The mid-size sedan category has never been so hot as a whole host of new models have slinked onto the scene for 2013. One of the most talked about is the Nissan Altima, a long-time Canadian favourite, which has been thoroughly revamped for 2013.
The all-new Altima represents the fifth generation for this nameplate and with each remodel the folks at Nissan have selected to increase the car's size, refinement, and equipment levels. The exterior is far more dramatic up front, and with its carefully sculpted lines it reminds me of both the Maxima and the wonderful sedans which are produced under the Infiniti brand. The look is decidedly upmarket from the front, but as your eyes scan over the car's side profile and rear end it seems to lose much of this new found lustre. Don't get me wrong, I find the car appealing, but I do wish there were a few more sprinkles on my sundae.
My test vehicle was a top-tier four-cylinder unit (2.5 SL) so it came relatively loaded. The styling of the Altima's interior is progressive, again upmarket, and the level of fit and finish would be impressive if the car was twice the price. The overall quality, look and feel of the materials used throughout the cabin is top notch.
The driver's cockpit features an uncluttered, compact gauge cluster and a three-spoke steering wheel loaded with secondary controls. The centre stack is a simple design devoid of extraneous switches and buttons as many of the car's features are operated using a touch screen display.
The optional Technology Package is a bargain at $1,100, as it includes an array of safety technologies that are rarely seen on cars in this category. This includes a navigation system with seven-inch touch-screen monitor and voice recognition, and cell-phone linked services like NavTraffic, POIs powered by Google, Google Send-To-Car, fuel, flight and weather information. It also includes an arsenal of safety gear including an advanced rear view camera system, Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Moving Object Detection (MOD), and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). I was impressed with the operation of all three of these electronic nannies, but you should be warned that the BSW system seemed to send a lot of false signals. During my time with the car the weather here in Vancouver was seasonably wet so the road surface tends to act like a mirror. Reflections of road barriers, trees and parked vehicles would often trigger the BSW system causing the column mounted warning light to flash as if a moving car, pedestrian or object was alongside the vehicle.
I found the front seats comfortable and spacious enough for my 6'2" XXXL-sized frame, and the two outboard rear positions offered me a satisfactory level of comfort. Nissan calls these Zero-Gravity seats, a name derived from the fact that they enlisted the help of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to research the effects of proper seating and posture. The end result is a seat design that helps reduce muscular and spinal loads, and improve blood flow – thereby helping reduce fatigue over long periods behind the wheel. They seem to almost hug their occupants and proved very supportive.
The Altima features a full complement of storage nooks and cup-holders, and the trunk is large enough for Costco runs. Should larger items need to be stowed the rear seats do fold.
Under the hood
As before, there are two engines available in the Altima line. For those buyers looking for a little extra grunt Nissan offers the latest variant of their proven 3.5-litre V-6. This smooth operator produces a healthy 270-hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. As attractive as this sounds I imagine that the majority of Canadian buyers will choose the car fitted with the 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder engine ( 182-hp, 180 lb-ft) in an effort to reduce fuel consumption and ease the pain at the pump. In either case, the car is fitted with Nissan's Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) which has been re-engineered to provide smoother operation and reduce internal friction. This ultra-efficient transmission also benefits from an expanded gear ratio spread.
Performance and handling
I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of CVT transmissions as they tend to artificially hold the engine rpm near the top end of the tachometer while the car's electronic wizards try to determine what you are asking the car to do via your inputs on the gas pedal. Luckily the much more refined 2013 Altima features a well-insulated cabin to help reduce the engine noise under hard acceleration.
The extra commotion and noise produced by the CVT can prove stressful at times (such as when accelerating to execute a passing manoeuvre or when working up the momentum to enter the flow of traffic on a busy freeway), but this revised system seems to find its optimal setting more quickly than the variant fitted to the outgoing model.
Acceleration is relatively quick with runs from 0-100 km/h taking a little over eight seconds, but remember, this model has been designed to maximize fuel efficiency rather than helping you win stoplight drag races. Nissan claims that by reducing the weight of both the car's body and four-cylinder engine, as well as reworking the CVT, they have been rewarded with a 15 percent improvement in fuel efficiency for the car verses a similarly equipped fourth generation model. Nissan's product literature claims that the car is capable of highway fuel mileage rating as low as 5.0-litres per 100 kilometres! This is an impressive number for any automobile, but when it is associated with a car large enough to comfortably shuttle five full grown adults, you have to take notice.
Handling is predictable as the suspension did an excellent job of communicating what the wheels were doing at any given time and body roll was minimal. The car remained poised and tracked straight and true. The brakes were efficient and remained fade free even after several hard panic stops from 80 kilometres an hour.
The Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata tend to be cross-shopped on a regular basis, but the all-new Nissan Altima deserves a spot on your short list if you are looking for a car with class leading efficiency, obvious build quality, and very attractive pricing.
Technical Specifications: 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL
Base price range (MSRP): $23,698 - $29,598
Price as tested: $32,658.00 (includes $1,100 -Technology Package; $135 - Metallic Storm Blue paint; $1,695 -Freight & PDE; $130 - Assorted taxes and levies).
Type: 5-passenger, mid-size sedan
Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive
Engine: 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 182-hp @ 5,600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 180 @ 3,900 RPM
Transmission: Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
Brakes: Front-wheel ventilated disc; rear-wheel disc
Suspension: Independent strut front and multilink rear suspension
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 8.6 seconds
Cargo / trunk volume (L / cu. ft.): 436 / 15.4
Fuel economy (L / 100km/h): City-7.4 (38 mpg) / Highway 5.0 (56 mpg)