2013 Nissan Altima
2013 Nissan Altima; photo courtesy Nissan Canada. Click image to enlarge

Used Vehicle Review: Nissan Altima, 2007-2012
Test Drive: 2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR

Manufacturer’s web site
Nissan Canada

Review and photos by James Bergeron

Photo Gallery:
2013 Nissan Altima

Nashville, Tennessee — Mid-sized sedans – perhaps not the epitome of excitement in the automotive world, but in the US they make up the number one selling vehicle segment, and in Canada, the mid-sized sedan is the number three selling segment by volume. And although journalists and enthusiasts may not find them particularly exciting, Canadian families do, as they provide safety, comfort, economy and utility in a reasonably sized and reasonably priced package.

Arriving this summer, Nissan’s all-new Altima is promising to shake up the mid-sized segment. The Altima now enters its fifth generation and celebrates 20 years since it was first introduced.

When most people talk about mid-sized sedans in Canada they often speak of two cars — the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord –- but the fact is that the Nissan Altima outsells both of these vehicles year after year. Of course, we cannot ignore the Hyundai Sonata which has taken the market by storm in the past few years with its bold new styling and competitive packaging; it is the second best selling mid-sizer in the country, behind the Ford Fusion.

2013 Nissan Altima
2013 Nissan Altima. Click image to enlarge

Available for pre-order now for delivery in early August, the 2013 Altima is available in six trims with two engine choices and a starting price of $23,698. The 2013 Altima is available with a lightened and strengthened 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder engine making 182 horsepower in 2.5, 2.5S, 2.5SV and 2.5SL form. The optional V6 engine –- Nissan’s award winning VQ35 — outputs an estimated 270 horsepower and is available in SV or SL trim. All 2013 Nissan Altimas are equipped with a standard next-generation Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).

The CVT has been enhanced to provide smoother operation and improved fuel efficiency. A full 70 percent of the parts have been redesigned, which along with a downsized oil pump, lower oil level and low viscosity oil result in up to 40 percent reduction in internal friction (compared to the previous design).

The new CVT also features expanded gear ratio coverage, with a lower starting ratio and a higher overdrive. All V6-equipped 2013 Altima models utilize a chain drive (versus belt on 4-cylinder models) and standard paddle shifters.

2013 Nissan Altima
2013 Nissan Altima. Click image to enlarge

Although the fifth generation Altima is “all-new,” it is built on the same platform as the outgoing model with improvements in many key areas, including body and aerodynamics, suspension, steering, seats, instrumentation, safety and technology.

What is immediately obvious when approaching the new Altima is the new sheet metal, which is sleeker and more modern but not radically so – the 2013 Altima is easily distinguishable as an evolution of the previous design. The wrap around LED taillights give the exterior a premium look, while the zero gravity seats, 3D effect driver’s information display and technology packages give it a premium feel on the inside.

What you cannot easily see is the new rear suspension design that controls toe and improves driving dynamics; or the understeer control system that brakes the inside front wheel in hard cornering to alleviate the tendency to push through a corner; or the 32 kilogram weight reduction over the previous generation make the 2013 Altima the lightest vehicle in the segment.

2013 Nissan Altima
2013 Nissan Altima. Click image to enlarge

The new and improved Altima brings some new and never available before features to the mid-sized class in Canada. An advanced rearview monitor camera that detects four views, Blind Spot Warning, Land Departure Warning and Moving Object Detection –- features typically available only on more premium sedans are now low cost options on the Altima. One impressive standard feature on the new Altima is a smart tire pressure monitoring system that can inform the driver which tires are low on air and monitor the inflation pressure during refilling using the four-way flashers to indicate to the driver when the tire has reached its ideal pressure.

The new 2013 Altima is more about what you feel than what you see, and driving feel is a key factor for many Altima buyers – driving is believing. We spent about three hours behind the wheel of the Altima through the rolling countryside of Tennessee. Half our time was spent in the 3.5-litre V6 model and the other half in the 2.5-litre version, ranging from fully loaded 3.5 SL to the base model 2.5.

First up was the 3.5 SL. First, looks are always key and being behind the wheel of the loaded model right off the bat certainly offers up a great first impression. Driver comfort is at the forefront with well-padded elbow areas, steering wheel controls for quick access functions and dual-zone climate control. The 3.5-litre V6 coupled to the next-generation CVT transmission is extremely smooth and refined. The V6 offers paddle shifters with seven virtual gears for those who wish to take their fun to the next level – but except for the occasional full throttle blast I’m sure most paddles will get very little use.

2013 Nissan Altima
2013 Nissan Altima. Click image to enlarge

Suspension tuning, road noise and driving characteristics are very similar between models. Nissan designed both the 2.5 and 3.5 models to behave the same, but the 3.5 does have a heavier front end due to the larger engine. As a result, stiffer springs and sway bars are employed as well as larger wheel packages – and this can be felt on road. Turn-in is extremely quick in the V6 model; a little on the touchy side, and that may be a negative to some buyers. The 2.5 models seemed to have more on-centre play in the steering – most likely due to the smaller wheels with larger sidewall tires, and this suits the segment’s customer expectations more accurately.

The power difference between the 3.5 and 2.5 is obvious, but the 2.5 does not feel slow and provides excellent acceleration at all times. The 2.5 does send more engine noise into the cabin on hard acceleration, but during normal acceleration and cruising the CVT ensures that power is delivered with little drama as engine speed stays below the 2,000 rpm mark.

When I drove the 2.5 S model, I noted a fuel consumption readout of 6.8L/100km over approximately 100 kilometers of driving — impressive! Not as impressive, though, as the car’s Natural Resources Canada ratings of 7.4/5.0 L/100 km (city/highway) for 2.5 models, and 9.3/6.4 L/100 km for 3.5 versions. After a few hours behind the wheel of the Altima, the new zero-gravity seats impressed and with very little NVH the Altima offers up comfort on both short and long journeys. The Altima deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Camry and Accord and perhaps this new 2013 model deserves to be mentioned first.

Altima Sedan 2.5 CVT: $23,698 CDN
Altima Sedan 2.5 S CVT: $24,898 CDN
Altima Sedan 2.5 SV CVT: $26,998 CDN
Altima Sedan 2.5 SL CVT: $29,598 CDN
Altima Sedan 3.5 SV CVT: $29,698 CDN
Altima Sedan 3.5 SL CVT: $32,598 CDN

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