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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.