2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL First Test (Motor Trend)
"Sure are a lot of Altimas around here," said I to Trevor Lai and
Shinichi Oikawa as we navigated a cozy neighborhood in Southern
California. Both gentlemen are Nissan product planning managers and
were riding along as I sampled the considerably revised 2013 Nissan
Altima at its press introduction. During 30 minutes of driving, I
noticed Altimas of all generations were everywhere: trundling alongside
us, waiting at stop signs, parked in driveways.
"We didn't plant them here," a grinning Lai responded.
I believe him -- it's unlikely Nissan needs assistance. The brand's
breadwinner has sold more than 3.8 million units in 20 years and four
generations. In midsize sedan sales last year, the Altima played second
fiddle to the persistently top-selling Toyota Camry. How? Incentives
flowed free, and natural catastrophes limited its biggest competitors'
inventories. Oikawa-san acknowledges the Camry is the benchmark for the
teams at the drawing boards and factories. Nissan, of course, is
convinced its product is superior, and would love to topple its big
The last time an Altima partook in a Motor Trend comparison test
("Seven for All Mankind," May 2010), it scored seventh out of seven and
the Camry was first. We had no qualms with the last-gen Nissan's
driving dynamics or hushed cabin, but it lagged the competition in
observed fuel economy, back-seat space, and value -- areas that
characterize the D-segment. As fate would have it, we got our hands on
a 2013 car in SL trim with a 2.5-liter inline-four, just like the one
we drove two years ago.
Certain aspects of the new Altima didn't change -- like the 109.3-inch
wheelbase and engine displacements -- but a lot more did. For starters,
the 2.5-liter is packing 182 hp, 7 more than the last model. It has
valve timing cam-phasers tickling intake and exhaust sides (previously
intake only), and gains a variable-flow intake manifold and
smart-charging alternator programmed to reduce engine drag. Paired with
a substantially updated continuously variable transmission (70 percent
of the components were redesigned, with a taller axle ratio and wider
ratio spread of 7.0 for strong off-the-line pickup and low-rpm highway
cruising), the base powertrain combo is rated 27/38 mpg city/highway, a
huge improvement over the 23/32 mpg of yore. Unless you're eyeing
hybrid or diesel power, that's best-in-class. The optional 270-hp,
3.5-liter V-6 was left untouched, but a freshened CVT bumps the EPA
figures from 20/27 to 22/30 mpg. Nissan expects 90 percent of Altima
buyers to opt for the I-4. Believe it or not, as-tested four-cylinder
acceleration is a full second quicker from 0-60 mph: 7.4 for 2013
versus 8.4 seconds for the earlier comparison car.
As lovers of driving, we're thrilled to report the Altima's sporting
disposition remains intact. An engaging drive was a priority for the
development team, so they felt it necessary to employ ZF Sachs shock
absorbers, keep the hydraulic steering (though now electrically
driven), widen the tracks, and completely rejigger the multilink rear
suspension. Internal handling targets are ambitious, with the Audi A4,
BMW 3 Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class among them.
To help the sedately riding front-drive sedan's handling, Nissan
incorporated a bit of passive rear steer using specially located links
and a combination of eight bushings on each side that allow the rear
outside wheel to toe in and rear inside wheel to toe out to follow the
front wheels' steering path through a corner. The effect is more
discernible when there's greater load transferred to the rear, i.e.,
when accelerating at speed in a turn. Maximum toe (we're talking just a
few degrees here) is dictated by the bushings at full deflection, but
an exact number was unavailable.
We're getting tingly talking about rear steer, but it's not the lone
reason for enhanced finesse. The 2013 Altima is lighter, thanks to
greater application of ultra-high-strength steel and aluminum, along
with a fuel tank that shrinks from 20 gallons to 18. Our 3182-pound 2.5
SL tester carries 17.5 pounds per horsepower versus 2010's 18.4.
Active Understeer Control, a new and standard electronic aid, keeps the
nose clean in corners by braking the front inside wheel when the front
end begins to push. The powertrain, chassis, and electronics upgrades
come together on the figure eight, where the new car's 28.0-second run
at 0.57 average g is 0.3 second quicker than that of its predecessor.
Peak lateral grip is up, too: 0.84 g for 2013 and 0.77 for 2010. Yes,
both Altimas were shod with long-lasting touring tires. There's a
slight difference in chassis tuning when going from the 16- and 17-inch
wheels to 18s.
The interior is more contemporary looking, still quiet, and its
materials and colors are attractive. The front seats were influenced by
NASA research for greater comfort. I don't know what an astronaut would
consider comfortable, but the seats are quite nice. Underneath, the
seat heater elements (on Altimas that have them) have been physically
focused closer to the body's core to warm driver and passenger more
quickly. Switching to a three-spoke steering wheel works wonders for
the aesthetics, too.