down a twisty road, the seat simply delivers on support. And in combination with the tilt/telescopic steering wheel, the driving position is perfect. The front passenger’s seat is also comfortable, but my wife wished for a height adjuster.
The rear seat is very roomy. Occupants sit high with good thigh support, plenty of foot room, and a great view out. Nissan says that only 30% of buyers are expected to have kids in the household, and those buyers will almost certainly be pleased with this car. I had no trouble loading younger children into forward-facing child safety seats.
The new Altima’s cabin is quiet, too. Unfortunately, when the wind was coming off the front left corner of the car, our test car exhibited bothersome wind noise from near the B-pillar at speeds over 60 mph.
Roomy and well shaped, the Altima’s trunk holds up to 15.4 cu.-ft. of cargo. During my week with the car, it swallowed strollers, bulk items from Costco, and even a Big Wheel without any trouble. An obvious omission: there isn’t a grab handle on the inside of the trunk lid to help slam it shut.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Matters of Safety
What’s New for 2013:
- Standard Easy Fill Tire Alert system
- Optional Technology Package for SL models
Details and Ratings
Like its competitors, the 2013 Altima comes standard with 6 airbags, traction control, stability control, and 4-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist. An Easy Fill Tire Alert system is also standard, a tire pressure monitor that honks the horn when the driver has inflated the tires to the correct pressure.
A new Technology Package, offered only on the SL models, adds a reversing camera, a Blind Spot Monitoring system, a Lane Departure Warning system, and a Moving Object Detection system. Unfortunately, these safety features are available only on the most expensive version of the Altima, and they require the purchase of a navigation system.
According to the NHTSA, the new Altima gets an overall crash-test rating of 5 Stars, the highest possible. As this review is written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not performed crash tests on the Altima.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2013:
- New 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine
- New continuously variable transmission (CVT)
How Does It Go
A new 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard with every 2013 Altima 2.5, and it provides plenty of pep combined with impressive fuel economy. According to Nissan, the Altima 2.5 will accelerate to 60 mph in less than 7.2 seconds, and the EPA says it will return 28 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Combine those fuel economy ratings with the 18-gallon fuel tank, and you can travel 684 miles without stopping for gas. Theoretically. In practice, I’ve averaged 33.8 mpg with this engine, driving rural two-lane roads at speeds up to 70 mph.
The more powerful Altima 3.5 is equipped with Nissan’s familiar VQ-series V6 engine, an award-winning powerplant known to be both powerful and dependable. In the Altima, it makes 270 horsepower and is rated to get 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. I averaged 23.1 mpg over the course of 325 miles of mixed driving.
In both models, a new Xtronic CVT delivers power to the front wheels. A Sport mode mimics 7 forward speeds like a traditional automatic transmission, and the Altima 3.5 includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual control of transmission ratios.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: How It Drives
The redesigned 2013 Nissan Altima is an utterly competent midsize family sedan, delivering on its mission to provide practicality, style, and driving fun to the masses. Driving an Altima is like sitting on a leather couch in a trendy hotel lobby, listening to faint electronica music that soothes and calms frazzled nerves while simultaneously getting your toes tapping. While I never grow tired of driving the Altima, no matter the nature of the trip, there’s nothing about this car that begs me to drive it, either. It is like the most intense flavor of vanilla you’ve ever experienced, vivid in terms of texture and taste, but still vanilla.
In part, I blame the CVT for this. Barely noticeable at city speeds, and invisible while cruising on the highway, the CVT exhibits a characteristically incessant, dulling drone when accelerating. A Sport mode simulates stepped gears, like a traditional automatic transmission, and that helps but doesn’t entirely resolve the matter. Employ the paddle shifters, which cycle through preset CVT ratios, and the Altima feels more athletic and engaged when covering a favorite stretch of twisty road, lacking only a rev-matching downshift function to feel like a genuine sport sedan.
When I first drove the 2013 Altima over the summer, I applauded the steering, which uses an electric pump and hydraulic rack. Now, just a week after putting 500 miles on a Ford Focus with outstanding electric steering, my impression is that the Altima’s tiller feels too light on center and too heavy off center, that it lacks crispness. The wheel is pleasing enough to hold, and the electric assist doesn’t noticeably oscillate or waver while steering the car, but some fine-tuning is advisable.
Otherwise, a week spent schlepping the family in an Altima 3.5 produced no further complaints. The 270-horse V6 supplies plenty of power combined with decent fuel economy. My 23.1-mpg average was better than I’ve done with the turbocharged 4-cylinder engines in the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
I’ve also spent quality time in an Altima 2.5. This car isn’t as quick or entertaining as far as acceleration is concerned, but it gets much better fuel economy. When driven on rural Tennessee two-lane highways, I averaged 33.8 mpg.
In both versions of the Altima, the suspension tuning deftly balances ride quality and comfort with capable handling and excellent roll control. The Altima is a sure-footed car, able to cover ground more rapidly than might be expected. My Altima 3.5 test car felt a bit nose heavy, and because the front tire sidewalls were scrubbed raw by previous journalists, its clear that the 235/45R18 Dunlop SP Sport 7000 all-season performance tires have their work cut out for them in hairpin turns.
The Altima’s brakes work beautifully, supplying outstanding pedal feel and response, and proving fade-free when abused in 90+ temperatures.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
As I write this, my Altima 3.5 test car sits in the driveway, hours away from its return to Nissan. It served my family well during its week with us, battling traffic as we ventured into the city to see the Space Shuttle make its way past L.A.’s iconic Randy’s Donuts, ferrying us to Santa Barbara for an afternoon in parks and on bike trails, carrying big-box store goods home to restock the shelves, and serving as a daily driver. It even tackled the twisty roads laced atop the Santa Monica Mountains with nary a whimper.
I will miss this car, a jack-of-all-trades family car that is wading into much different midsize sedan pool than did its brilliant forebear of a decade ago.
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2013 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Seat comfort
- Quality and quietude of cabin
- Top NHTSA crash-test rating
- Entertaining driving character
- Fuel economy
- CVT drone when accelerating hard
- Light yet leaden steering
- Poor location for fuel door release
- No seat height adjuster for the front passenger
- No interior grab handle for the trunk lid
- Limited availability of safety technology
Nissan provided the vehicle for this review
2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Photos by Christian Wardlaw
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