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Drew Dowdell

Quick Drive: 2013 Nissan Altima SL

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Is there a more hotly contested automotive segment than the mid-size family sedan market? Every year it seems there is a new darling in this slot and after this year’s media dominance by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, Nissan has released its answer to the duo from Korea. Nissan knows that gas prices are foremost on American’s minds these days and with weight being the biggest enemy of fuel economy, responded by dropping the weight on the already light-weight Altima by 80 lbs. while increasing interior space in nearly every dimension. This, combined with some aggressively frugal “gear” ratios in the Altima’s CVT transmission and the addition of direct injection to the 4-cylinder allows for an impressive 38mpg highway and 27 mpg city. They achieved this number without resorting to hybrid technology or turbo chargers. This leads me to believe there is more fuel economy to found in this platform is Nissan decides to start including any or all of those technologies in the Altima.

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During the IMPA test days, I drove a 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL. Inside, the Altima has a simple yet handsome interior that feels light and airy even in the charcoal color I sampled. The front seats are excellent and would feel at home in a sports luxury car. The instrument panel gauges have an attractive 3D depth to them and look like an expensive watch; pictures don’t do justice here. Unfortunately, Nissan equipped the Altima with a poorly located foot activated parking brake that I kept catching my sneaker on. The Altima is still a car with a low entry price point, so much of the dash and door panels are made up of hard plastic, but Nissan disguises it well and a few of the controls are in an odd location just above the driver’s left knee, but otherwise the layout is simple and straight forward. Nissan just took over the NYC Taxi cab market with their NV200 but the Altima’s rear seat room felt so huge and the trunk is even larger, that they could aim for the Town Car market with this car as well.

In normal city driving, the CVT keeps the 2.5 liter 4-cylinder low in the RPM band, ostensibly for fuel economy reasons, but the other hidden reason for this is that the 2.5 gets rather unrefined the higher it climbs in RPM. This isn’t my first run-in with Nissan 4-cylinders making quite a racket, and I suspect the reason Nissan has gotten away with a rather unrefined 4-cylinder for so long is due to their excellent CVT transmissions keeping the engine calm.

Over the road, you can feel the lightness of the platform in the corners. Cornering is sharp, but the car feels slightly nose heavy. Noise isolation was another sore spot for me with excess tire and engine noise intruding into the cabin.

Nissan’s 2013 Altima has all of the basics down to take on the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima as well as the Accord and Camry, but some work to refine the engine and additional power train choices would make it a stronger contender in this competitive market.

The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

Year: 2013

Make: Nissan

Model: Altima

Trim: 2.5 SL

Engine: 2.5 Liter 4-cylinder with Direct Injection

Driveline: Front wheel drive, Constantly-Variable Transmission

Horsepower @ RPM: 182 @ 6000 RPM

Torque @ RPM: 180 @ 4000 RPM

Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 27/38

Location of Manufacture: Smyrna & Decherd, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi

Base Price: $21,500

Est. As Tested Price: $29,920

Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears


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Sorry but at only 15.4 cu. ft. the trunk is no where near Town Car big and there is an additional power train choice in the 270 HP 3.5 V6 which achieves 22/31 MPG for this car which a 4 MPG improvement on the highway figure.

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38 - 31 = 7mpg.

NYC Towncars rarely use every last cubic foot of their trunk space. The Altima's trunk space while smaller is flat floor, square sides and large opening, perfect for big square luggage. My implication was that the trunk in the Altima and the back seats were plenty big to pull off executive airport run duty. I was not implying they were the same size.

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Looking at the pictures you posted, it would seem it would make a solid commuter car or as you pointed out Olds a good Airport Run Exec car.

Over all I get this bland simplistic look when I look at the interior photo's.

I would pass on this as I do on anything Asian made due to being too small for me. I know you cannot get 4 6'6" tall adults in this car.

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Looking at the pictures you posted, it would seem it would make a solid commuter car or as you pointed out Olds a good Airport Run Exec car.

Over all I get this bland simplistic look when I look at the interior photo's.

I would pass on this as I do on anything Asian made due to being too small for me. I know you cannot get 4 6'6" tall adults in this car.

The interior is much nicer in person than in photos, there are small details that I just can't capture.... it does feel slightly more upscale than your regular mid-sizer.

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The interior is pretty decent, quite a bit better than the previous generation which was almost like an uplevel Pontiac G6.

The handling was good for its class.. Low weight helped make it funner than I expected.

Still not used to the acceleration from stop of of CVT.

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Trying to think if the cube's 1.8L four made quite the racket when I had it for the week..

Really want to get a Altima in for a evaluation, since its one of the vehicles my dad is considering

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Sorry but at only 15.4 cu. ft. the trunk is no where near Town Car big and there is an additional power train choice in the 270 HP 3.5 V6 which achieves 22/31 MPG for this car which a 4 MPG improvement on the highway figure.

38 - 31 = 7mpg.

NYC Towncars rarely use every last cubic foot of their trunk space. The Altima's trunk space while smaller is flat floor, square sides and large opening, perfect for big square luggage. My implication was that the trunk in the Altima and the back seats were plenty big to pull off executive airport run duty. I was not implying they were the same size.

I just realized what you were replying to when quoting the 3.5 V6. Yes, that is true they have the 3.5, but they still don't have as many engine choices as the main competition. In the Sonata and Optima, there are a range of 4-cylinder engines with or without direct injection, with or without turbos, with or without hybrids. In the Camry, there is the base 4, the hybrid, and the V6. The Fusion... I'm not even sure anymore, but they have a bunch. The Altima is limited to one 4-cylinder, one V6, one transmission.

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I just realized what you were replying to when quoting the 3.5 V6. Yes, that is true they have the 3.5, but they still don't have as many engine choices as the main competition. In the Sonata and Optima, there are a range of 4-cylinder engines with or without direct injection, with or without turbos, with or without hybrids. In the Camry, there is the base 4, the hybrid, and the V6. The Fusion... I'm not even sure anymore, but they have a bunch. The Altima is limited to one 4-cylinder, one V6, one transmission.

Fusion engine lineup as follows (all of them fours):

  • 2.5L - 175 HP, 175 lb-ft
  • 1.6L EcoBoost - 178 HP, 184 lb-ft
  • 2.0L EcoBoost - 240 HP, 270 lb-ft

All come with automatics, 1.6L is the only one with a six-speed manual.

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I just realized what you were replying to when quoting the 3.5 V6. Yes, that is true they have the 3.5, but they still don't have as many engine choices as the main competition. In the Sonata and Optima, there are a range of 4-cylinder engines with or without direct injection, with or without turbos, with or without hybrids. In the Camry, there is the base 4, the hybrid, and the V6. The Fusion... I'm not even sure anymore, but they have a bunch. The Altima is limited to one 4-cylinder, one V6, one transmission.

Fusion engine lineup as follows (all of them fours):

  • 2.5L - 175 HP, 175 lb-ft
  • 1.6L EcoBoost - 178 HP, 184 lb-ft
  • 2.0L EcoBoost - 240 HP, 270 lb-ft

All come with automatics, 1.6L is the only one with a six-speed manual.

+ Hybrid

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i wanted to get around to stroking someone to test this today, but really i cannot get amped over this car. It looks like Altima 3.0. I like the new mpg. But overall it looks on the surface to be sedate.

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I test drove one a few months back and was really impressed by it. It's definitely not my sort of car--it's too big, bland, and mainstream--but its practicality, efficiency, and functionality are undeniable. It's the sort of car I'd recommend to my parents.

The CVT does an excellent job keeping the revs low around town. The seats are heavenly. It's got a ton of space, apart from rear headroom.

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I just realized what you were replying to when quoting the 3.5 V6. Yes, that is true they have the 3.5, but they still don't have as many engine choices as the main competition. In the Sonata and Optima, there are a range of 4-cylinder engines with or without direct injection, with or without turbos, with or without hybrids. In the Camry, there is the base 4, the hybrid, and the V6. The Fusion... I'm not even sure anymore, but they have a bunch. The Altima is limited to one 4-cylinder, one V6, one transmission.

Fusion engine lineup as follows (all of them fours):

  • 2.5L - 175 HP, 175 lb-ft
  • 1.6L EcoBoost - 178 HP, 184 lb-ft
  • 2.0L EcoBoost - 240 HP, 270 lb-ft

All come with automatics, 1.6L is the only one with a six-speed manual.

+ Hybrid

Plus unlike most asian or euro engines, Fords at least have Torque equal to the HP or greater to make the auto's move.

I personally think the American Auto Industry is going into another golden age of excellent Engineering. Just need to make sure Marketing gets the message out. :D

I test drove one a few months back and was really impressed by it. It's definitely not my sort of car--it's too big, bland, and mainstream--but its practicality, efficiency, and functionality are undeniable. It's the sort of car I'd recommend to my parents.

The CVT does an excellent job keeping the revs low around town. The seats are heavenly. It's got a ton of space, apart from rear headroom.

Deal killer for me and my family, if you cannot get at least 4 6'6" tall people in the car comfy, it will not fly.

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