2013 Nissan Altima

New-generation Altima sedan designed and built to take the midsize-segment lead
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Asked to name the top selling midsize cars in America, most folks will likely say: "Toyota Camry and Honda Accord." The top domestics? Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion. Top Koreans? Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. Not to forget the fast-rising German Volkswagen Passat. But few likely know that the Nissan Altima rose to number two in this cutthroat competitive class last year, beating out the Accord and everything else but Camry. Really? Yes, really.

And far from satisfied with its new number two ranking in midsize sedans, Nissan has set out to overtake Camry with this all-new 2013 Altima. Can it unseat the bland but popular redesigned 2013 Camry, while staying ahead of the all-new 2013 Accord, Malibu, Fusion, et al? Maybe so.

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Best in Class?

This 2013 Nissan Altima is a bit bigger, roomier, nimbler, quicker and more feature loaded than the strong-selling 2012 it replaces, yet it's also some 80 lbs. lighter and more fuel efficient. And while most midsize competitors have moved away from optional V6 engines in favor of turbocharged fours to ensure Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) compliance, Altima still offers the choice of a standard four-cylinder or an available V6, both driving through the industry's best Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

About the same length as the outgoing 2012, the new Nissan Altima sits on the same wheelbase but with 1.4-in.-wider tracks and 0.8-in.-deeper fenders to accommodate larger wheels and tires, all of which improve its agility and give it a strong, athletic stance. Its windshield is "faster" and its A-pillars are a bit more angled, its rear roofline pours gracefully into a taller rear deck, its large taillights flow smoothly into its bodysides, and its drag coefficient (Cd) is a slick 0.299.

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Comfortable, "Class-Above" Interior

The nicely appointed interior of the 2013 Nissan Altima complements that handsome "class-above" look and offers a plethora of new features, some class-exclusive. It's finely crafted with plenty of soft-touch materials, but its prime attraction is a pair of NASA-inspired "zero gravity" front bucket seats, which Nissan says approach the relaxed "neutral posture" that the human body assumes in a weightless environment. We can't test them in space, but we do appreciate the research, development and attention to detail that have gone into making them as fatigue-reducing as possible by lessening muscular and spinal loads and improving blood flow. Cloth seats and piano-black trim with chrome accents are standard, leather and metallic or faux wood are available, the former with a charcoal interior, the latter with blond.

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Engines and Transmission

Nissan is running counter-trend by continuing to offer a V6 as the 2013 Altima's "up" engine. The standard 182-hp 2.5-liter four is redesigned for lighter weight and higher efficiency, while the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 is also improved to reduce its fuel consumption. Both power the Altima's front wheels through the only gearbox offered, Nissan's next-generation Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which has a wider ratio spread, improved control logic and 40 percent lower friction than the one it replaces.

Not everyone loves a CVT, which lets the engine rev ahead of vehicle speed during strong acceleration, but Nissan says that this one accounts for 15 percent of the new 4-cylinder's efficiency improvement and 10 percent of the V6's gain over their 2012 counterparts, and it comes with manual steering wheel shift paddles that can simulate fixed-ratios on uplevel models. It helps the four deliver 27 mpg city and 38 mpg highway EPA ratings, the latter rating best-in-class for a gasoline engine, and the V6 a still-impressive 22 city, 30 highway.

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Features and Options

The base 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 offers a 6-way manual driver's seat, a 4-way front passenger seat, a 60/40 split folding rear bench, power steering, brakes, locks and windows, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with touch controls, remote keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, NissanConnect Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and an excellent 4.0-in. color customizable Advanced Driver Assist display. Altima 2.5 and (V6) 3.5 S and SV add progressively more features leading up to top-of-the-line SL models with leather, premium trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, BOSE Premium Audio, heated front seats, steering wheel and outside mirrors and more, plus 18-in. wheels and tires on V6-powered (3.5) models.

There are three option packages available, plus two stand-alone options: remote start and a rear spoiler. A Convenience Package and a Navigation package are available on Nissan Altima SV models, and a Technology Package on SL models. On SVs and SLs, NissanConnect comes with a 5.0-in. color audio display, Hands-Free Messaging Assistant (it lets you listen to incoming texts and verbally respond with stock replies), Sirius XM Radio and Pandora. With Navigation, it gets a 7.0-in. touch screen with voice recognition, split-screen display and 3D-effect map views.

Unlike most, the 2013 Altima's tire pressure monitoring system provides individual tire pressures, and its class-exclusive Easy Fill Tire Alert system flashes the hazard lamps to tell you it's working when adding air to any tire, then beeps the horn to let you know when you've reached the correct pressure. Another great feature is a unique multi-function rear-view camera, part of that available Technology Package, which provides Blind Spot Warning (BSW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Moving Object Detection (MOD), the latter two firsts in this segment, in addition to the usual view out back when reversing.

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2013 Nissan Altima Driving Impressions

Thanks largely to its new multi-link rear suspension and the much-improved CVT, this is the finest-driving Nissan Altima yet. Around town, on freeways and on twisty back roads, it feels tight and nimble-its engineers dynamically benchmarked the size-smaller BMW 3, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class-yet comfortable and quiet on all but the nastiest surfaces. Much appreciated were the electro-hydraulic power steering, more precise than typical electric boost yet more energy efficient than pure hydraulic, and Active Understeer Control, which brakes the inside front wheel slightly to help get you around a curve you may have entered a bit too fast.

The 3.5-liter V6 is strong, but the upgraded 2.5-liter four is more than adequate (Nissan says it will accelerate from rest to 60 mph in 7.1-seconds), at least with light loads on fairly level roads. That unique multi-talented rear camera performed all four of its jobs well, and the NASA-inspired seats proved as fatigue-reducing as claimed in a long day of driving.

If the previous-generation Altima can beat out Honda's Accord and a host of other excellent entries to rise to second best-selling midsize sedan behind only the Toyota Camry, we don't see why this all-new, all-ways-better 2013 Nissan Altima can't complete the job by taking over leadership in its class. We'll see in time, but it's definitely worth a serious look. www.nissanusa.com

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