‘GETTING CLOSER TO THE ULTIMATE’
In the hot very competitive mid-size sedan segment the Camry is still far and away the best seller. With sales through October 2012, the Camry has sold 348,714 units. Coming in second is the Honda Accord with 276,197 units sold and steadily rising to challenge the Accord is the Nissan Altima with 258,663 units sold.
The all-new 2013 Nissan Altima should make more headway against the Accord with its sleek styling, excellent performance, comfort and innovative new technologies than both the Camry and Accord do not offer. When it comes to innovations and advanced technology behind the ground-up, totally new 2013 Altima design, some things might be considered evolutionary. Take the body, the optional engines, transmission, suspension, steering, seats, the instrument panel, the optional navigation system, music connection, armrest, windshield wipers, and tire pressure monitoring system. The previous generation Altima had them. This new generation does too.
Not a big deal, until you take a closer look. Call it evolution on the edge; or evolution to the extreme; or simply call it a design that is about to revolutionize what consumers think about Altima-and what a mid-size sedan can or should be.
It has a body that while clearly recognizable as an Altima, is lighter, more rigid and cuts a cleaner path through the wind, a 3.5 liter DOHC CVTC, all-aluminum V6 engine that now generates 270 hp at 6,000 rpm and 251 lb.ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm to quickly and securely move you into fast moving freeway traffic and to more easily and safely maneuver around slower city traffic. The new standard 2.5 liter inline 4-cylinder engine is lighter, stronger, quicker and more fuel efficient than before. My SL test Altima came with the 3.5 liter engine and I never wanted to more power on the road or Interstate. The next-generation Xtronic CVT takes Nissan’s two decades of Continuously Variable Transmission leadership into a new dimension of smooth, quiet and fuel efficiency. With the 3.5 liter V6 you can shift manually with the steering column mounted paddle shifters. The new refined independent multi-link rear suspension geometry can be found on many premium European sports sedans. A hybrid power steering system combines the feel of a traditional hydraulic box with the efficiency of modern electric control that is more responsive with the addition of a strut tower brace just behind the engine. The front bucket seats that their inspiration and design from outer space technology for superb comfort and support. An intuitive 3D-effect information display is easier to watch for import information. The armrest is more padded than before for extra-ordinary comfort during long drives. The new windshield wiper design clears more area and with less streaking. The tire pressure monitoring system tells you when you are at the prescribed psi in each tire when you need to add air.
When considering an Altima that is ‘new and improved’, you also need to consider the ‘new and never available before’. For example, an advanced RearView Monitor camera that detects four views is utilized to bring Altima into premium sedan territory with available Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Moving Object Detection MOD.
Proving that premium doesn’t have to be pricey, the new Altima body takes a big step forward in creating a quiet, comfortable foundation for a new benchmark mid-size sedan. Keeping the same basic dimensions as before, new attention to aerodynamic design helps give the totally restyled body a more premium look. More importantly, the new body features a new front strut tower brace (as mentioned above) and additional rear structural support built into the rear parcel shelf-enhancing structural rigidity and lateral handling response. At the same time, overall body weight has been reduced through utilizing aluminum hood and bumper reinforcements and expanded use of high-tensile steel. In addition, more than half the steel in the body is high-strength. Total vehicle weight has been reduced by around 80 pounds.
Since quiet feels quality, the transmission of noise into the cabin has also been reduced through the use of the more rigid body and by intercepting and isolating noise before it enters the passenger compartment with reduced wind noise designs for the sideview mirrors and A-pillar moldings, and improved engine, exhaust and HVAC mounts. The idea is to first ‘seal’ the cabin, then absorb noise inside through a significant increase in noise absorption materials in the roof, instrument panel and floor mats. This provides more of a sense of separation from the engine and creates better acoustics to enjoy conversation and the various audio sources and components. The coefficient of drag has been reduced by 5% to 0.299 through smoothing airflow around the body, and adding six air deflectors and two large underbody panels. With all of the windows closed the interior is as quiet as any luxury sedan that I have tested this year.
Targeting best-in-class fuel economy (at 38 mpg highway), Altima’s improved version of Nissan’s proven QR25 engine sheds approximately 11 lbs. while adding seven horsepower to 182 hp. The design adds variable valve timing on both exhaust and intake camshafts, and the new intake system opens the valves at a higher rpm to help keep the torque curve flat. Torque is rated at 180 lb.ft. Other revisions include an aluminum exhaust manifold cover, a more efficient starter motor and thinner cylinder head walls.
As a world leader in continuously variable transmission technology, Nissan has produced globally more than nine million CVT-equipped vehicles in the last 20 years. Always in the right gear, whether passing, merging or cornering, CVTs combine responsive acceleration, excellent fuel efficiency and about a third fewer moving parts than conventional automatic transmissions. Finally CVTs feature less friction and less drivetrain shock to other parts.
A full 70% of the parts have been redesigned, which along with a downsized oil pump, lower oil level and low viscosity oil results in up to 40% reduction in internal friction than before. The new CVT also features expanded gear ratio coverage with a lower 1st. gear and higher ratio overdrive. New control logic and expanded gear ratio coverage help reduce noise and fuel consumption while improving drivability and responsiveness. For example, during cruising the expanded ratio lowers engine rpm at highway speeds for a quieter ride and improved NVH versus an automatic. When starting from a full stop the continuously varying ratio (compared to a step automatic) results in seamless acceleration. When accelerating while passing, acceleration is smooth and confident-inspiring due to no stepped gear changes and minimized shift shock.
The new intelligent CVT logic also includes a Lift Foot Hold function that holds the gear ratio if the accelerator pedal is momentarily released and then reapplied, such as when merging into a fast moving freeway; and a Brake Downshift function that ‘downshifts’ the transmission when braking is applied before entering a corner, so re-acceleration is enhanced when exiting a corner because the CVT is already in a lower gear. All V6 equipped Altima models (like the one I tested) utilize a chain driver (versus belt on 4-cylinder models), and standard paddle shifters that help mimic a step transmission (with seven simulated gear levels) when desired. When using the paddle shifter I had a feel that I was at the wheel of a true sequential automatic. The gear changes are very quick, either up or down, as it really gave me the feel of a true sports sedan with the great 270 hp V6 and saving me an estimated 10% improvement in fuel economy over last year’s model.
As part of the desire to make the 2013 Altima the segment leader in dynamic performance, a new multi-link rear suspension incorporating Active Understeer Control was developed. The new design starts with a new structure with enhanced stiffness, helping enhance stability, tracking and response to steering inputs. Refined toe angle control is achieved with the addition of new connect bushings, resulting in enhanced tire deformation compensation when cornering, and improved camber angle control under load helps tire contact with the road, also when cornering. The suspension utilizes a new shock absorber design by ZR SACHS, which supplies many high-end European sports sedans. The shocks use state-of-the-art valve technology to help control wheel hop and harshness, while also helping create a smooth flat ride. The result is reduced transmission of vibrations to the cabin, along with enhanced body control and response. The front suspension remains an independent front strut design and stabilizer bars are utilized front and rear. The new Active Understeer Control system utilizes intelligent control logic and high-response brake actuators to brake the inside front wheels during cornering (as required) to increase yaw-moment using the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)Traction Control system (TCS) as its base. When you turn a front-wheel drive car in situations such as merging onto freeways from a cloverleaf, the tendency is for the car to understeer. With Active Understeer Control, the Altima turns as you intend, making it easier to go in the intended direction-whether in dry, wet or snowy conditions. Active Understeer Control is designed primarily for everyday operation rather than emergency evasive maneuvers. The new suspension and technologies really gave me the feeling of a more neutral handling experience even though the Altima is front-wheel drive. The response to my steering inputs was very precise, almost like I was driving a rear-wheel sports sedan.
Further adding to the excellent new dynamics when driving is the new Electronic Hydraulic Power-Assisted Steering (EHPS) system which provides the best of two worlds-the natural smooth feel of a sophisticated hydraulic power steering system, while simultaneously improving fuel economy by using electric power (rather than drawing power from the engine). The hydraulic assist allows a greater reduction ratio than with gears, while the small electric motor, which runs directly off the 12-volt power supply (no converter) does not need to be mounted directly on the steering rack since a large reduction ratio is obtained. The result is smooth, confidence-inspiring steering at higher speeds and easy assist when parking. The new technology gave me quick and smooth responses to my inputs (also thanks to the strut tower brace), the feel for the road was great and the on-center feel is excellent.
Quickly and safely slowing the new Altima down from speed are excellent power-assisted steel disc brakes. Up front are 11.7 in. vented discs clamped with dual-piston calipers and 11.5 in. solid discs in the rear clamped with single-piston calipers. Braking power is increased with BA and control is enhanced when braking on wet slick pavement with standard ABS and EBD. The brakes felt very linear and strong when braking from highway speeds.
The all-new 2013 Altima SL 3.5 liter rides on large 18X7.5 in. alloy wheels wrapped with Dunlop 235/45R18 in. Sport 7,000 high-performance low profile tires for great ride at any speed.
While the new Altima likes to keep its wheels and tires firmly planted on the road, the standard front bucket seats have a less-Earthly design. In the desire to help reduce the fatigue experienced during long commutes or extended road trips, Nissan turned to seating and posture research from NASA. According to NASA, the least fatiguing seats are those that come closest to a ‘neutral posture’-a relaxed position that the human body takes in a weightless environment. Utilizing a new articulated seat shape with continuous support from the pelvis to the chest and distribution of localized deformation characteristics, the ‘zero-gravity’ Altima seats help reduce muscular and spinal loads, and improve blood flow-thereby helping reduce fatigue over long periods behind the wheel. Seat surface perforations provide increased ventilation, breathability and comfort. Heated front seats come standard on the SL.
With so many external distractions in everyday driving, you don’t need more inside the vehicle. Altima’s new Advanced Drive-Assist Display (ADAD) puts the key information right in front of you in an intuitive 3D-effect and tilt display that is designed to improve cognition-and help reduce the time your eyes are away from the road. Located between the tachometer and speedometer, the ADAD’s 4.0 in. color display is closer and easier to read than traditional center-stack information monitors. The system is customizable and adjustable using the steering wheel controls, so you can view information including: audio system display, instant mpg, trip computer, tire pressure monitoring system with individual tire pressure readouts and turn-by-turn navigation (if equipped) with the ability to match on-screen vehicle image with the actual color. ADAD also communicates input from the available suite of Safety Shield Technology features-Blind Sport Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Moving Object Detection.
NissanConnectSM is designed to be as easy to use as a bank ATM and there is no monthly charge or fees. Among its many features, it integrates Pandora, Bluetooth, USB connection for iPod interface and other compatible devices and SiriusXM satellite radio. Pandora offers more than 350 genres of music and comedy. The hands-free text messaging assistant allows you to manage incoming text messages via voice control. You are alerted to an incoming text on the Advanced Driver-Assist Display and, after initiating the system, you can hear the text read out loud and respond via voice recognition, or via the steering wheel switches using pre-set answers like ‘driving, can’t text’, ‘on my way’, ‘running late’, ‘okay’, or a custom message. The system can be turned off if desired. The NissanConnectSM with navigation system also integrates with the ADAD and includes an easy-to-use with its 7 in. touch screen, 3D-effect map views, voice recognition, destination search via Google POI. It also offers the ability to send Google directions to the navi system straight from a smartphone. Other navigation system features include speed limit display, eco driving maps, curve warning and split-screen display-along with global radio capability. The navigation system is available for about $590.00. The idea with NissanConnectSM and NissanConnectSM with navigation is not to have the greatest number of total functions, but to prioritize and provide the most natural and comfortable interface with the key customer desired one. The results are fewer touches, fewer screens and higher user satisfaction. Unfortunately, my test SL model didn’t have this system so I can’t really speak about how much I enjoyed the different aspects.
When it comes to the new 2013 Altima, revolution also lives in the details. The interior’s premium look and feel comes from a combination of fresh design and quality appointments. The piano black interior trim is highlighted with faux wood, silver color accents and chrome rings. The leather-wrapped/tilt/telescoping steering wheel has a grippy, sporty tactile feel that is a pleasure to hold in your hands, matching that of the short shifter lever. The bright white illumination is unified between the various displays and rally-type speedometer/tachometer. The door trim has a feel of soft grain on the door grips. Even the center armrest receives ‘class-above’ levels of padding for added comfort. Optional HID enhanced auto headlights feature an improved two-stage automatic-on function. In lower light situations during the day, the headlights illuminate but the gauges remain in daylight mode. In late evening/night conditions, the headlights illuminate and the gauges revert to nighttime lighting. The headlights will also automatically turn on at the direction of the windshield wipers-after four passes-since many states now require the headlights to be illuminated in rainy conditions. Also offered is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System with individual tire pressure display and Easy Fill Tire Alert function. When filling the tires wit air, the hazard lamps flash to let you know the system is working. When the correct pressure is reached, a beep of the horn provides notification.
The all-new exterior styling of the Altima also sets up apart from the competition.
The sleek, sexy styling features a new more rakish grille with chrome surround and a lower air-intake to further direct cooling air into the engine. The ‘cat’s-eye’ headlamp clusters are very angular and house the HID headlights. Down below on the bumper are foglamps and new turn-signal lamps. The new aluminum hood gets the wave treatment found on the luxury Infiniti models. From the side you’ll notice a steeply raked windshield A-pillars, flat roof tampering down to the short trunk. The greenhouse is surrounded by a thick chrome strip with chrome door handles adding elegance to the look. The new aero-styled power remote/heated/manual folding sideview mirrors cut down on wind noise. Down below are deep side extensions lowering the center of gravity and adding a more aggressive stance. The front and rear fenders are flared to further add to the new, more aggressive stance. Out the rear are wraparound LED tail lights, a thick chrome strip between the lamp clusters and dual, 3 in. polished stainless steel exhaust finishers. This new look is very unique and very impressive.
Standard features not mentioned above in the SL trim level include 8-way powered driver’s-side bucket seat, leather seats, premium interior trim, cruise control, 9-speaker premium Bose audio system with subwoofers, dual-zone climate control with in-cabin filtration, rear air vents, center console with dual cupholders/deep storage bin and open storage bin in front, storage pockets in each door, Nissan Intelligent Key with remote start, push button start/stop, power windows with front express up/down, power door locks, moonroof, map pockets behind the front seatbacks, remote trunk release, remote fuel filler door release, dual sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, grab handles above each door, variable speed wipers/washers, auto dimming rearview mirror, 2-12-volt power plugs, thick cut-pile carpeting, 60/40 split rear bench and a pull-down rear center armrest with dual cupholders.
Standard safety features include driver/front passenger side-impact/front impact/side curtain airbags, LATCH system for child seats, three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions including front pretensioners/load limiters, vehicle immobilizer system, alarm, front/rear crumple zones and steel beams in each door.
In the very competitive mid-size sedan segment of the marketplace, the all-new 2013 Nissan Altima should hold its own and probably increase its market share against the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It is definitely worth a test drive!
COPYRIGHT: 2012: HARVEY SCHWARTZ