Review and photos by Haney Louka

Ever since Nissan’s mid-sized Altima sedan grew up in 2002, it always seemed to me like it was stepping on big brother Maxima’s toes. It seems even more so this year, now that the new-for-2013 model has equally new Maxima-wannabe styling. The Max—and its buyers—have nothing to fear, though, because even though the two cars are made by the same company to look nearly the same, the flagship Maxima manages to hold on to its status as the best-looking Nissan sedan.

2013 Nissan Altima SL
2013 Nissan Altima SL
2013 Nissan Altima SL
2013 Nissan Altima SL. Click image to enlarge

I may not be in the majority here, but I find the Altima’s styling to be too lumpy in an effort to make it interesting to look at. In a day when car manufacturers are producing such stunning lookers as the Ford Fusion, Mazda6, and Kia Optima, the Altima by contrast is a bit forced. They tried, sure, but I wouldn’t call its styling a success. The company’s other sedans, the Sentra and Maxima, have done much better in this regard.

Thankfully, the Altima has a lot more going for it; remaining competitive in this class will not be a problem.

Pricing starts at $23,698 for the Altima 2.5 CVT, putting it in the thick of the price of entry in this class. Of course, this will not be the volume model, but everybody needs to be offering a stripper with a low base price. Notable standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, fog lights, four-speaker audio, six-way manual driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity (for phone and audio), 60/40 split-folding seats, a four-inch LCD display, push-button start, rear reading lights, and that nifty “easy tire fill alert” that you see on the Altima commercials.

We’ll skip right over the $24,898 S (cruise control, automatic headlights, two extra speakers) to what will likely be the volume leader: the $26,998 2.5 SV. Nissan uses the SV trim on its models with the most popular options; in the Altima’s case that means a leather-wrapped wheel, 17-inch alloys, power driver’s seat, USB port and satellite radio, rear-view monitor, automatic climate control, and remote start. Quite a bit of tech for a price that’s right in the meat of the family sedan fray. Selecting the SV also gives you access to options such as a seven-inch display with navigation, Homelink, a moonroof, and other goodies included in the convenience and navigation packages. It also allows you to step up from the base 182-horse 2.5 four-banger to the beefy 3.5 VQ-series V6 which has a pony count of 270. The 3.5 SV starts at $29,698.

Our 2.5 SL tester started life at $29,598, making it quite clear that one can stick with the four-banger and get a heap of features, or move up to the six-pot and stick with SV trim for nearly identical dollars. If one chooses the former, the reward for practicing restraint in the engine compartment comes in the form of a heated steering wheel and leather seats, LED taillights, nine-speaker Bose audio, and upgraded interior trim. Throw in the $1,100 technology package included in our tester, and you get navigation along with a host of driver assistance features like blind spot warning, moving object detection, and lane departure warning.

I find the cost of that option to be a pretty good value; it wasn’t long ago that navigation systems were a standalone feature with a $2,500 price tag. All in, our tester’s price tag came to a little more than thirty grand including freight.

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