Thumbs Up: More stylish and more comfortable than the car it replaces
Thumbs Down: Only gearbox choice is a CVT
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for a fuel-sipping commuter that still looks good
Nissan’s midsize Altima sedan is perpetually among the best-selling cars in the United States, and with good reason. Even in its prior form, it served up a reasonable blend of style, comfort, fuel economy and value, putting it near the top of the “must shop” list for many consumers. With that much in its favor, you can bet that Nissan was careful when it set about redesigning the Altima for the 2013 model year.
At first glance, the lines of the new car look familiar, but they’re a clear evolution from the previous Altima. The 2013 version wears bolder lines, making it look more like a car you own than a car you’ve just rented. There’s a bit of family resemblance to the larger Maxima sedan, and even some styling DNA from Infiniti models if you look close enough.
From the front, it’s hard to miss the Altima’s larger grille, now defined with thicker chrome trim around its perimeter. The narrower headlights stand out (and look a lot better than last year), and the sculpted lines of the hood and front fenders are more elegant than on previous versions, as if Nissan were taking the Altima up-market in positioning. Notice the airtight gap at the leading edge of the hood, too – Nissan is serious about fuel economy, so it’s looked to reduce drag wherever possible.
In profile, the most obvious changes are the reshaped headlights and taillights, as well as the restyled daylight opening. Chrome trim still defines the greenhouse (which appears to be lower than on previous versions), and the Altima now “borrows” BMW’s Hofmeister kink for the C-pillar. As on earlier models, narrow A, B and C-pillars ensure better-than-average outward visibility.
Out back, the outdated Altezza-style taillights are gone, and we don’t mourn their passing. Instead, the new Altima sports contemporary-styled lights that wrap around to the fenders and look significantly cleaner in execution. We like the harder edge that the deck lid now wears, but find the trunk’s oversized chrome trim to be a bit much for our tastes. While the new Altima doesn’t enter the “too much chrome trim” territory, it does come dangerously close.
The design evolution continues in the Altima’s cabin, too. Last year’s two-tone vinyl and faux woodgrain style is gone, replaced by a new blend of monochrome vinyl, split by metallic trim and a piano black center console. While some hate piano black (since it can be difficult to keep clean), we much prefer it over the tree-from-a-test-tube stuff that Nissan used in past Altimas. Like the outside of the car, the revised interior gives us a feeling of refinement that the last generation lacked. If we were teachers, last year’s interior would have earned a C-, while this year’s gets a solid B+.
Nowhere is that sense of refinement more glaringly obvious than in the Altima’s instrument cluster. Previously, buyers got a set of gauges (including tachometer, speedometer and combination fuel and coolant temperature readouts) that looked like they were pulled straight from the bargain bin. For 2013, Nissan gives drivers a combination tachometer / coolant gauge and a combination speedometer / fuel gauge, split by one of the nicest information displays in the industry. Gone are last year’s glaring orange numbers, replaced by an easier-to-read white on black display that we’d comfortably call class-leading.
Nissan has really hyped the front seats in the new Altima, which were developed from NASA’s research into seating and posture. Meant to deliver a “neutral posture,” like a body would take in zero gravity, the Altima’s seats are designed to combat fatigue on longer trips. We can’t comment on the science behind them, but we’ll admit they certainly are comfortable. We wish they came with adjustable lumbar support, but Nissan gets bonus points for using cloth seats in lower-trim cars instead of the “simulated leather” that’s all the rage among automakers these days.
While some have complained about headroom and legroom in the Altima’s rear seats, we found them to be on par with others in the segment. No, the Altima isn’t a stretch limo, and your friends in the NBA will definitely be fighting over the shotgun seat, but average-sized adults will have no issues with rear seat head or leg room. We do have a gripe with the rear seats, though: they lack adjustable headrests. On the plus side, rear seats now fold in a 60 / 40 split to carry oversized or odd-shaped cargo that wouldn’t otherwise fit in the trunk.
For 2013, the Altima sedan gets the same 2.5-liter I-4 and 3.6-liter V-6 engine choices as last year, but with improved performance and fuel economy. Even the continuously variable transmission (CVT) has been reworked for simplicity and added durability, but we still find it to be our least-favorite point on an otherwise fine midsize sedan. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Altima tested makes 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, enough to get the car from 0-60 mph in under 7.5 seconds. Not only is that substantially quicker than last year’s model, but the 2013 Altima delivers greatly improved fuel economy, too, returning an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. We saw an indicated 30.2 mpg in mostly-city driving, so that seems to back up the EPA’s claims.
If you liked the handling and feel of the old Altima, expect more of the same from the new model. While some have claimed the new car isn’t as nimble as the model it replaces, our experience tells us otherwise. While the Altima is no sport sedan, it is indeed a sportier ride than many others in the midsize sedan segment, and few (with reasonable expectations, anyway) will be disappointed by the way the new car accelerates, handles and brakes.
Thanks to a bit of techno-wizardry that Nissan calls Active Understeer Control (part of the electronic stability control system), there’s less push in corners when the car is driven (slightly) above its limits. To restore grip to the front tires, the Altima is smart enough to brake the inside front wheel when it feels the car begin to understeer. Handling limits are set largely by the car’s all-season radial tires, which aren’t exactly sporting in nature, and it’s worth pointing out that Active Understeer Control can’t counter the laws of physics, only bend them slightly to your advantage.
The Altima may not be the best choice for a weekend track toy or a cross-country GT car, but for its mission as a midsize daily driver there isn’t much we’d change (aside from the CVT, that is). It delivers a comfortable and quiet ride, serves up better-than reasonable performance and handling and won’t break the bank to buy or maintain. While the old Altima seemed to compete against the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord primarily on price and availability, the new Altima can go toe to toe with its competitors in just about every category we can think of.
Nissan supplied the 2013 Altima 2.5 SV for our evaluation. Base price was $24,880, including a destination charge of $780, and options included the $1,350 SV Convenience Package (power moon roof; fog lights; manual folding side mirrors with integrated turn signals; illuminated sun visor vanity mirrors; auto dimming rear view mirror; Homelink transceiver; compass; side cargo net and roof console mood lighting), the $590 SV Navigation Package (navigation system with 7-inch touchscreen display, steering wheel mounted controls), the $145 Splash Guards, the $395 Rear Spoiler and the $130 Floor Mats, for a total sticker price of $27,490.
For comparison, a similarly equipped Toyota Camry XLE would list for $28,118, while a comparable Honda Accord EX-L with Navigation (since navigation is only available with leather seating) would sticker at $30,785.