2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SV Review By Cary Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Nissan Altima

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SV

In the twenty years since the nameplate's debut, the Nissan Altima has changed considerably over five generations. But it has stayed true to its original concept as "the affordable luxury car", so no surprise that it's Nissan's best-seller. More than that, in 2011 it was the second most popular car sold in the U.S.

The biggest change to the Altima came in 2002, when it grew from a large compact to a large mid-sized sedan and added a V6 option to the original four-cylinder. The fourth generation, made from 2007 to 2012, was superficially similar, with revised versions of the familiar 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V6 engines, but underneath was a new platform. 2013's fifth-generation Altima is a couple of inches longer than its immediate predecessor, on the same wheelbase, and features a redesigned fully-independent suspension for improved ride and handling characteristics, additional unibody reinforcement, a roomy interior with NASA-inspired "zero gravity" front seats, and all of the upscale features available in the previous version and then some. It's also about 80 pounds lighter, improving both performance and fuel economy.

Power is familiar, but the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine has variable valve timing on both camshafts for improved efficiency -- an EPA highway mileage of 38 -- and so more power on less fuel. It's also 11 pounds lighter - not much, but every little bit helps. The 3.5-liter V6 is unchanged, and nothing wrong there. With either engine, power is transmitted to the front wheels via the newest iterations of Nissan's Xtronic CVT electronically-controlled continuously-variable transmission. There are subtle differences between CVTs for the four and V6; both have been redesigned for improved performance and efficiency, and, yes, less weight.

Trim levels, in order of increasing standard equipment and option availability, are base (four-cylinder only), S, SV, and SL. At any given level, a V6 will be at a slightly higher spec than a four.

My test car for the past week was a V6 SV. With its smooth, powerful drivetrain, chassis refinement, and spacious, quiet cabin, it was equal in all basic attributes to a true luxury car, merely lacking the leather upholstery and various minor conveniences that are standard in the premium SL, and the SL's optional high-tech blind-spot warning, moving obstacle detection, and lane-departure warning systems. Oh, and a "prestige" name and high price that goes with that name. "Affordable luxury car" still applies, and at a higher level than ever before, for a reasonable price.

APPEARANCE: While recognizably a Nissan Altima in general shape, everything outside has changed. The front is dominated by a bold chrome-trimmed grille and bulging, chrome-trimmed headlights. The sharply-domed hood and sculpted sides stand in contrast to the blandly-curved counterparts of the previous two Altimas, and give the new car much more presence on the road. The L-shaped taillights are a current Nissan styling theme. Copious use of chrome trim, not only at the front but fully around the windows -- with a single piece behind the rear doors as on expensive luxury cars -- and door handles at the sides and at the rear with a garnish bar above the license plate and taillight accents further suggest luxury.

COMFORT: Inside, the most noticeable difference between the Altima in SV spec and a "real" luxury car is the Altima's cloth upholstery and lack of fancy wood trim. Neither of which are functional demerits, and if you want leather (and the full suite of electronic options) there is always the SL. The design is clean and simple, with matte silver trim offsetting the dark or light material of the rest of the interior. The instrument panel and main door panels are covered with textured soft-touch materials. All Altima models get Nissan's bright, easily visible "Fine Vision" gauges and "Intelligent Key" pushbutton start/stop with remote keyless entry. And all have the "Zero Gravity" front seats, developed from research done by NASA to minimize fatigue. They work very well, and less driver fatigue from fighting uncomfortable seats means greater safety. Rear passengers are treated to a wonderful amount of space, plus floor heat and console-end air conditioning vents. The trunk is usefully large, with extra cargo ability from the 60/40 folding rear seatback. A space-saver spare is found under the trunk floor, not a can of sealant. Instrumentation is complete and easy to see, and the leather-rimmed steering wheel adjusts manually for tilt and reach and has audio, cruise, and information system controls. The optional navigation system fitted to my test car was simple to use. All models have AM/FM/multi-format CD audio systems plus Bluetooth connectivity (including streaming audio); SV and SL get Sirius/XM satellite radio and USB/iPod connectivity as well.

SAFETY: Zone Body Construction with front and rear crumple zones, side guard door beams, and other design and construction elements to channel impact forces around the passenger compartment protects passengers in the event of an accident. Further protection comes from dual-stage front, seat-mounted front side, and full-length side curtain airbags. Active safety is enhanced by standard antilock brakes, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) stability enhancement, and traction control and tire-pressure monitoring systems. Lane-departure warning, moving object detection, and blind-spot warning systems are available in the SL Technology Package.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Although the new Altima's suspension uses struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear as have previous versions, everything has been redesigned for improved comfort and road manners. Geometry changes in front and equal-length halfshafts reduce torque steer to near-imperceptible levels, even with the V6. A new rear suspension design better controls rear wheel camber for better cornering ability, useful not only for performance driving but in evasive maneuvers for safety -- the best accident is one you avoid! High-quality Sachs shock dampers control wheel movement very well, for a contemporary luxury car ride -- comfortably compliant and with good maneuverability. Active Understeer Control, based on the VDC system, uses light, controlled application of the inside front brake to reduce understeer -- the tendency of a car to "plow" to the outside of a corner -- in everyday driving. Electronic Hydraulic Power-assisted Steering (EPHS) combines the familiar feel of hydraulically-assisted steering with electric motor, rather than engine-driven, actuation of the power steering pump. Less drag on the engine means better fuel economy.

PERFORMANCE: Nissan's VQ35DE V6 is unchanged, and no complaints there. A modern design with aluminum alloy construction, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, continuously-variable cam phasing, and much attention to interior detail for efficiency, it produces 270 horsepower (at 6000) rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque (at 4400 rpm). It drives the front wheels through a massively-redesigned computer-controlled CVT, which is the key to the new Altima's fuel efficiency. Seventy percent of the transmission's parts have been redesigned, with a lower "low" and higher "high" ratios for quicker acceleration with better highway fuel economy. Although a CVT is stepless, without conventional gear ratios, this one can be "shifted" manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles if desired. No reason to, really, other than entertainment, as Nissan's CVT does its job nearly perfectly, and much more smoothly than even the smoothest automatic. EPA mileage ratings are 22 mpg city, 31 highway. With more than the usual amount of highway driving, I averaged 28 mpg for my week. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder is rated 27/38 (!), and with 182 hp and 180 lb-ft should be more than adequate for most Altima buyers. It's expected to be the most popular engine.

CONCLUSIONS: The newest Nissan Altima brings upscale design, comfort, and convenience to the middle-class midsize sedan marketplace for a reasonable price. No surprise that it's becoming increasingly popular.

SPECIFICATIONS

2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SV

Base Price			$ 27,780
Price As Tested 		$ 29,335
Engine Type			aluminum alloy 24-valve DOHC V6 with
				 continuously-variable cam phasing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower			270 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			258 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			CVT
Wheelbase / Length		109.3 in. / 191.5 in.
Curb Weight			3323 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.3
Fuel Capacity			18.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/45 R18 94v m+s Dunlop SP Sport 7000
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA
standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 31 / 28
0 to 60 mph				6.1  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Carpeted Floor and Trunk Mats			$ 185
Navigation Package -- includes:
  Nissan Navigation System with 7-inch
  color display 				$ 590
Destination Charge				$ 780

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