My 2013 Nissan Altima is telling me that, over the course of several hours and about 150 miles, I have managed 29.8 mpg in mostly sedate driving along the gentle country rounds outside of Tennessee’s capital city.
That’s not quite the 38 highway mpg being touted for the reinvented Altima, but not bad for a roomy four-door car with a 182-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. No, not the 270-horsepower V-6 for me (starts at $29,698), though Nissan expects about 10 per cent of buyers will go for the bigger, carryover engine.
Both engines are mated to what Nissan argues is a hugely improved continuously variable transmission designed to deliver better fuel economy than a traditional gearbox with stepped gears. But I have never been a huge fan of the rubber-band-like feel of a CVT with its infinitely variable gears. Too lawnmower-ish.
With a starting Canadian price of $23,698, the 2013 Altima is a competitive deal. At highway speeds, it is very quiet, especially so given Nissan stripped out some 32 kilograms compared to the outgoing 2012 model. The ride is soft, but not mushy, and it soaks up the few bumps we encounter on the pristine roads of central Tennessee. The so-called “zero gravity” front bucket seats do well to support your back, though like 99 per cent of the cars out there, they lack enough under-thigh support for long-distance cruising.
The cabin? My tester is all in basic black with shiny bits of trim. Not chrome, but something less brilliant. The colour-matching of the almost all-ebony dashboard and door inserts is excellent, though, and even though these are not-quite-finished pre-production cars, the gaps are tight and the lines separating various pieces are straight and uniform. The quality looks good.
My loaded 2.5 SL model, the top-line version, is stuffed with just about everything you might want in a luxury car: leather seating, Bose sound with nine speakers, heated steering wheel, power lumbar support, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED taillights and more. The only option is the $1,100 Technology Package, which includes navigation, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, and moving object detection. Even the cheapest Altima has standard Bluetooth hands-free management.
The touch-screen nav is easy enough to program. I like that. But it’s slow to respond, which I don’t like. And the display lacks detail. I don’t like that either. But it’s not expensive. I like that. I could do without the driving nannies, like lane departure warning, which beeps at you when you gently slide across a line on the road. I turned it off.
Nissan argues that this Altima is now the benchmark among mid-size sedans – and not just because it is loaded with features, but also because it delivers a near-luxury ride at a price affordable to middle managers.
It looks good, too. Not stunning, though it’s clear Nissan has tried valiantly to make the sheet metal interesting. The car does have a wide stance, a handsome grille, a seamless front bumper and projector-type headlights. The rear looks almost as if it is has a built-in spoiler, though that’s not the case. The shape is useful for creating a big trunk, however.
Truth be told, this recreated Altima is a pleasant sedan. Some owners will surely like the array of gizmos, and applaud the readouts to explain what all your gizmos are up to.
For instance, the Advanced Drive-Assist Display is a four-inch colour screen that tells you what’s happening with the audio system, ongoing fuel consumption, tire pressure, trip meter, navigation and all the safety nannies. It’s not distracting and adjusts using steering wheel controls. Fine.
We’re told the latest Altima will have better quality than the outgoing one, and that one has been very good, if you believe the third-party studies. The company also expects the car to be a Top Safety Pick from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That would be a step forward over the current car, too.
No doubt it will sell for many reasons, not least of which is the pricing – which is quite something given the new features and all the rest. Unlike some in this class, Nissan does not appear to have cheapened the car just to get the price right. And that is an achievement.
For more on the Altima and Nissan's future, click here: Nissan: No longer content being the ‘other' car maker
2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL
Type: Mid-size sedan
Price: $29,598 (freight $1,695)
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 182 hp/180 lb-ft
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available; regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Dodge Avenger/Chrysler Sebring, Volkswagen Passat, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata