2013 Nissan Altima SL Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Published on February 21, 2013

Published on February 21, 2013

If there's a car that matters most to Nissan's North American operations, you're looking at it. Not only is the Altima the Japanese brand's top-seller in the U.S. and here in Canada, it's arguably the automaker's soul.

Say what? Isn't the 370Z Nissan's heart and soul? Well, if you ask one of the company's engineers you might get a nod, and I'm sure legions of drifting fans would point to the iconic sports car too, or the even more desirable GT-R, but I think of the soul as being at the centre of things, not the periphery. Soul cars are those that typify the brand. With one glance at an Altima driving by, a moment spent in the driver's seat, a single minute on the road, you're able to sum up the entire company, its way of doing things, its purpose of being. The Altima is what matters most to Nissan, served up in a neat, clean midsize package that's as appealing as anything in its highly contested class.

I suppose you could say something similar about Honda's Accord or Volkswagen's Passat, Toyota's Camry or Subaru's Legacy. The midsize sedan is the very essence of an automaker in the North American market, and if any brand's mid-range four-door doesn't measure up to the competition they'd better have a new and improved one arriving soon or you can say amen to that nameplate. Of course, I've only given you a shortlist of the competitors in this field, not even naming the Koreans or domestics yet, such as Hyundai's Sonata or Ford's Fusion, Kia's Optima or Dodge's 200. Opportunities for success are as ripe as the chance of failure. I certainly wouldn't want to have my soul turned out to the masses in the way a new or renewed midsize car gets exposed to immediate criticism before even leaving the production line. Chevy is experiencing this right now with its latest Malibu, and if reports can be believed is already looking to make revisions after less than a year of availability. It's a tough world out there, but Nissan needn't worry.

The Altima, completely reworked for 2013, is up to the task. Will it woo Accord buyers away from Honda and cause those that bought the new Fusion to regret their purchase? I doubt it, but it'll certainly bring back the Nissan faithful and give good excuse to others to leave their current brand and look elsewhere. Just where they choose to look has more to do with styling than anything else. Even if their neighbour recommends their Altima, if you don't like the way it looks the end sale is not going down. If by reading this article you learn that past Altimas have been some of the more reliable in the class it won't sway you away from a car that looks better to you, unless that car is a known lemon. The fact is we're a simple species, driven by aesthetics more often than not. Fortunately for Nissan the new Altima looks very good.

It's a classic evolutionary, which is almost always the case in this segment unless what you've got isn't working. Kia was a prime example of not making the grade stylistically with its previous midsize model and therefore they pushed the reset button, the new Optima a radical departure to any previous Kia let alone anything else in the category. The look isn't for everyone, with as many people loving it as repelled by it. Nissan didn't need to go so drastic, and therefore has maintained the basic Altima shape in its redesign, a profile that's been more or less the same since the brand revolutionized the midsize class with this very same model at the turn of the millennia (2001 to be exact). Certainly the look has changed, with more curves and simultaneously more complex detailing, but no Altima fan is going to mix this car up with anything else on the road.

What the Altima does better than most of its rivals is interior design and execution. We used to look to Volkswagen for leadership here, especially back two generations ago when Nissan's plastics were hardly impressive – with the emphasis on hard. Now the Passat is merely average while the Altima is closer to premium, with clean, uncluttered styling that rivals the look of the exterior for class and sophistication. Most midsize sedans offer soft-touch plastics on key surfaces these days, such as atop the dash and on the front door uppers. The Altima does likewise, not covering its entire dash-top with the soft stuff, but making sure that anything you might touch with your hands is nice and pliable. The car's switchgear is what really shines, however, both figuratively and literally.

Look no further than the steering wheel spokes for beautifully detailed metallic buttons and rocker switches, immediately giving the Altima an upscale look and feel. There are plenty of metallic surfaces throughout too, on said steering wheel as well as the door trim, dash and of course the centre console, the latter three accented with a stunning metallic-tone treatment that blings up the interior to sport sedan levels. That Nissan has created an all-gray and black interior design for its top-line SL model rather than the usual parlour club fare says volumes about a brand that had the gall to bring us the self-proclaimed "4DSC" or rather, 4-Door Sports Car (A.K.A. Maxima); OK, truth be told you can get the woodgrain trim if you order your Altima with a beige interior.

Just the same, the Altima carries the genes of the Maxima, or at least the two cars share the same Nissan D-Platform. This is mostly the same chassis architecture that underpinned the outgoing fourth-generation Altima, by the way, as is the engine and transmissions on offer, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 3.5-litre V6 mated to unique versions of Nissan's Xtronic CVT.

I like that Nissan doesn't penalize by holding back luxury if you just want to save on fuel and/or make the planet a bit greener by opting for the four-cylinder engine. My full-load SL tester came with the same perforated leather upholstery and eight-way powered driver's seat with powered lumbar support as the V6 SL, as well as its heated steering wheel, nine-speaker Bose audio system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, LED mirror cap turn signals and LED taillights, all for $31,293 including its destination charge. The only thing I could see missing were paddle-shifters, standard with the V6.

Likewise the lesser Altima SV, at $28,693 with its destination charge factored in, doesn't force you into the bigger 270-horsepower V6 to get all the options either. The SL gets everything the SV has, by the way, including its remote start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, power sliding glass moonroof, and five-inch colour infotainment display housing a rearview monitor, hands-free text messaging plus an upgraded audio system with USB, iPod integration, and satellite radio.

The just-above-base S model, at $26,684 including destination, can only be had with the 182-horsepower four-cylinder, yet boasts Smart Auto Headlights that turn on automatically at twilight and/or when it rains to improve visibility, plus proximity sensing access to go along with the base car's pushbutton ignition.

And that $25,393 base Altima 2.5? Bluetooth hands-free with streaming audio, the aforementioned illuminated steering wheel-mounted audio controls, fog lights, 60/40 split fold-down rear seatbacks, and of course all the powered conveniences and other expected features come standard. It's loaded with safety gear too, including the usual six airbags, ABS-enhanced four-wheel disc brakes, traction and stability control, tire pressure monitoring with Nissan's exclusive Easy Fill Tire Alert, as well as Active Understeer Control (AUC) and Advanced Drive-Assist Display.

You won't notice most of these safety features on the road unless you need them, and by that point there's nothing quite as relieving as stability control catching your car's wayward tail end before it would otherwise slide sideways in an uncontrolled drift. An additional way to keep you in your lane is Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Moving Object Detection (MOD), all part of a very well priced $1,100 Technology package that was fitted to my test car, and also includes a user-friendly navigation system with voice recognition integrated into a nicely upgraded 7-inch colour touch-screen display that also shows NavTraffic and really useful POIs powered by Google, Google Send-To-Car, fuel, flight and weather info. The only other option my car featured was Storm Blue metallic paint at $135 (alternatively you can spend $300 on Hakone White or get Super Black at no charge at all), bringing the total to $32,528 including destination. Not a bad deal for such a nicely balanced sport-luxury sedan.

And it is nicely balanced. Out on the road it handles better than any previous Altima, and I'd also put it amongst the better handlers in the entire midsize pack. It balances that sporty feel with a compliant chassis too; so don't worry about sacrificing performance for comfort. The 2.5-litre SL I drove was pretty quick off the line, but despite making more power than its predecessor, drag racing is not its forte. Just the same, the seven additional horsepower combined with a lighter overall curb weight has added spirit to the four-cylinder car, and the revised belt-drive CVT responds nicely to input and even shifts like a regular automatic when Sport mode is engaged, yet of course reduces friction when compared to a regular automatic for unparalleled fuel economy.

I can understand now why Nissan dropped its hybrid for 2013, as the new four-cylinder is actually more fuel-efficient with a claimed rating of 7.4 L/100km city and 5.0 highway. You'll be hard pressed to achieve these numbers, but even the 7.6 L/100km combined city/highway average that I managed is an amazing feat, especially considering that I didn't exactly baby it, plus covered a lot of hilly areas, not to mention more clogged roadways than I care to be reminded about.

The 2013 Altima SL won't be forgotten quickly, mind you. It's an impressive piece of machinery that punches way above its weight, delivering the kind of upscale experience you'd expect from a car costing thousands more for a price you can live with. With ongoing costs that should be equally pleasing, the new Altima is a car you should consider seriously.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Nissan, 2013, Altima, $20,000 - $29,999, $30,000 - $39,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Altima

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