Two years ago, the Hyundai Sonata debuted and took the midsize segment by storm; ironically, it is the oldest, most dated vehicle in this segment today.
Offering a value unseen before - with features, style, fuel economy, and safety that matched those on the top of the heap, the Sonata was every automaker's worst nightmare.
Fast-forward two years, and here we are again, this time with the fifth-generation, 2013 Nissan Altima. Nissan was fully aware of the challenges that lay ahead for them, and after a few hours behind the wheel traversing highways, country roads, and local streets in Tennessee, theCD now has a clear picture of precisely where the 2013 Altima swims in the midsize pool.
Nissan’s focus with the 2013 Altima was the creation of a “class above,” referring to the amenities and aesthetics of a luxury vehicle. The exterior borrows greatly from the Ellure concept shown at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, with an emotional and premium-looking design.
When aerodynamics and fuel economy are top priorities in the creation of a new vehicle, designers become critical and invaluable key players.
The Altima’s front and rear proportions are well matched, with a flowing accent line starting from the upper corners of the grille, above the new projector-style headlights, along the side of the body to the taillights.
The side profile shows off a tapered roofline with its side windows outlined in sparkling chrome, providing added definition and luxury, along with chrome door handles. Tight wheel opening gaps add to the sporty silhouette. The elongated taillights stretch from the rear quarter panels, meeting the aerodynamically shaped aluminum trunk lid featuring a chrome horizontal strip, and blending beautifully with the chrome tipped exhaust.
LED taillights are standard only on SL trim levels, and we’re glad to see them finally arrive on the Altima.
Engineers at Nissan didn’t stifle the Fun-to-Drive aspect of the 2013 Altima in any other way in order to achieve the remarkable fuel economy. Working with designers on conceiving a more aerodynamic body, refining the powertrain, and increasing the amount of ultra high strength steel and aluminum, they were able to magically shave an additional 79 pounds off the weight of the vehicle as compared to the 2012 model. This is an amazing feat considering that the Altima was already the lightest vehicle in this segment.
Nissan updated their 2.5-liter, QR25 four-cylinder engine from the previous generation, making it lighter and more efficient. Powertrain weight reduction was done through the use of a thermoplastic resin intake manifold, along with increased use of lighter alloys inside the engine. The result is an increase in horsepower to 182, with torque remaining the same at 180 lb-ft.
Unlike the trend that other automakers are following, Nissan is keeping their 3.5-liter V6 engine from last year, which puts out an estimated 270 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The engine is naturally aspirated, and is there for those who seek the extra performance.
We had the opportunity to sample both engines and admit that the V6 with paddle shifters was more fun for the sake of instantaneous power being pushed through the next-generation continuously variable transmission. In reality though, the four-cylinder engine is our real-life choice because it doesn’t sacrifice anything that we or 99% of drivers need. Need vs. want strikes again.
In the four-cylinder engine, power was there whenever needed, its delivery was smooth and quiet, and best of all, the reduction in emissions and jump in fuel economy is well worth the sacrifice of trooper-loving rocket acceleration.
Official EPA numbers are not yet out, but Nissan expects the 2013 Altima to earn a segment-best 38 MPG on the highway, with 27 MPG in the city, and 31 MPG combined with Altima’s 2.5-liter engine.
Comparing to the full Nissan lineup, this rivals the Versa sedan, which speaks to the dedication and innovation of Altima’s engineers. Nissan attributes 40% of the fuel economy improvement to its CVT, with aerodynamics and mass reduction pulling in about 15% each, and tire and engine improvements aiding 10% each.
The V6 earns 22 MPG in the city, 30 MPG on the highway, and 25 MPG combined.
Suspension engineers improved handling in many ways, including Active Understeer Control. The system works to enhance driver control by braking the inside front wheel proactively in fast cornering situations, increasing driver confidence.
We fondly remember the smooth, comfortable ride over various road surfaces during our drive, with commendable steering feedback feeling well-matched to the chassis and suspension on board. At the corners of our four-cylinder tester were 17-inch alloy wheels on Continental ContiProContact tires, while V6 models enjoy 18-inch alloys wearing Dunlop SP Sport 7000 tires.
Braking felt strong and linear with the four-wheel disc brakes.
We didn’t want to get out of the 2013 Altima immediately after taking our seat; the main reason, among many, was the very seats themselves.
Nissan touts having seats inspired by NASA research for a natural and stress free posture measured in zero-gravity. They claim increased blood flow, decreased muscular load, and lower fatigue. In our few hours behind the wheel, we can attest to the validity of those statements, and instantly noticed the difference the moment we sat down.
Seat comfort aside, the interior of the 2013 Altima has been overhauled. Fit and finish across the dashboard looks superb, but even better is that it feels as though everything is made of the highest quality materials.
What particularly stood out during our drive were the door armrests. Often overlooked during a short test drive, the Altima has one of the most buttery and cushioned elbow resting pads we’ve ever experienced - a surprisingly critical component in driving comfort.
Storage space, cup and bottle holders, cubbies and bins, and a large illuminated glovebox fill the well-designed cabin to accommodate the needs of everyday driving life, while all the expected electronic conveniences make living with the 2013 Altima so much easier.
Features such as dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, sunroof, and Homelink remote garage door opener are all available.
Comfort in the front with a sunroof was spacious in every direction, and in the rear we were greatly impressed with the several extra inches of head and legroom remaining for a six-foot person.
We appreciated features like the rear air vents, a fold down armrest with cup holders, and 60/40-split seats which fold down as needed.
We didn’t throw much inside the trunk besides our bag, but the Altima’s 15.4 cubic foot trunk was nicely lined and shaped well. We only wished for a grab handle so fingers didn’t have to contact the exterior of the trunk lid.
Technology is where the 2013 Nissan Altima truly shines: one of the most feature-laden [yet least complicated] vehicles to operate thanks to intuitive interfaces and thoughtful features.
Automatic headlights have been standard on many vehicles for years, but Nissan went one step further adding headlights that automatically come on after the windshield wipers have been on for more than four passes, because it’s now a law in many states to have headlights on during rainy weather.
Nissan designed the wiper system to complete a full cycle and return to the base of the windshield after the car is shut off during mid-wipe to prevent freezing to the windshield during winter weather.
Moving to Altima’s tires, Nissan implemented their Easy Fill Tire Alert system to make filling tires much easier. When the tires are being filled, the hazard lamps flash to let you know that they’re being filled. When the proper pressure is reached, the horn beeps and the lights stop flashing. Nissan’s tire pressure monitoring system is quite advanced, using the keyless entry sensors in the doors as a reference point for identifying the location of each tire, and therefore automatically updating on the Advanced Drive-Assist Display in front of the driver.
The Advanced Drive-Assist Display (ADAD) nicely integrates key information on a 4-inch color LCD between the speedometer and tachometer, and offers enhanced cognition through its depth and tilt in relation to the driver. The system is customizable, with intuitive steering wheel mounted controls that allowed us to easily scroll through the various menus on our first try behind the wheel. Available information includes: audio system display, instant MPG, trip computer, tire pressure readouts, and navigation turn-by-turn instructions. The most creative option of all, though a bit cutesy, was being able to change the on-screen image of the Altima to any of the car’s available exterior colors.
Three audio systems are available: a base unit with four speakers, an upgrade to six, and a nine-speaker Bose unit with USB, AUX, and satellite radio. Nissan makes Bluetooth phone and streaming audio standard on all models, a great asset, and offers their smartphone connectivity system, NissanConnect, on upper trim levels.
We had a small taste of NissanConnect while driving and appreciated its ease of use, Pandora and Google apps, and best of all the hands-free text messaging assistance. The system reads messages, allowing the driver to use pre-set responses like “on my way,” “driving, can’t text,” or a customized response. Two units will be offered, one with navigation and a 7-inch color touch-screen, and the other without nav and a 5-inch color display.
Nissan is keeping their Intelligent Key system with pushbutton start standard, so keys can remain in pockets, purses, backpacks, and gym bags, while for the first time in Nissan history, offering remote start on SV and SL trim-levels.
Nissan innovated and implemented unique safety equipment into the 2013 Altima. Active safety systems such as Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, and Moving Object Detection are three phenomenal systems that until now have been reserved for the luxury market.
The three systems operate using a unique rearview camera mounted above the license plate, which doubles as the backup camera. The camera is so advanced that it knows when it’s dirty and automatically squirts windshield-washing fluid onto the lens, and then using a mini-compressor, dries it as well. When the system detected a vehicle in our blind spot while we signaled to make a lane change, it alerted us via beeps and amber lights mounted on the A-pillar where the side-view mirrors are mounted. When drifting out of our lane, the lane departure warning similarly activates.
We didn’t test the Moving Object Detection, but it works by once again by activating audio and visual alarm signals when it detects objects or persons moving perpendicular to the Altima, such as while backing out of a parking spot. This is enormously helpful in a busy parking lot when parked next to an SUV, where visibility is an issue.
As expected, the Altima offers anti-lock brakes, stability control, and traction control, along with six airbags as standard equipment.
Nissan will offer the 2013 Altima in 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL, 3.5 S, 3.5 SV, and 3.5 SL models. Our time behind the wheel revealed that Nissan has developed a world-class vehicle at an affordable price point.
All the key attributes are there: leading fuel economy, high levels of active safety equipment, stylish design, comfortable and roomy interior in every seating position, valuable and user-friendly informative technology, and a value that can’t be beat. Nissan continues to listen to and serve its customers: the foundation for any successful business model.
A+ltima: the 2013 Altima earns a well-deserved A+ from theCD.
This automaker provided theCD with travel accomodations to attend the media preview.