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The standard features of the Nissan Altima 2.5 S include 2.5L I-4 175hp engine, 2-speed Xtronic CVT transmission with overdrive, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), side seat mounted airbags, curtain 1st and 2nd row overhead airbags, airbag occupancy sensor, air conditioning, 17" aluminum wheels, cruise control, ABS and driveline traction control, electronic stability.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, with 182 hard-pressed horsepower, is considerably slower. Nissan says the Altima 2.5 can perform 0-60 in just 7.14 seconds. We're skeptical. AutoWeek reported this feat took 8.0 seconds, and we think that's closer to reality. Of course, achieving 38 mpg, one necessarily must accept a bit of huffing and puffing, and with the 2.5, we got it. As the song says, it works hard for the money.
On the other hand, if you don't mind a bit of yowling from underneath the hood, or better yet, if you're not in a breathless hurry, as many hundreds of thousands of Altima drivers before you have not been, the 2.5 will be satisfactory. Not vigorous. Satisfactory.
And startlingly efficient. The secret of the Altima four-cylinder's thrift is a quantum leap in efficiency and reduced internal friction in its very unusual CVT continuously variable transmission. Nissan has fought long and hard to develop this transmission, and for a number of years, it delivered woozy forward progress that made you feel like you were being dragged behind a huge rubber band. But the potential of the CVT was always there, chiefly that when an engine reached its cruising speed, the transmission could drop the engine down to an extremely low engine speed and deliver stunning fuel mileage. The 2013 Altima is there. At 70 mph, with the help of its CVT, we saw the Altima's engine speed maintain an ultra-low 1650 rpm, barely a pulse, barely sipping gasoline. While the competition is loading up its invoices with the expense and complexities of hybrids, Nissan sneaked under the wire and beat them all.
In keeping with its upscale aspirations, the Altima's ride and highway behavior are suitably quiet and refined. All models of the new Altima have Active Understeer Control, a system which applies small amounts of braking to the inside front wheel to overcome the Altima's tendency to resist vigorous turning into a corner. Cornering poise is further aided by stabilizer bars front and rear and new ZF Sachs shock absorbers that provide sturdy body control. We weren't in driving circumstances where this hardware could be fully tested, though in forceful driving on normal roads, the car's turn-in and stability were good.
Similarly, the new Altima rear suspension is a fully redesigned multi-link system with firm bushings, providing solid lateral response. Overall, the Altima is a family sedan with little sporting character. It is assuredly a safe over-the-road package, but it lacks the agility and fun-to-drive spirit of a true sports sedan. But the active presence of understeer control, vehicle dynamic control (VDC) and traction control, each fully automatic and self-activating, combine to give this car the full degree of modern safety and security.
The four-wheel disc brakes, too, are equipped with ABS and electronic brake distribution, delivering minute degrees of braking control in slippery conditions that even the most skilled driver would be hard pressed to match. And when the rains come and the Altima's wipers are switched on, the headlights come on automatically, complying with laws in effect in many states.
Most 2013 Altima models will come with a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but a a vigorous, upscale 270-hp 3.5-liter V6 is available. The thrifty four-cylinder engine is newly redesigned and, combined with a vastly improved Nissan CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the result of 20 years of refinement, this drivetrain results in a segment-leading 38 mpg EPA Highway rating. That's better than Ford Fusion Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu ECO, Hyundai Hybrid or any other competing mid-size sedan.
We found the Altima 3.5 with the V6 engine a brilliant performer, but the Altima 2.5 with the four-cylinder engine delivered just average performance.
Inside, the top-of-the-line Altima SL trim was very luxurious, and the SV trim with cloth upholstery was also very nice. All of them are very quiet underway.
Combine headline-making fuel efficiency with a variety of features and creature comforts not generally found in non-luxury mid-size sedans, and the 2013 Altima, already shouldering its way into Nissan Maxima territory, makes a stylish, affordable and tempting choice for families working their way up the scale.
Nissan Altima competes with Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Mazda 6, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.
The car features a blacked-out grille with a chrome surround, very a la mode, and a zoomie, striking headlight cluster. A short hood blends with a steeply canted windshield in what was once called cab forward styling. A pronounced character line runs high along the side of the cab towards the rear, but the Nissan stylists have avoided using multiple character lines and cluttering Altima's look, as some others do. The profile is clean and elegant. Chrome trim around the windows and bright, dressy 10-spoke wheels give the Altima a near-luxury glamour.
At the rear, a bold chrome bar, almost startling in its impact, rides above the ending of the side character lines at the bottom of the trunk. The trunk lid reveals a conveniently low lift-over height of only 26.9 inches, and there are dual chrome tailpipes, de rigeur these days, no matter what the engine.
Side mirrors with redundant turn-signal lights are a nice safety provision.
Overall, the Altima looks stylish, aggressive and sporting. In the upper level of trim packages, it looks more expensive than it is. Nicely done.
The 2.5 SV we used for our test drive had fawn cloth upholstery. The white-on-black gauges were handsome, immediately legible, and were surrounded by excellent soft-touch dashboard padding. The tachometer displayed a 6600-rpm redline for the 2.5. We missed the paddle shifters, available only on the 3.5 models. But in the 2.5, intelligent circuitry and the CVT continuously variable transmission regulate engine speed automatically. The power driver's seat had 6-way adjustability, and a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel presented the usual audio and cruise controls, plus controls for the navigation system. The Navigation system in our SV delivered good information via simple, effective graphics. A one-touch open/close moonroof with a manual sunscreen was included as part of the SV Convenience Package.
One point particularly worth mentioning about the Altima is its quietness. Considerable effort was made to rigidify the body structure and soundproof its panels. This contributes strongly to the car's class above impression, quietness being one sure hallmark of luxury cars. But the materials that silence cars also add weight. Nissan was nonetheless able to reduce the 2013 Altima's weight from that of the previous model by 79 pounds, no mean achievement.
Nissan's Zero-Gravity seats are designed to provide uniform support from pelvis to chest. The benefits of these seats are said to be felt on long motor trips. They seemed comfortable enough to us, but we didn't take a long enough trip to notice anything exciting.
More exciting is the new Altima's electronic connectivity packages. All models are furnished with Bluetooth hands-free phone systems and streaming audio. Also available is hands-free messaging assistant, Pandora integration, USB connection for iPod interface and satellite radio. The advantages of managing text messaging hands free are so enormous, we can't begin to say enough about them. You can reply with pre-set texts like "driving, can't text," "on my way," or a custom message. Invaluable.
And there's more. Advanced Drive-Assist Display, standard on every model, is located between the speedo and tachometer, a four-inch color display that is much easier for the driver to use than the console-mounted navigation monitor. It delivers mpg, audio information, trip computer, tire-pressure information, and importantly, turn-by-turn navigation.
Perhaps the most likable of the Altima's provisions is a fully automatic tire-pressure monitor that tells you exactly which tire is low, by how much it is low, then tells you when you are beginning to refill it, and gives you a little toot of the horn when you've reached the proper inflation! Goodbye tire gauge.
All in all, regardless of the trim level you choose, the 2013 Altima interior feels like anything but a skimpy car. And the higher trim models are positively lavish.
Altima 2.5 ($21,500) comes standard with cloth upholstery, 6-way manual driver's seat, AM/FM/CD with 4 speakers, Bluetooth hands-free phone. Bluetooth Streaming Audio, speedometer, tachometer, coolant gauge, fuel level gauge w/ fuel door location, Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist display, power windows, power locks, dual remote power sideview mirrors, remote keyless entry, steering wheel cruise control, center console w/ armrest and power outlet, 4 cup holders, 4 bottle holders, 16-inch steel wheels, 215/60R16 tires, halogen headlights. Altima 2.5 S ($22,500) upgrades with 6-way power driver's seat, AM/FM/CD w/ 6 speakers.
Altima 2.5 SV ($24,100) adds leather-wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch alloy wheels, 215/55R17 tires, speed-sensitive audio volume control, USB port with iPod, satellite radio, Pandora, Google POI Search, Hands-Free text messaging, rearview monitor, dual-zone climate control, rear heating/cooling vents, remote engine start. An optional Convenience Package for 2.5 SV ($1350) includes power moonroof, fog lights, sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals, manual folding sideview mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, front passenger window with one-touch auto up/down, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Homelink Universal Transceiver, compass, mood lamp, side cargo net. The SV Navigation Package ($590) includes the 7-inch color screen, turn-by-turn navigation integration into Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist display, steering wheel navigation system controls.
Altima 2.5 SL ($28,050) upgrades with leather seating, heated front seats. 8-way power driver's seat w/ power lumbar, 2-way adjustable head restraints, Bose 9-speaker AM/FM/CD/Aux, compass, folding power sideview mirrors, Homelink Universal Transceiver, power moonroof, wood-tone trim, metallic texture trim, LED front map lights, mood lamp, side cargo net, fog lights, outside mirror LED turn signals, LED taillights and CHMSL. An optional SL Technology Package ($1090) features Nissan Navigation system with 7-inch color screen, turn-by-turn navigation integrated into Nissan Advanced Drive-Assist Display, steering wheel navigation system controls, Blind Spot Warning, Moving Obstacle Detection, Lane Departure Warning.
The V6-powered Altima 3.5 S ($25,360), 3.5 SV ($27,780), and 3.5 SL ($30,080) are equipped the same as the respective 2.5 models and offer the same option packages.
Safety features on all Altima models includes ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, all federally mandated airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, child seat anchors, LATCH child-seat system, power window lockout, child safety rear door locks, emergency inside trunk release, Vehicle Dynamics Control, Traction Control, tire-pressure monitor, Vehicle Immobilizer System.
Ted West filed this report after his test drive of the Nissan Altima near Nashville, Tennessee.