Refined family sedan with superb CVT deserves its due
As in the political world where the frontrunners get all the hype and some worthy candidates get brushed to the sidelines or back pages, Nissan’s Altima doesn’t always get its due.
That may be about to change. The 2013 Altima has been revamped to be slightly wider and infinitely quieter and more comfortable. Its styling is even tweaked to give it more arrow-like front lights and a smoother overall shape. This is a fine family sedan that should send shivers down the spines of Honda and Toyota engineers.
My test car was the mid-level Altima 2.5 SV built in Smyrna, Tenn., and bathed in a bright pearl white paint job.
The 2.5 tells you that this one features Nissan’s 2.5-liter I4 with an alloy engine block and cylinder heads. The SV notches in just below the SE (Special Edition), so is well equipped and riding on 17-inch wheels, instead of the standard 16-inchers. The SV also come with remote start and an upgraded audio system with five-color display.
It’s amazing how much power we now see from direct-injected 4-cylinder engines. This one cranks 182 horses, among the best in this market segment and up 7 horses from the 2012 model. Yet gas mileage is stellar for this front-drive sedan, the Nissan rated by the EPA at 27 mpg city and 38 mpg highway on regular gas. I got an impressive 32.5 mpg in about 60% highway miles. Plus, due to the use of high-strength steel in parts of the car, overall vehicle weight has dropped 80 lbs., from its predecessor.
Some of the credit for the car’s fuel efficiency goes to Nissan’s continuously variable transmission, one of the few CVTs on the market that isn’t horrible. In fact, Nissan’s is the only CVT I’d recommend. This is like a belt driving your car, so there are virtually no shift points, the car just smoothly moves up to speed. Many CVTs are either not this smooth, or simply provide your vehicle no low-end power.
Don’t get me wrong, you won’t feel a ton of low-end torque, but you’ll feel more than sufficient torque to get you away from a stoplight and if you tromp the pedal for more oomph, there’s enough there to get you to highway speeds smoothly and quickly. The only price you pay is a little more engine noise when you accelerate hard, yet the car still reacts effortlessly.
Ride is excellent, the independent struts up front and multi-link suspension in back soak up bumps for a well controlled ride that eliminates the harshness of cement Midwestern roads. ZF Sachs shocks front and rear help control road imperfections and a 109.5-inch wheelbase helps too.
Handling is good, in fact better than many mid-size sedans. I wouldn’t call it quick, but it’s responsive and the car turns into corners with authority. This is a speed-sensitive rack and pinion setup. Like the Acura ILX I drove recently though, there is a mild amount of body lean, not uncommon in family sedans.
Braking comes from four-wheel discs, the front brakes being vented. Stability and traction control are standard.
Inside, the brown over tan interior was attractive and the SV features cloth seats. Leather comes into the picture with the SL model, which also adds a Bose sound system. There’s gloss black trim on this center stack and console, along with pewter-look trim on the steering wheel hub, dash, doors and around the stack. I also like the flat black trim around the dash gauges as it does not reflect in the sun.
Seating is excellent, the cloth seats being well formed and Nissan tells us their design is based on some NASA research to aid comfort. It works, with mild contouring, plus the SV has a power driver’s seat. I’d like to see the front seat angle be slightly adjustable too. I got used to the seat, but its front edge is just a touch too high for shorter drivers.
Head and legroom are good front and rear. I had several adult rear seat riders and they all praised the car’s comfort and legroom. There’s oodles of space in the trunk too, 15.4 cubic feet, and the rear seats split and fold down fairly flat to extend the cargo room.
I like Altima’s dash layout, the simple gauges and easy controls too. Behind the tilt-telescope steering wheel are two main gauges and there are trip computer, radio, cruise and phone control buttons on the wheel’s hub. Likewise the center stack is logical with air vents at the top, a big navigation/radio screen ($590 option), big radio volume and tuning knobs and other large radio and map buttons.
My lone complaint is the six dinky Touchscreen buttons that pop up on the radio/nav screen for you to program and use to select radio channels. They are miniscule despite there being a wide screen where larger buttons could easily be displayed. How small are the engineer’s fingers that design this stuff?
On the plus side, a rearview camera also is displayed on the large screen, a good safety feature. There also are large dual climate control knobs on the center stack.
Overhead is a sunroof, part of a $1,350 package that adds fog lights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink system, mood lamp overhead and a side cargo net in the trunk. Sliding visors also are part of the package, which is welcome, but I think they should be standard. The test car also added splash guards for $145, a rear spoiler for $395 and floor mats for $130.
The better news though is that the base price for the SV is just $24,100. Add in the $780 delivery charge and you’re just below $25 grand, while the test car hit $27,490. That’s easily in the price range of its competition and well under the average price of a new vehicle, about $31,000 these days.
A base Altima 2.5 starts at $21,500 with the same engine, transmission and gas mileage numbers. You can go up to the S, SV and SL from there. Plus Nissan offers a 3.5-liter V6 in several trim levels, starting with the S at $25,360. With the V6, it gets 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
What’s not to like? Not much. This was one of the most comfortable, easy-driving, quiet sedans I’ve driven in the past few years, yet that also costs less than $30 grand. If you’re in the mid-size sedan market, put this on your must-drive test drive list.
FAST Stats: 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV
Made in: Smyrna, Tenn.
Engine: 2.5-liter I4, 182 hp
Weight: 3,131 lbs.
Wheelbase: 109.5 in.
Cargo: 15.4 cu.ft.
Base Price: $24,100
Dealer’s Price: $22,036
SV Convenience package (moon roof, fog lights, outside mirrors w/turn signal, manual folding mirrors, sun visor mirror w/light & extension, front passenger window one-touch auto up/down, auto-dimming rearview mirror, HomeLink, compass, mood lamp in roof, side cargo net), $1,350
Navigation package (nav system w/7-inch display, steering wheel nav controls), $590
Splash guards, $145
Rear spoiler, $395
Floor mats, $130
Test Vehicle: $27,490
Sources: Nissan, www.autos.yahoo.com
Hits: Comfortable, quiet family sedan with smooth CVS tranny, good power and excellent gas mileage. Ride is controlled, seats are comfy, interior is extremely quiet and easily fits five adults. Trunk is big. Pricing is quite competitive.
Misses: Tiny 6-button pad on radio touchscreen hard to use while driving.
Photos: Courtesy of Nissan