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First Drive: 2013 Nissan Altima Review

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The all-new 2013 Nissan Altima beckons to dethrone the Toyota Camry of its #1 sales spot in the USA. After spending a day behind the wheel of the new 2013 Altima, I can say with a certainty that the Camry has its work cut out to keep its coveted first-place on the sales charts.

Nissan recently invited us out to Miami, FL for a full run-down and extensive test drive of the all-new 2013 Altima. With a well-perceived redesign thus far, entering into its fifth generation, the new 2013 Altima is in its best-ever position to capture enough sales to place it slightly ahead of the Camry. Previous generations of the Altima combined make up for over 4.4 million sales while the last generation (4th generation) upheld its segment for second place.

Over 70% of the Altima’s components were re-worked. But not everything is about outdoing the Camry when it comes to the 2013 Altima. During our time in the new Altima, Nissan product planning managers tagged along answering virtually every question we threw at them. We were able to walk away in knowing that the Altima has been improved in every way to be a better mainstream midsized sedan offering best-in-class fuel economy for the 4-cylinder models, a new level of interior comfort, possess slightly better performance than the outgoing model, and retain its sporty driving characteristics.

Starting our test drive off in the new 2013 Altima, we jumped in the VQ-sourced 3.5-liter V6 SL trim. Nissan’s decision to carry-over the 3.5-liter V6 is admirable because it is a formula that has no qualms. So my thought on that, what Nissan probably agrees on, if it isn’t broken why fix it? To make ‘improvements’ in the drivetrain area, Nissan equipped the new Altima with their most-advanced yet Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). The new unit combines decades of engineering and perfecting the CVT unit where the outcome is a new CVT that has a 40% reduction in friction, less noise and an over-all improved efficiency. The end result is a much-more responsive vehicle than its predecessor and EPA fuel consumption figures for the V6 at 22/31 mpg city/highway and 27/38 mpg city/highway for the 4-cylinder Altima. To sum it up, I immediately felt a difference in the new CVT upon initial acceleration and deceleration. Even though I am not a fan of the CVT, the new Altima has the best to offer in the industry.

With class-leading fuel consumption figures for the 2013 Altima 4-cylinder, you may think that performance suffers but you would be mistaken. The 4-cylinder Altima manages to hit 60 mph from a standstill in just 7.4 seconds. The V6 does it in just 6.2 seconds. The power from the 2.5-liter (182 horsepower) was not increased much over the outgoing model (only 7 more horsepower). However, Nissan still refined the 2.5 4-cylinder while reducing vehicle weight to give it a much-improved power-to-weight ratio. In all, the 4-cylinder is a well-capable performer that boasts a stunning 38 mpg on the highway and a long 680-mile range from its 18-gallon fuel tank.

Driving dynamics of the 2013 Altima seem to be sportier than many other competing midsized sedans. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine boasts 182 horsepower and 180 ft. lbs. of torque. The 3.5-liter V6 engine gets 270 horsepower and 251 ft. lbs. of torque. The CVT unit for 4-cylinder and V6 engines differs slightly in ratios and the metal belt design used to simply handle the extra power output from the V6. The V6 models have a standard manual shift mode, which simulates 7 preselected gearing ratios. My take on the manual simulated shifting is that it is more of a novelty than something proving useful for enthusiasts. Basically, you cannot take the CVT-variableness out of a CVT transmission no matter what type of programming controls the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Whatever you do, the Altima’s CVT unit will keep the engine at bay holding whatever RPM it feels suitable to get moving.

The steering weight and feedback at highway speeds is pretty good giving the driver a good sense of stableness and handling abilities through the right amount of feedback. The use of a hybrid steering system using an electronically driven hydraulic assist is quite innovative and among the best I have encountered on a front-wheel-drive vehicle. A new intelligent alternator is also used where it is in use charging the battery mostly during deceleration of the vehicle to further improve efficiency.

Nissan strategically placed reinforcements within the suspension component areas to add rigidity far surpassing the outgoing Altima while reducing over-all body weight. The use of Sachs dampers also does a great job keeping both the 3,100 pound 4-cylinder and 3,300 pound V6 Altima balanced. With all components working in harmony, and an improved rear camber control, the new Altima scores as the best handling front-wheel-drive sedan in its class. A reprogramed stability control system offers advanced understeer management to diminish the typical push you receive from front-wheel-drive vehicles when reaching the limit on its lateral handling abilities.

The new 2013 Nissan Altima, as Nissan’s product planning managers put it, both perceives a level of a premium sedan and emanates it through the sleek sheet metals and up-scale interior. On the outside, many attributes from Nissan’s luxury appointed Infiniti line are inspired within the Altima’s design. Higher-level trims even get LED taillights. The interior also boasts a premium feel, from the innovative gauge cluster with a center 4-inch customizable Advanced Driver-Assist Display, to the “Zero-Gravity” front seats influenced from NASA research for greater comfort. The new dashboard control layout proved to be user-friendly combining soft-touch buttons and a LCD touch-screen interface for accessing audio, GPS navigation and various applications such as Pandora, Google local search or Google send to car directions.

The rear seat area, proving extremely comfortable for two adults, is not as large as I expected. Possibly by using virtually the same wheelbase on the 2013 Altima as the outgoing model, it keeps certain interior proportions at a limit. Interior space was never a highlighted issue with the 4th generation Altima and you can still easily fit three adults in the rear 60/40 split folding bench.

There are a total of 7 trim levels for the 2013 Nissan Altima. They start with the 2.5 and move up to the 2.5 S, 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL. From there they jump into the V6 trims beginning with the 3.5 S, 3.5 SV and top-of-the-line 3.5 SL. All 2013 Nissan Altimas get the new Advanced Driver Assist, which includes the 4-inch color display in the center of the gauge cluster, system warning information and Nissan’s Easy Fill Tire Alert system. The new Easy Fill Tire Alert system is the first of its kind. In the event of filling an underinflated tire with air, the system will alert the driver with a horn beep and flashing lights when the optimal tire pressure has been reached. Additionally, the system will warn with 3 horn beeps if the tire pressure exceeds the recommended level. Having such a system will help eliminate the guessing game of inflating a tire and ultimately help reduce accidents due to under or over-inflated tires.

Other technological offerings on the new 2013 Altima, usually offered only on premium luxury vehicles, include optional Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Moving Object Detection (MOD) and Blind Spot Warning (BSW). Together, these systems bring an extra sense to the driver adding active safety to help prevent accidents.

Nissan could have very well created the ultimate sleeper when it comes to targeting that #1 sales spot. It seems the Altima became number 2 almost overnight and has since held that spot only needing an extra edge to push it into overdrive. This year the new 2013 Altima could very well have that extra edge to literally propel it into the number 1 slot. For now, having so much growing competition from Hyundai, Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, Toyota and others, the new 2013 Nissan Altima has made its move with a checkmate awaiting around the corner.

The 2013 Nissan Altima starts at just $21,500 for a base 2.5 4-cylinder model. A comfortably equipped 2.5 SV 4-cylinder trimmed Altima with optional navigation will come in around $25,000 while a comparably equipped 3.5 SV V6 will push $28,000 onto over $30,000 for a fully-loaded 3.5 SL configuration.

Copyright: 2012


  • Price: Base Altima 2.5 MSRP $21,500 / Altima 3.5 S MSRP  $25,360
  • Engines: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder DOHC 182 horsepower @ 6000 rpm / 180 ft-lbs. torque @ 4000 rpm — 3.5-liter V6 DOHC 270 horsepower @ 6000 rpm / 258 ft-lbs. torque @ 4400 rpm
  • Wheelbase: 109.3in.
  • Total length: 191.5in.
  • Total width: 72.0in.
  • Total height: 57.9in.
  • Track: f/r-62.4/62.4in.
  • Headroom: f/r-40.0/37.1in.
  • Legroom: f/r-45.0/36.1in.
  • Fuel tank: 18-gallons
  • Turning circle: 37.4-ft.
  • Curb weight: 2.5 S 4-cyl-3,114 / 3.5 S V6-3,295lbs.
  • EPA mileage: 27 mpg/city, 38 mpg/highway (2.5-liter 4-cyl) / 22 mpg/city, 31 mpg/hwy (3.5-liter V6)
  • 0-60mph: 7.4 seconds (2.5-liter 4-cyl) / 6.2 seconds (3.5-liter V6)


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