2013 Nissan Altima Road Test Review
The 2013 Nissan Altima gets more efficient, refined and advanced
Scores High: Capable, fuel efficient drivetrain, confident dynamics, super-comfortable seats, excellent value
Scores Low: Drivetrain groans under full throttle, central display screen on mid-grade trims looks…mid grade
Total Car Score Analysis
Nissan enters 2012 with six straight years of market share growth. That success has put the automaker right behind the big “T” as the number two Asian brand in the U.S. market. It has also put Nissan under increased pressure to maintain its momentum and, as ordained by Mr. Ghosn, achieve 10 percent U.S. market share in the next couple years (the company is at 8.2 percent now, up from 7.8 percent the previous year).
As the highest volume model in Nissan’s line-up the 2013 Altima is a critical element in achieving these aggressive goals. It will be going up against several redesigned competitors while replacing an outgoing model that continues to pull record sales. The good news is that the role of the 2013 Nissan Altima couldn’t be any clearer – it simply must be a tremendous success. The better news for Nissan is, it probably will be.
Given the current Altima’s ongoing success in the midsize sedan segment there was little need to drastically change its size and shape. As such, both aspects will be familiar to Altima fans. The 2013 model’s exterior dimensions (height, width, length) are within 1 inch of the current version. Nissan describes the new Altima’s styling as “evocative and emotional,” with premium elements. These elements include standard projector beam headlights, chrome trim around the windows and a chrome grille shaped by Samurai heritage (called Kamishino). The use of “deep-draw” stamping technology also gave Nissan the ability to imbed more complex contours into the major exterior panels, such as the hood and fenders. The result is a 2013 Altima with similar -- yet more expressive -- bodylines when viewed alongside the outgoing model.
This familiarity continues from behind the new Altima’s steering wheel, where everything from road feel to ride quality to engine performance is reminiscent of the current car. The Altima has always offered an engaging driving experience by midsize sedan standards, and it continues to do so for the 2013 model year.
The steering, for example, is heavier than many competitors while offering excellent feedback from the front tires. Increased body rigidity and a new multi-link suspension provide an extremely solid ride quality. This, combined with minimal wind and road noise, gives the Altima a luxury-like atmosphere at highway speeds.
An impressive piece of optional technology, dubbed Active Understeer Control, can pull the car back on line if a driver enters a corner with too much speed. Once the system detects a difference between steering input and vehicle direction (i.e. understeer) it will brake the inside front wheel to tighten the Altima’s turning radius. Nissan claims the system operates progressively and subtly with no driver detection. It comes standard on every model.
Nissan will continue to offer two engines in the 2013 Altima, a 2.5-liter four cylinder and a 3.5-liter V6. The four cylinder makes up approximately 90 percent of the Altima’s sales mix, and it now features increased fuel efficiency through the use of a “smart” alternator (charges primarily when braking or coasting) and a variable flow intake manifold. The engine makes 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque while achieving an estimated 27 mpg in city driving, 38 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. EPA certification is still pending, but if these numbers are achieved they will give the 2013 Altima best-in-class highway fuel efficiency. The larger V6 is rated at 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet while earning 22/30/25 mpg.
Contributing to both engines’ fuel economy is Nissan’s latest continuously variable transmission (CVT). Now with fewer moving parts and lower internal friction, plus a wider range of gearing, the latest CVT is can be “shifted” with steer-wheel-mounted paddles. Of course, because it’s a CVT there’s no actual shifting going on, but a display in the gauge cluster will show a range of 1 through 7 “gears.”
While responsive with regard to throttle input and RPM management, the upgraded CVT is still a CVT, and that means a monotonous “groaning” sound from the engine when asking the Altima for maximum acceleration. It’s not really unpleasant, but if you’re used to the traditional sensation of shifting through gears as a car accelerates, it might feel strange. On the flipside, this transmission design allows the Altima to achieve not only best-in-class fuel efficiency but also impressive acceleration, with a zero-to-60 time of 7.1 seconds for the four cylinder.
Interior Design and Function
The new Altima’s cabin has been given upscale touches like standard “chrome finish” accents and piano black interior surfaces along the center console and dashboard. Despite the premium-sounding names of these surfaces they are still plastic, but the look is improved over the current model. Additionally, the comprehensive use of soft-touch material on the door panels and dashboard, as well as a new woven headliner and attractive three-spoke steering wheel, is a notable step up for Altima over the previous model. One disappointment is the non-navigation central display screen on 2.5SV and above models. The screen has a somewhat foggy appearance and looks like it might scratch easily.
Design improvements include new front seats based on NASA zero gravity research. Meant to lower fatigue and improve blood flow, the front seats were indeed some of the most comfortable we’ve experienced in the midsize sedan category. If seat comfort is a high priority you’ll want to give the 2013 Altima extra consideration. The rear seats, while not as coddling as the front, are also effective in terms of comfort, subtle lateral support and adequate legroom.
Primary Features and Options
Standard features in the new Altima include a new gauge cluster design that features a standard Advanced Drive-Assist Display mounted between the primary gauges (speedometer and tach). The 4-inch display offers full color capability and can be configured to show a range of information related to the audio system, MPG, and tire pressure monitoring. When equipped with options like navigation, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection (the latter warns of movement near the car at low and starting speeds), this information is also visible via the Advanced Drive-Assist Display.
Other standard features on every 2013 Altima include Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, remote keyless entry with pushbutton start and the aforementioned Active Understeer Control technology. These are all included in the base Altima 2.5 for $22,280, which is $200 cheaper than the current Altima’s starting price. Stepping up to the 2.5S trim for $23,280 adds cruise control, a power driver’s seat, upgraded audio, automatic headlights and smart key technology (unlocks the doors when the key is in close proximity to the car). The $24,880 2.5SV comes with 17-inch wheels, remote start, a rearview monitor, dual zone automatic climate control and Nissan Connect. Nissan Connect includes a USB port with iPod connectivity, satellite radio, Pandora integration and hands-free text messaging on Android and Blackberry devices (Nissan says Apple has to change its text messaging system to work with Nissan Connect).
For those interested in the V6 version of the Altima there’s a 3.5S model for $27,140, a 3.5SV for $28,560, and a 3.5SL for $30,860. The 3.5S includes 18-inch wheels and paddle shifters, while the 3.5SV adds a moonroof and auto-dimming rearview mirror. The 3.5SL includes navigation, leather upholstery, Bose audio and heated seats.
Options include a Navigation Package for $590 that comes with a 7-inch touchscreen and a Convenience Package for $1,350 with foglights, leather seats, Bose audio and a sunroof.
It’s Perfect For…
Nissan’s Altima became a serious player in the midsize sedan category, forcing the competition step up in terms of performance and interior space, after its 2002 redesign. For 2013 the Altima is again pushing the market with exceptional fuel economy, refined dynamics, superb seat comfort and strong value. If these are the qualities you look for in a midsize sedan the 2013 Nissan Altima is worth a close look.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Nissan Altima SV
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $24,100
Options on Test Vehicle: Convenience Package (includes foglights, leather seats, heated seats, Bose audio, sunroof -- $1,350), Destination Charge ($780)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $26,230
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.