2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL HD Video Review

Life is one big popularity contest and it’s no different when it comes to cars. Nissan’s Altima is a major seller in the US automotive market.  In 2012, it was number two in the car sales race, right behind Toyota Camry.  Yes, it outsold Honda Accord.  That’s good, but no one aspires to be number two.  So the new 2013 model, built in Tennessee, gets a thorough redo.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

It can be argued that anyone of these cars could be perfect for you, it just depends on your needs.  Obviously there’s Camry and Accord but the others in the hunt are Fusion, Malibu, Mazda6, Optima, Passat and Sonata.  High quality across the board means it’s a great time to be buying a mid-size family sedan, or a nightmare if you’re indecisive.

Don’t Just Buy Popularity

Cars in this class are looking pretty good these days.  Altima isn’t dressed up as boldly as Fusion, Optima or Sonata but then again not everyone wants that.  Flowing lines give it a softer more conservative vibe this time around.  The taillights loose their rocket booster design.  Swoops, flairs, and serifs in the details give Altima the look of Japanese kanji on wheels.  Lots of chrome too, the big grille is pretty tough to miss.  It’s now five percent more aerodynamic and built with loads of high strength steel for a solid structure.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

It should also be noted that Altima has a bit of Infiniti’s design language in it and looks a lot like Maxima, which ought to start looking over its shoulder at its overachiever brother.

Two Power Options

Under the aluminum hood the most popular engine will be the 2.5-liter 182 horsepower four-cylinder.  The car Nissan has dropped off is the 3.5-liter V6 rated at 270 hp @ 4,000 RPM and 258 lb-ft at 4,400 RPM.  It’s not the most powerful in class but considering Altima has lost 80 pounds and few owners boast about power figures at the kid’s gymnastic camp, this is no big deal.  Since it’s a Nissan, Altima’s transmission is a revised continuously variable unit.  70 percent of the parts are redesigned and the gear ratio range is expanded.  Four-cylinder trannies are belt driven, V6s get chain drive.  Simulated gearshifts can be made on large steering wheel mounted paddles on V6 cars.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

0-60?  It’s pretty quick in a little over six seconds with the V6.  That’s easy to like.  These days fuel economy seems to be a more desirable attribute than power and the EPA rates the 3.5-liter at 22 city, 31 highway.  That’s pretty good though as you might imagine, the four-cylinder is more efficient at 27 city/38 highway).

Back to the CVT- I’m on record that I do not like them.  The “rubber bandy” dynamic leaves me cold.  However, I can admit when I’m wrong.  Nissan has done a great job of tuning theirs to feel like a regular seven-speed gear transmission right down to the paddle shifter’s dynamic.  There are remnants of the traditional CVT operation but many owners would never notice it if they weren’t clued in.

Here’s Your Cake. Go Ahead and Eat It Too

Altima’s very comfortable ride quality might lull you into believing it’s become a softy.  Nope.  It could be argued that handling is best in class.   nissan2013altima-2  It slings around corners with an independent multi-link rear suspension.  Body movements are nicely dampened and controlled.  It rained nearly everyday I had the Altima and the grippy tires did their job well.  Even with electric power steering there’s some road feel left.

Drivers may never know that Altima has Active Understeer Control.  During hard cornering, it imperceptivity applies the inside front brakes so the car follows a more true path to the angle of the steering wheel.  Brakes have a firm pedal feel, very good stopping power and there’s little bob and dive while it’s all happening.  At cruising speed the cabin is about as quiet as Camry or Accord.  That’s better than Optima or Sonata, louder than Malibu.

Gripes?  Throttle response is on the high-strung side, Altima likes to jump away from stoplights.  Another annoyance?  The CVT transmission quickly reaches for a higher virtual gear ratio to get better fuel economy.  It often feels too tall in city driving, like the engine is bogged down.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

The $1,100 “Tech Package” adds navigation, lane departure and blind spot warning, plus a rear moving object detection system that, when backing up, flashes a warning if something like a car is moving toward you.  It’s not on my test car.  For that kind of coin it might be a wise buy.  Nissan’s Easy Fill tire alert is pretty cool.  While inflating the tires, the hazard lights flash to let you know the system is working.  Once the correct pressure is reached, a horn chirp tells you to stop.

What You Stare At The Most

The outgoing Altima interior was becoming dated.  Nissan takes care of that by installing high quality soft materials, contrasting silver trim, piano black panels, and some decent plastic wood.  The ambience is more traditional this time.  Fingers slip smoothly into the door releases, nice considering they’re used all the time.  Climate control is dual zone.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

Nissan makes a big deal of the “Zero Gravity” seats.  Using research done by NASA, they are supposed to be less fatiguing on long trips.  I just know they’re quite comfortable, swathed in good looking leather, and heated… but not cooled.

The display between the bright gauges is very crisp and configurable.  A system called NissanConnect can read incoming text messages and send pre-programmed responses.   The well-padded center console gets two layers of storage and it’s pretty deep.  There are the usual places to stash small things, a small spot on the center console is especially handy for phones.  Bluetooth and iPod integration is standard by the way.

My tester has a heated steering wheel.  Owners in cold climates will love this feature since hands are often unprotected while your butt gets a couple layers of cloth protecting it (unless you’re going commando).  Not all cars get the “tap for three blinks” signaling but it sure is nice.  Also, a feature we Seattle folks can appreciate- When the windshield wipers make more than four passes, the headlamps automatically switch on (Xenon in the SL’s case).  Apparently many states are ticketing if your lights aren’t on in the rain.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

Seems like the five-inch LCD screen (with backup cam) would be touch sensitive.  It’s not.  Pandora music streaming is available, the Bose sound system is good but not great.  It lacks the depth and richness you’d expect from the brand.  If you must have a panoramic glass roof, know that Altima’s sunroof is standard sized.

Moving to the Back

The rear quarters get good knee, leg and foot room.  Some, like Passat are more spacious but there should be few complaints, especially with just two in back.  A fairly flat floor means the center passenger won’t ride spread eagle. There’s an air vent, storage in the door and the nicely contoured bench offers up a folding armrest with cupholders.  There’s no option for seat heaters.  No power port to charge electronics either.

Altima handles cargo quite well.  Mesh netting in the corner will keep that gallon of milk from sliding around while having fun in the twisties.  A space saver spare tire is better than nothing (some companies are eliminating those outright).  Like many other cars, hinge arms can scrunch cargo so be careful.  In the TP test, the average trunk holds seven packs of the-two ply.  Altima comes in at… any guesses? …. seven as well.  If you’re wondering, the seats split and fold to expand your hauling options.

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan

Hard to know if Altima will win the popularity contest in the mid-sized market but the price is competitive.  The V6 SL I’m driving stickers for $31,350 with shipping.  It ranges from $22,550 for a base four-cylinder model to around 33 grand for a fully loaded V6 with rear spoiler (because you’ve just got to have that, right?).

I’ll trot out my favorite piece of advice- test drive at least three different vehicles before plunking good money down on s car.  I’d put Altima near the top of the bunch along with Accord, Fusion, Optima and Passat.  Roomy, comfortable, sporty, and fuel efficient, the 2013 Altima is a very competitive sedan in a very competitive segment.  Put it on the very long test drive list.

FULL GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILLS PROVIDED BY NISSAN.

16 Comments

  1. luiskami says:

    I just got back from vacation and rented this car. Fuel economy was great, although I have an RX8 and my wife drives a Mustang V6 so anything higher than 25 combined I am happy with. The first CVT transmission I drove was a Toyota RAV4 and I hated it. The one on the Altima is a lot better but still I hate how it feels at low throttle speed. Seats were really comfortable especially during long drives (I drove from Orlando to Miami and back). The transmission for me felt too soft and do not inspire confidence throwing it at a corner. The base model worked good as a rental but it felt too simple and boring. Fuel economy and comfortable seats where the highlights but everything else felt meh. I did not like this car.

    Here is my complain with this segment; why offer a more bigger and powerful engine if they are going to bug it down so much that will feel less powerful for the sake of efficiency? I believe the base model Altima has adequate power to go around and to pass other vehicles. I would like to drive the new Mazda6 as it doesn’t really have a lot of power but seems to nail the basics on what this segment is really about.

  2. hiptech says:

    Say Tom…

    I’m curious about something. I haven’t driven any new cars recently but seem to recall from past experience that turbocharged 4-cylinders felt rubbery or non-linear during moderate to hard acceleration.

    Since I also haven’t driven any CVTs but have heard you and others mention a similar “rubber-band effect” was wondering how “elastic” do these driven trains feel when combined (4-cylinder + CVT)?

    Also which is more annoying a non-turbo CVT or a turbo charged car with planetary gear transmission?

    My intuition tells me there are differences between makes and models. BTW, since you drove the Accord EX V6 not long ago how would you compare it with this Altima?

    Thanks again as always…

    • TV says:

      Hmmm, long ago turbos had “turbo lag”, a hesitation in power that happened while the turbo spooled up. That’s pretty much gone on modern units.

      The CVT dynamic is quite different. Some describe the first generation as if the tranny is slipping while it glides through the virtual gear rations. The Chrysler boxes were like that, so were the first Nissans.

      Your intuition is correct. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven the Patriot/Compass/Caliber so I don’t know if that’s been bred put of their CVTs (and it’s been replaced by standard gearboxes in some models). Nissan does a very good job on theirs, I haven’t driven the Subaru in a long time either. Really, there’s no experience like driving them to find out. It usually happens under hard acceleration.

      The Accord V6 has a standard six-speed box, the four-cylinder has a CVT (and I haven’t driven it). Personally, I prefer the Honda.

  3. SAEED DC says:

    Hi there mister Tom Voelk, I really appreciate your hard work. I almost watch all your videos, they provide a lot of information that we need to know before purchasing.
    one little request, can you do a review for these two cars?
    - Subaru Legacy 2013
    - Audi A4 2013
    - and this video reminded with the Maxima 2013
    I will be very happy if you included information about the tires each car uses and their prices.
    Thanks a lot, wish you good luck

    • TV says:

      Hi SAEED DC,

      Glad you like the reviews. I won’t be getting to those two cars anytime soon. I already have press cars lined up for the next six weeks. Any specific questions you might have about them?

      • SAEED DC says:

        nothing that really matters, I just wanted to know if things changed in these two cars.

        I own a passat 2006, and I faced couple issues that cost me a lot,

        tires prices are so so so high over 200 bucks each.

        also, the gear box broke so I had to replace it with another 6 auto transmission gear box from a different cars, because the original would have cost me 6 grands.

        the engine in my car is 2.0 TSI with no turbo

        Just want to know if things changed in the new models, the only thing that I know is that it looks a lot better than before.

        • TV says:

          Sorry to hear that. I’ll keep those two in mind as things progress. The trouble is, it’s hard to get to the all-new cars so i have to be selective. Best of luck!

  4. motorstreet says:

    I haven’t been very impressed with this Altima. It seems to be very good at most things, but doesn’t excel in any particular area. The only area it really seems to lead the class in is comfort, which is important but there are numerous cars that are nearly as comfortable and better in other areas. For me the leaders of this class are the Accord (good at everything, bad at nothing), Fusion (probably not quite as good as the Accord, but much more interesting), and Passat (tons of space and TDI fuel economy). If the Altima was cheaper I might be able to forgive its small shortcomings enough to recommend one, but personally I could never buy a car with a CVT. If I was in the market for a car in this class I would wait for the new diesel Mazda 6, preferably a manual one.

    • TV says:

      As I said in the review, I don’t like CVTs. You should drive this one before you judge. Many mainstream buyers won’t notice the difference. Nissan engineers did a pretty good job with it.

  5. Facepalm says:

    Nice review, Tom.
    After having watched your Altima rerview as well as other reviews of it, I can’t help but agree with your mention of it in the Top 11 cars of 2012 note where you said it was an all-around pleaser. From what I’ve read and seen, it does a lot of things well and has some neat features, but it doesn’t seem to excel in any one area, although I’ve read of at least one car magazine comparison feature where they said that while the Altima didn’t come in 1st place, it had the highest fuel economy (with the I4 engine), so I guess it has that going for it. Sort of fitting considering it has the highest 4-cylinder engine fuel economy ratings (not counting diesels).

    When I first saw this thing after it was finally unveiled last year, I wasn’t what to think, but the Altima’s looks have really grown on me, especially when I see it in person. The chrome in the grille could be toned down a bit, but only marginally, in my opinion.

    Have you had any luck in securing a 2013 Nissan Sentra press car? Just wondering.

  6. Jack in Jax says:

    Tom, this review struck me as one of the best you’ve done recently, primarily because of the clarity and comprehensiveness of describing the Altima’s sub-optimum features. It’s not that you were harsh or outspoken, and I came away wanting to research this car before we begin our dealer visits. But you were thorough about and offered perspective on those things Nissan didn’t do best in class. After all, you keep making the point that this car class is especially competitive now, with all the main players offering relatively impressive, competitive models. And you emphasize (yet again, in this review) that one needs to ‘do the homework’ and be clear about what’s important to you. All that being the case, a review that discriminates the ‘better’ from the ‘less competitive’ is a big help. Nice job!

    My one ‘gripe’? The absence of any kind of comment on your real-world gas mileage. The quoted mileage may seem ‘pretty good’ to you – presumably, you meant for a V-6 – but not to me, and not when compared to cars that have the more technically advanced engines (direct injection; turbocharged) that make a 4-cylinder engine perform like a V-6. And we know those EPA numbers are rarely exceeded and more commonly unreachable. In a week of driving, you no doubt could have done a bit of ‘real world’ mileage sampling. Hearing about that would have been the icing on the cake.

    Jack

    • TV says:

      Here’s why I tend to shy away from real world gas milage. My driving style is not only hard but I tend to make very short trips since I live extremely close to work and the bulk of my driving is in urban situations and surface streets. My average fuel economy is generally far lower than what most people will get.

      Often times I need to carve out time to specifically drive on the highway because I don’t drive them much. Occasionally, I’ll need to run to the mall (ugh), IKEA or head up to the ski area and then I can get an idea of what it is from the trip computer.

      Also, “real world” fuel economy can be misleading. Folks like me that write about cars tend to be hard driving enthusiasts. My wife is much easier on the throttle. So which of us is “real world”? I would argue she is. If I I can give a good idea of what that figure is I often include it but if I don’t think I can give accurate fuel economy numbers, then I’ll give the EPA rating. In the end if it’s a shortcoming of my reviews, it’s one I’ll have to acknowledge.