Competition is steep in the midsize sedan segment, so it's no surprise that Nissan has completely overhauled the Altima for 2013. With stylish new rivals such as the Ford Fusion and Mazda6, the Altima had to modernize to keep up. Nissan claims it "changed everything but the name."
Appearance: Peter owned a third-generation Altima, and he thinks this new fifth-gen model is a big — if not a revolutionary — improvement over its bland predecessors. This Altima looks more muscular, especially in the front where the fenders bulge and the headlights have a sleek arrowhead design. Those lamps complement a wider grille that's upswept at the corners and gets broad chrome trim. That bold trim is also used to accent the trunk lid. The wheels get a sporty update, with the rubber mounted on 17-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy rims.
Performance: The Altima's standard engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 182 horsepower. A 3.5-liter V-6 is also available, but the 4-cylinder is up to the challenge of most daily driving needs and has good acceleration. Even better, the estimated mpg is 27 city and 38 on the highway (22/31 for the V-6). Nissan claims those numbers lead the class. Sadly, the only transmission is a CVT, which we're not fans of for its busy (and sometimes noisy) acceleration. This CVT contributes to the Altima's good mpg, but it still tends to be loud at high revs. New for the 2013 is the Active Understeer Control, which senses under- and oversteer and adjusts the ride by applying brakes to the inside wheels when you're turning. The result: nimble handling and a controlled ride, with a suspension that is a good balance of comfort and sportiness.
Interior: We noticed a definite upgrade in the cabin, especially with our tester's top-of-the-line SL trim. There are well-bolstered perforated leather seats — the front ones are heated, and the driver's side has eight-way adjustment with lumbar support. SL also brings lamp upgrades (Xenon headlights, LED taillights) and Bose audio system with nine speakers. We both agree that the controls are within easy reach and intuitive, but we disagree on the trim, a mix of faux aluminum, faux carbon fiber and glossy piano black. Peter thought it gave the interior an upscale feel; Lyra found it ugly and, in the case of the black surfaces, a fingerprint magnet. Our tester had the optional technology package that includes navigation system with 7-inch color display, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning and moving-object detection. We both really liked the Advanced Drive-Assist display, a 5.5-inch LCD screen between the speedometer and tach. The display shows your navigation route, vehicle details, phone-call notifications and other information. The 60/40 split fold-down rear seat gives you some cargo flexibility.
Our 3 favorites
Driver info: I like the Drive Assist display and its Altima icon.
Seats: Some of the best I've seen in this class, with sports-car-worthy support.
Ignition: Push-button start is standard.
MPG: Good numbers for a midsize sedan.
Handling: Add a little pizzazz to your commute.
Progress: I still don't like the CVT, but it's getting a bit more refined.
The bottom line: If you can get past the CVT transmission, the new Altima has a bit of an attitude, making it a fun daily driver and a serious competitor in the crowded midsize class.