By Lary and Dee Coppola
After four highly successful generations, the venerable Nissan Altima enters its fifth generation as a totally new vehicle for 2013. Boasting a combination of innovative mechanical improvements, painstakingly tuned ride and handling, coupled with advanced cockpit connectivity and sleek styling, the 2013 Altima feels and drives like it’s in a class above its crowded midsize segment.
The 2013 Altima arrives with a choice of a newly redesigned 2.5-liter four-banger that puts a surprisingly peppy 182 horses to the highway — or a more forceful 270-hp version of Nissan’s revered 3.5-liter V6, which has replaced the small-block Chevy of yore for being universally recognized as one of the best, strongest and most versatile powerplants ever built.
Safety equipment on all Altima models include ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, all federally mandated airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, child seat anchors, LATCH child-seat system, power window lockout, child safety rear door locks, emergency inside trunk release, Vehicle Dynamics Control, Traction Control, tire-pressure monitor, and Vehicle Immobilizer System.
The Nissan Altima competes with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion.
Model Lineup: The four Altima 2.5 models — base, S, SV and SL — are powered by the aforementioned 182-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder, while all three Altima 3.5 models — S, SV and SL — feature the 270-hp 3.5-liter V6. Both Altima versions come with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The base Altima 2.5 ($21,500) features standard cloth upholstery, 6-way manual driver’s seat, AM/FM/CD with 4 speakers, hands-free Bluetooth phone and Bluetooth Streaming Audio. It also offers Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist display, power windows, power locks, dual remote power sideview mirrors, remote keyless entry, steering wheel cruise control, center console w/ armrest and power outlet, four cup holders, four bottle holders, 16-inch steel wheels, 215/60R16 tires, and halogen headlights.
The Altima 2.5 S ($22,500) adds six-way power driver’s seat, and six-speaker AM/FM/CD.
The Altima 2.5 SV ($24,100) adds leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, 215/55R17 tires, speed-sensitive audio volume control, USB port with iPod, satellite radio, Pandora, Google POI Search, hands-free text messaging, rearview monitor, dual-zone climate control, rear heating/cooling vents, and remote engine start.
An optional 2.5 SV Convenience Package ($1350) includes power moonroof, fog lights, sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals, manual folding sideview mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, one-touch auto up/down on the front passenger window, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Homelink Universal Transceiver, compass, mood lamp, and side cargo net.
The SV Navigation Package ($590) adds a 7-inch color screen, turn-by-turn navigation integration into Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist display, and steering wheel navigation system controls.
The 2.5 SL ($28,050) upgrades include leather seating, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat w/ power lumbar, two-way adjustable head restraints, Bose 9-speaker AM/FM/CD/Aux, compass, folding power sideview mirrors, Homelink Universal Transceiver, power moonroof, wood-tone trim, metallic texture trim, side cargo net, LED front map lights, mood lamp, fog lights, outside mirror LED turn signals, and LED taillights.
An optional SL Technology Package ($1090) features everything in the SV Navigation package plus Blind Spot Warning, Moving Obstacle Detection, and Lane Departure Warning.
The V6-powered Altima 3.5 S ($25,360), 3.5 SV ($27,780), and 3.5 SL ($30,080) are all equipped the same as the respective 2.5 models and offer the same option packages.
Walkaround: The 2013 Nissan Altima features sleek, aggressive styling that gives it the appearance of being a class above its competitors. For 2013, the Altima has the same wheelbase as previously, but is 1.4 inches wider, and its fenders are deeper, giving it a sporty, aggressive, muscular-looking stance.
A chrome-trimmed, blacked-out grille and smooth-looking headlight cluster meet the short hood, and all flow easily to the steeply raked windshield. A single character line runs high and cleanly along the side towards the rear. Nissan designers intentionally avoided multiple, opposing character lines such as the Hyundai Sonata, avoiding cluttering Altima’s simple but elegant design. Chrome trim around the windows and bright 10-spoke wheels add to Altima’s near-luxury allure.
At the rear, a bold chrome bar rides above the ending of the side character lines at the bottom of the trunk. The trunk has a convenient low lift-over height and the design signs off with dual chrome tailpipes.
Interior: The 2013 Altima lineup offers a varied range of interior trim levels, depending on the model.
The white-on-black instrumentation is extremely legible, and surrounded by nice soft-touch dashboard padding. The Advanced Drive-Assist Display — standard on every model — is a four-inch color display located between the speedometer and tach, providing fuel economy, trip computer, audio information, tire-pressure readings, and most importantly, turn-by-turn navigation.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel offered the usual audio and cruise controls, plus controls for the navigation system, which provided good information via simple, effective graphics.
Two things particularly worth mentioning are the Altima’s quietness, and new zero-gravity seats.
Nissan made considerable strides in strengthening the body structure and soundproofing its panels, which strongly contribute to the car’s class-above feeling, since quietness is a luxury car trademark.
Nissan’s Zero-Gravity seats are designed to provide consistent support from pelvis to chest, and during our six-hour road trip, which included a lot of winding two-lane blacktop through the Tennessee countryside, as well as freeway driving, they were extremely comfortable. Before embarking on the trip, we had an opportunity to sit side-by-side in them and in a competitor’s seats. There was absolutely no comparison in comfort.
The new Altima also boasts great electronic connectivity. All models come with Bluetooth hands-free phone connections and streaming audio. Also available is hands-free text messaging, Pandora integration, a USB/iPod connection and Sirius/XM satellite radio.
Under The Hood: The 2.5-Liter inline 4-banger is newly redesigned and married to a vastly improved Nissan CVT. This drivetrain delivers a segment-leading 38 mpg EPA Highway rating — better than Chevy Malibu ECO, Hyundai Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, or any other competing midsize sedan.
The strong 3.5 V6 is married to the same CVT.
Behind The Wheel: We found the 182-horse 2.5 worked hard to deliver what we’d term slightly above-average performance for this segment. Nissan says it does the 0-60 drill in 7.14 seconds. We’re thinking 8 seconds is probably more realistic — and for 38 mpg, you can handle 8 seconds.
Meanwhile the 3.5 V6 is a brilliant performer, doing the same drill in a very honest 6.2 seconds — fastest in this class.
The secret to the 2.5-Liter’s efficiency is the CVT. At 70 mph the Altima ran at 1,650 rpm — barely awake, and just sipping fuel. While the competitors hype their hybrids while forgetting to mention the excess cost, Nissan slipped under the radar and beat them all at the pump.
The Altima’s highway manners are superb. The top-of-the-line Altima SL trim is very luxurious, while the cloth SV trim isn’t bad either, with all models extremely quiet.
The multi-link suspension has been redesigned for excellent handling on all terrains, and the 4-wheel ABS disc brakes are equipped with electronic brake distribution, delivering minute degrees of braking control in slippery conditions. Understeer control, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) and traction control, each of which are fully automatic and self-activating, combine to give this car the full meal deal of modern safety and security.
Whines: On the 2.5, intelligent circuitry and the CVT regulate engine speed automatically, but we still missed the paddle shifters — available only on the 3.5 models.
Bottom Line: Headline-making fuel efficiency, great handling, unusual quietness, innovative connectivity and extraordinary creature comforts make the 2013 Altima a stylish, affordable and tempting choice regardless of the trim level you choose. The 2013 Altima interior feels like anything but a midsize car, while the higher trim models are absolutely lavish.