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BY Dale Jewett | autoweek.com
Summary: Nissan’s best-selling car gets more comfortable, fuel-efficient with a redesign
What is it?
The Altima sedan is Nissan’s best-selling vehicle, and is the automaker’s entry in the highly competitive midsized car segment. Last year the Altima came close to knocking off the Toyota Camry as the best-selling car in America.
The Altima got bigger, and more popular, a decade ago with the launch of the redesigned 2002 model. It was overhauled for 2007 and has been fully redesigned again for the 2013 model.
The new Altima is the same size as the previous model. But Nissan has completely reworked the body to make it stiffer while at the same time cutting about 80 pounds. Buyers have a choice of four-cylinder and V6 engines. Either engine comes mated to a continuously variable transmission for better fuel economy — Nissan touts the Altima’s 38-mpg highway fuel economy rating.
Inside, the redesigned Altima has seating for five people with plenty of leg room for rear passengers, even with the front seats moved back. The list of technology includes lane-departure and blind-spot warnings and a rear-view camera. Space in the trunk is huge.
What’s it like to live with?
With the redesign for 2013, Nissan is working to push the Altima higher up the premium vehicle ladder. Our test car was loaded with leather seating and trim, heated seats and steering wheel, a sunroof and a navigation system that can receive destination information from Google.
The new Altima’s silhouette is similar to the car it replaced. But a closer look shows that Nissan’s designers in California heavily reworked the front end. The outer edges of the hood sweep toward the grille and reshaped headlamps. Those sweeping lines flow into character lines that wend their way down the sides of the car — but they also help the Altima slip through the air.
Nissan’s engineers also re-engineered the Altima’s body, using more high-strength steel to make the body stiffer while at the same time cutting about 80 pounds from the body shell. The stiffer body allows Nissan to soften the suspension for a smoother ride without making it feel flabby or floaty.
The base engine is Nissan’s venerable 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but it’s been revised to boost output to 182 hp while cutting about 10 pounds. For most buyers, this is all the power they’ll need.
The Altima’s optional 3.5-liter V6 is another Nissan mainstay, from the automaker’s oft-awarded VQ engine family. In the Altima, the V6 is rated at 270 hp.
Either engine is mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission. From the driver’s seat, this transmission acts just like a typical automatic. But it uses a pair of pulleys and a metal belt (or a chain for the V6) to get the power from the engine to the front wheels. What you feel is a steady stream of power when you hit the gas pedal. Nissan has even engineered some “shift” points into the transmission’s software, just in case you might miss that changing-gear feeling.
Want a bit more performance? Move the gear selector to DS and the transmission will hold the engine at higher rpm for more power — handy for when you want to merge onto the freeway. Some trim levels offer shift paddles on the steering wheel.
Reworked front and rear suspensions give the new Altima a solid ride without feeling too harsh. The power steering system uses an electric motor instead of the engine to drive the hydraulic pump. This helps boost fuel economy, and the steering has a solid, luxury-car feel to it.
Nissan says it designed the front seats to provide extra support in the area from an occupant’s chest to pelvis for more comfort. A two-hour drive left us feeling fresh.
From the driver’s seat, the tachometer and speedometer flank a digital display in the gauge cluster. Buttons on the steering wheel let you change the information on the display, from real-time fuel economy to object detection to radio and navigation information.
There’s little to quibble with in the new Altima. We noticed a lot of reflection off the top of the instrument panel on the windshield on sunny days. Also, strong sunlight can overwhelm the navigation/radio display in the center of the dash, which makes the backup camera hard to see.
Who should consider this vehicle?
People who spend plenty of time in their car and regularly carry along other people and cargo will want to consider the new Altima. You can take a load of coworkers out to lunch and not worry about squishing those sitting in the back seat. The cavernous trunk will swallow all the luggage a family needs for a weekend getaway, or easily handle a Costco run.
What other vehicles should I consider?
This is a time of major overhauls in the midsized sedan segment. The Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat were redesigned for 2012. New designs for the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion arrive for the 2013 model year, and a redesigned Mazda6 is on tap for next year.
If you’re on a budget or looking for a deal, find a dealer that still has 2012 Altimas on the lot — there are healthy incentives to get the old models out the door, and the previous-generation Altima was a fine car.
Base price: $22,280
Engine: 2.5-liter DOHC I4 with variable valve timing
Drivetrain: FWD, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy/combined): 27/38/31 mpg
Horsepower: 182 hp
Torque: 180 lb-ft
Curb weight: 3,108 pounds
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