Nissan's popular mid-size Altima sedan turned a major corner this past May as production commenced for the all-new 2013 model year redesign.
The fifth-generation Altima sedan began rolling off Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee (near the capital of Nashville) assembly facility May 15. Altima's popularity upswing required adding production at the company's newest U.S. assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi (outside another state capital, Jackson), operational since 2003. Altima was due for a redo since the fourth-generation effort served competently since 2006.
While sedan and coupe versions were offered up in the 2012 model year, only Altima sedan body styles receive a next-generation makeover in 2013. How important is Altima to Nissan's portfolio? In 2011, Altima ranked as the second-best-selling car in American (268,981 units) after perennial leader, Toyota's Camry, a huge jump from an already respectable seventh place a year prior. Altima's 2013 timely redesign comes on the heels of Camry's 2012 complete makeover and months apart from Chevrolet's major revamp of its growing-in-popularity 2013 Malibu sedan. Best of all, Altima now offers improved fuel economy approaching a subcompact-like 40 miles per gallon highway.
Supplies of 2013s started arriving at Chicago area Nissan dealers the tail end of June. While the wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) remains unchanged at 109.3 inches, overall length grows an inch while overall curb weight drops by 79 pounds thanks in part to lighter weight, higher-strength steel.
Altima returns with four and six-cylinder engines offerings in S, SV and SL trims while the 2.5-liter four-cylinder sports a low-cost entry base model. No manual transmission, all-wheel drive or gas-electric hybrid models are found in 2013. Nissan experimented with a gas-electric hybrid Altima edition from 2007 to 2011 in select states (not Illinois), but less-than-anticipated sales lead to a quiet exit. Nissan also simplifies the number of options and packages, helping smooth out the dealer transaction process.
The completely redesigned-for-2013 four-cylinder engine boasts 182 horsepower, a seven-point jump from 2012 while the V-6 counterpart returns a 270 horsepower work horse from 2012. Our tester's four-cylinder engine provided plenty of smooth acceleration during treks throughout suburban Chicago and comes highly recommended thanks to improved fuel numbers.
Our nicely equipped SV trim tester included a handsome, soft-touch, tri-toned interior consisting of beige cloth seating and dashboard coloring offset by black and brushed aluminum accents. Heated leather seats come standard in up level SL trims. Drivers and passengers will notice a sportier, slightly lower seating position than what's found in many mid-size competitors. Altima's deep, single partitioned glove box holds a variety of needs. Nissan conveniently locates the fuel door and trunk release buttons under the left-side dash rather than the floor left of the driver's seat. The instrument panel includes two circular analog gauges with soothing white backlighting at night. In between is mushroom-head-shaped window chuck full of rotatable graphics and digital readouts. Push button start is standard across the board.
The manual tilt-and-telescope three-spoke steering wheel includes cruise control functions at the three o'clock position and secondary audio functions left side. In between buckets is a bi-level storage bin. A power outlet and USB port connectivity get hidden under a touch/spring release cover in SL and SV trims. Satellite radio comes standard while in-dash navigation is optional in the same two trims. Top-level SL boasts an optional package including blind-spot and lane departure warning systems.
Ventilation controls are found under the optional seven-inch navigation screen and consist of two dials monitoring dual-zone temperatures flanking a series of push buttons commanding fan speed and direction. Left-hand ergonomics are made 'handy' thanks to the power window/lock/mirror driver's door layout. The 90-degree arm rest is home to all four power window tabs and power lock buttons up ahead. Power mirror functions are higher up the door, residing at a 45-degree atop a grab handle extending up from the power window slab. In row two, each side of the 60/40 split seatbacks unlock via a trunk-located grab strap.
Our SV tester with 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine included a $24,100 starting price and $27,490 bottom line with options and $780 destination charge. The $1,350 convenience package included power moon roof, one-touch up-down driver's window and auto dimming rear view mirror. An additional $590 brought forth the in-dash navigation system with 7-inch color monitor and secondary steering wheel controls. Splash guards ($145), rear spoiler ($395) and floor mats ($130) rounded out the extras. The lowest-priced base four-cylinder starts at a very competitive $21,500, about $1,000 higher than a 2012 Altima entry model, but lower than the redesigned 2012 Camry starting at $22,055. The most opulent Altima, a V-6 SL tops out at $30,080.
Highway fuel economy estimates rank at the top of the mid-size class whether selecting the inline four or larger V-6. Both break the 30 mile per gallon highway barrier thanks in part to a standard, next-generation, "Xtronic" CVT transmission. Continuously Variable Transmission replaces traditional five or six-speed automatic transmissions and maximizes fuel economy through seamless movements between infinite forward gear ratio ranges. No 'hunting' sensation is felt between gear ratios. Nissan's investment and longevity with CVT troubleshooting is tops within the automotive community. Fuel estimates of our four cylinder calculated out to 27 mpg city and impressive 38 highway, a 15 percent improvement from 2012; the V-6 averages 22 and 30 mpg respectively. The recently redesigned Camry's four-cylinder with standard six-speed automatic transmission averages 25 and 35 mpg respectively. Altima's fuel tank holds 18 gallons of recommended 87-octane regular unleaded fuel.
Altima's interior seems much quieter than earlier generations. Engine noise remains remarkably muted. Altima's softer-type suspension glides over small bumps and road imperfections rather than engaging them head-on.
For 2013, all trims feature an "Easy Fill Tire Alert" helping maintain proper tire inflation. If Altima detects low pressure, the actual tire pressure of the affected wheel is displayed. When filling the tire with air, Altima's horn emits a soft 'chirp' when reaching the proper inflation pressure.
From an exterior perspective, Altima has staked out a more aggressive stance than its Japanese counterparts from Toyota and Honda. Both Camry and Accord respectively have longer tenures on the road, but lack the visual 'snap' Altima has enjoyed for the past decade thanks to a stretched, lower-profile roof and narrow rear 'C' pillar. This fifth-generation makeover, still very recognizable as an Altima, is more evolutionary then revolutionary. Tail light housing is notably changed from a multi-tube architecture, giving way to a sleeker, more aerodynamic-looking wrap-around design. Dual exhaust comes standard in all trims. Turn signal blinker bands smartly adorn side-view mirrors. The hood's curved front nose (rather than a straight across chiseled design) morphs into the front trapezoidal-like grille with horizontal bars. A temporary spare resides under the flat-floor of the comparably sizable 15.4 cubic foot truck.
Altima's substantial next-generation improvements should help it retain at least silver-metal status during this Olympic year. 2013 Nissan Altima
Price as tested: $27,490
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 191.5 inches
Width: 72 inches
Engine: 2.5-liter, inline four-cylinder
Powertrain warranty: Five-year/60,000 miles
City/Highway economy: 27/38 mpg
Assembly: Smyrna, Tennessee; Canton, Mississippi