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2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Rocky Mountain Review By Dan Poler

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2013 Nissan Sedan 3.5 SL


By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Suppose you’re a vehicle manufacturer with a vehicle that’s been wildly successful for nearly the past two decades. When it comes time to update the vehicle, what do you change to make the vehicle better but not endanger the platform’s success? Every change requires careful attention and consideration, and often the answer is to change as little as possible. The Nissan Altima is all-new for 2013, and represents a carefully-executed update to one of Nissan’s most popular vehicles.

Our initial reaction to seeing the redesigned Altima was that it had grown – significantly. Not so, Nissan told us; the new models’ length and width have expanded by 0.8 and 1.3 inches respectively, and height has been reduced by 0.1 inch. Despite being ever so slightly larger, the new model weighs more than 100 pounds less than the outgoing 2012 Altima, making it one of the lightest midsize sedans on the market.

The new design is, to coin a phrase, Maxima-esque, seemingly bearing more resemblance to its big brother than to the outgoing model. The Altima wears the design well and looks unique and refined.

We tested the range-topping 3.5 SL, which adds upgrades such as HID headlights, LED taillights, leather throughout, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and a nine-speaker premium Bose sound system to an already generously equipped vehicle. The “3.5” indicates that power comes from Nissan’s 3.5 liter V6, good for 270 horsepower and connected to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission.

Inside the cabin, there’s quite a fair bit of hard plastic, but soft-touch materials have been included in places, and there are nice touches such as carbon-fiber-look trim. The leather used for seating surfaces is remarkably soft and supple for a car of this class, and front seats feel as if they envelop their occupant. In the rear, we find comfortable seating with decent legroom, although headroom will be uncomfortable for anyone over average height. In the way-back, the trunk is expansive, capable of swallowing an enormous amount of travel accouterments.

Controls are logical and generally easy to read, although the center information display between the speedo and tach can produce some awfully small print. Our tester included the SL Technology Package, which included navigation, radio, and bluetooth telephone control via a 7-inch color touchscreen. This system is easier to use than most, with easy access to radio presets, phone controls, and other secondary controls. The Technology Package also includes Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Warning – as always, these technologies can be helpful but can become tiresome in their beeps and chirps.

Driving the Altima is an interesting affair. No one will blame you for thinking “The Altima is a family sedan. Family sedan plus CVT equals snooze.”

Not so. Not even a little bit.

Don’t forget that 3.5 liter V6 putting out 270 horses, and a lightened body – and look at the power-to-weight ratio below. The Altima has power to spare, and Nissan included a “sport” mode to the transmission which emulates a traditional, non-variable 7-speed automatic transmission with shift points, or which can be manually shifted via paddles on the steering cabin. We were genuinely surprised by the Altima – we expected a ho-hum family sedan, and we got a sports sedan. The Altima is a blast to drive. It feels solid and planted at any speed. Suspension is firm and transmits a lot of road. Steering is low-effort, but wonderfully responsive – not disconnected. All of this, while returning a combined 25 MPG. The only point at which the Altima will start to get out of its element is in the corners, where some significant understeer characteristic of front-wheel drive will start to come into play.

On the safety front, the Altima is no slouch, coming standard with front side and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is included, and our SL Technology Package added cross traffic alert as well. Additionally, the Altima is one of a handful of cars to earn a coveted five-star safety rating from the US Government.

Ultimately, Nissan has done a fantastic job in their update to the Altima. All of the changes made are for the better, and the new Altima looks great, is fun to drive, and is a pleasure to spend time in. It’s always a pleasure to have a car defy expectations, and in the Altima, Nissan has created a much-appreciated blend of performance and everyday practicality that will be tough to beat.

2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SLM

Base Price: $21,760.00

Price as Tested: $32,135.00

Engine Type: DOHC 24-valve V6

Engine Size: 3.5 liter

Horsepower: 270

Torque (lb-ft): 258

Transmission: Nissan Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Wheelbase / Length (in): 109.3 / 191.5

Curb Weight: 3,355 lb

Pounds per HP: 12.43

Fuel Capacity (gal): 18

Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded

Tires: Dunlop SP Sport 7000 A/S; P235/45VR18

Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated Disc / Solid Disc

Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / Multi-link

Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - MPG city / highway / observed: 22 / 31 / 25

Base Trim Price: $30,080.00

Options and Charges
2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL

Technology Package: $1,090.00 (Nissan navigation system with 7” color display, Blind spot warning, Lane departure warning, Moving object detection)
Carpeted floor and trunk mats: $185.00

Delivery: $780.00

Price as tested: $32,135.00

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