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2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Test Drive By Henny Hemmes

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2013 Missan Altima

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

THE HAGUE, February 4, 2013. During my recent trip to California, I wanted to drive several new cars that are not available in Europe. As a newly appointed juror for the World Car Awards, I wanted to be able to also cast my vote each on each one of them, especially the models that I believed would have a fair chance to be nominated for the World Car or the Year. First up was the 2013 Scion FS-R and next came the 2013 Nissan Altima.

In 1992 Nissan started building the first generation Altima in Smyrna, Tennessee and later also in Canton, Mississippi. After the new generation was specifically designated as a midsize sedan in 2002, it evolved into one of the top-selling vehicles in the segment.

In 2011, it ranked as the second best-selling car in the U.S., while last year, Nissan reached a milestone with the production of 4.4 million Altima’s.

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Since the market launch of the 2013 model, the Altima has won several awards, including the five-star safety rating of the NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration New Car Assessment Program. This past December, the Altima also became a ‘Top Safety Pick’ of IIHS.

The standard safety features help Altima earn its rating; they include Nissan’s Advanced Air Bag System and Tire Pressure Monitoring System with Easy Fill Tire Alert. The latter audibly warns the driver when the recommended tire pressure has been reached. Altima also offers a multifunction rearview camera, moving object detection, blind spot warning and lane departure warning, safety features that were up till now exclusive for models in higher segments.

The Altima’s design does not make you speechless, but I like the clean lines and the bold nose with the chrome rimmed grille that follows the curves of the headlamps. I am not the only one, as several people positively commented when I parked in front of the hotel and near the mall.

When I get behind the wheel, I feel instantly at home. There is ample space and the Altima easily seats three people in the back. The cabin looks and feels very nice, with soft-touch materials and NASA-inspired front seats. The latter means that Nissan developed them with research data from NASA as a starting point and calls them ‘zero gravity’ seats. That is a different way to say that the seats offer varying levels of support in several regions, so that the occupant’s spine is in a natural position in order to reduce fatigue.

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A look at the dashboard offers a virtual 3-D instrument panel with white numbers and white needles. I like it, and many drivers who are past the age of 40 would need them that way, since red, amber and blue are hard to see with eyes that need reading glasses.

There is one ‘con’ with respect to the ergonomics: the 7-inch color touch-screen of the navigation system is placed too low in the dashboard. It should be as high as possible, in this case where the air vents are, so that you do not have to take your gaze all the way down if you need to look at the monitor.

Nissan provided me with the 3.5 SL, understandable, since most competitors do not offer 6-cylinder engines in this segment anymore and the 4-cylinder model has been already been tested by several Auto Channel colleagues.

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Nissan’s 3.5-liter V-6 is basically the VQ35, that has been on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list from 2002 through 2007. The current VQ35DE is the improved version and has a higher rev limit and 10 percent better fuel efficiency than the former variant.

I happen to be very familiar with this power plant, since the original VQ35 is under the hood of my 2008 Nissan 350Z.

In the Altima, it has 274 hp, less indeed than in the sports car, but it provides more than enough throttle response to meet the needs of enthusiast drivers. Admitted, the six-cylinder adds more weight in the front of the Altima, but that does not mean the nose reacts vividly on steering commands. The electronic-hydraulic power steering is engaging and there is enough feel with the road.

Just like the base 4-cylinder, the 270 hp strong V-6 is teamed to a new Xtronic CVT transmission, that can be manually operated by the paddles on the steering wheel. I realize that some people may not like the continuous variable transmission, because of a difference engine rhythm, but the combination with the V-6 offers instant reaction and power. With 251 lb-ft of torque, the Altima is fast in any circumstance and when cruising the CVT spools to a high ratio for relaxed driving.

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The new multilink rear suspension provides enough lateral rigidity for excellent stability in the straight line. The Altima feels safe and nimble and comfortable on bad roads. The car responds well to steering input, but when you really push it into fast bends, the front opens wide - we call it understeer. If it is really enter too fast, lifting off is the preferred reaction, but there is also Active Understeer Control to help you stay out of trouble. In that case the inside front wheel brakes slightly to get the car heading into the desired direction.

The test car stood on 18-inch wheels with 235/45 rubber, which adds to the already attractive looks. I really enjoyed the days that I drove the Altima. It offers a nice, comfortable and roomy interior. The car weighs 3,355 lbs, some 80 pounds less than its predecessor, which helps to reduce fuel consumption. For the V-6 the numbers say 22/31 city/highway. When I filled up the tank, I had used an average of 28.0 mpg. Not bad, given the fact that my right foot is pretty heavy!

Summarizing, the 2013 Altima 3.5 SL is an engaging, competent and practical family sedan with impressive safety features and a broad standard equipment including a power sliding glass moon roof and the Intelligent Key with remote engine start system. Its MSRP of the Altima 3.5 LS starts at $ 30,560. The 3.5 S starts at $ 25,760 and the 2.5 4-cylinder is available from $ 21,760.