Nissan upgrades and updates the Altima
By Jim Bray
It's one of the Japanese company's bread and butter cars, a mid-size sedan they hope you'll think is the "altimate" family car.
And it's brand new for 2013, the fifth generation of a car that started out as a roly-poly roller but which has evolved since then into a handsome and reasonably priced and high tech entry into the mid-size sedan market.
That particular niche is full of terrific vehicles, so Nissan must hope that enough people will find the Altima better than such great cars as the brand new Honda Accord and Ford Fusion, or the older but still great Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, VW Passat, etcetera etcetera etcetera.
The car feels more up market than before – just like the competition – in this case, almost "Maxima-lite." And a mid-sized car that feels as substantial as a larger, supposedly more luxurious vehicle is hardly something at which to snort.
The new Altima adds a bit of a sport flair to its exterior, via such stuff as raised front fenders and reasonably swoopy body work. The car is longer and wider than the outgoing model yet, as is the happy trend these days, it's also lighter.
Power for the Altima comes via either four or six cylinder engines. My test car, from Nissan Canada, had the 2.5 liter four banger and it was plenty powerful enough for my needs during the test period. It puts out a competitive 182 horses, compared to the V6's 270.
Power gets to the front wheels of the Altima through a horrible Continuously Variable Transmission that rubbed me the wrong way about as much as most CVT's do. It works well, and is undoubtedly highly efficient, but it's noisy and feels like you're stretching a rubber band rather than accelerating through an honest-to-goodness automatic transmission. There's no manual mode, either – though you can get paddle shifters on the V6 versions.
There is a "sport" mode, and it's better, but not enough better.
Altimas' suspension is independent front and rear, with struts up front and a multilink bum – and there are stabilizer bars at both ends. The suspension is a little softer than I like, though not excessively so; the car doesn't come close to wallowing but it's definitely sprung on the comfort side of the equation.
Brakes are discs all around, with ABS and the usual aids, and pedal feel and performance were just fine.
The steering feel is good, performing nicely and imparting a nice quality feel. The wheel tilts and telescopes manually and feels good in the fists.
The wheels of my tester were 17 inches in diameter, wearing 215/55 series all-season tires. The projector-type headlights did a good job of lighting up the world ahead of the car and the power sliding/tilting sunroof was a nice touch.
Inside is a very comfortable and well turned out cabin – though I must admit that I could never find a perfect driving position on the comfortable, eight way power-adjusted La-z-boy-like driver's seat. The seat angst may be more mine, however, because I've read other reviews in which they praised the seats.
And there's a reasonably roomy rear seat.
The cabin is laid out well, with decent materials and plenty of high tech stuff. Maybe too much, for this Nissan offers a lot of the same type of nannies that drive me nuts on its upscale Infiniti brand – such as lane departure warnings, warnings when the car thinks you're about to rear end someone, and blind spot monitors. You can shut most of this stuff off, or minimize its influence, via the setup menus, however, and that's a good thing.
Not that I'm against safety, of course, but where does the driver's responsibility to pay attention end? And what happens when you rely on the warnings and they turn out to be wrong? After all, we all know that machines are infallible…
Bluetooth is standard for phone and tunes, with a pretty easy pairing system. My sample SL trim level Altima also offered dual zone air conditioning, remote keyless entry with push button start/stop, power windows and door locks and even a remote start feature. There are automatic headlights, too, a heated steering wheel and rear view monitor.
The audio system is pretty good. It's from Bose, which is a good place to start, and plays just about anything you can throw at it, from MP3's to satellite radio – and there's a USB input jack as well, which Nissan says offers iPod connectivity.
The trunk is sized decently, too – not as cavernous as a VW Passat's, perhaps, but big enough for most sedan-type needs.
My sample Altima 2.5 SL also came with a reddish metallic pearl paint job that adds $134 to the price, and a $1100 technology package with stuff such as a navigation system and seven inch LCD screen, steering wheel-mounted navigation controls, the nannies I complained about earlier, and even some apps such as Google "Send to car," real time traffic info, Google's "POI" (Points of Interest), hands free text messaging and weather info.
These weren't activated in the sample, so I have no idea if they're life savers, annoyances, or just plain interesting.
But $1100 for all that seems pretty reasonable.
The Altima also features "Nissan Advanced Drive Assist Display", which gives you the outside temperature, low fuel warning, audio display, and the like. The weather was cold when I had the Altima and the display liked telling me that to the exclusion of anything else, as if I hadn't noticed the temperature when I walked from the house to the car.
My sample Altima SL, with options, tipped the financial scale at $30,833 Canadian, which seems pretty competitive.
The 2013 Nissan Altima is definitely a step up from the last Altima. Whether or not it's good enough to pry people away from some other cars in this niche will be seen over time, but it's probably good enough to keep Altima fans satisfied.
Copyright 2012 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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