Review: 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL

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The Altima.

Remember the first one? With the ridiculously … new shape? But was it really ridiculous? I do remember it being different, and not in the worst way. So maybe that exercise in styling was what it took to launch a brand-new model and catch people’s attention. Hey, whatever your take, they sold well, and have continued to do so throughout the years since then.

I spent a week with Nissan’s totally new Altima. It slots in under the top-of-the-line Maxima in their car offerings. The Altima starts at a paltry CDN $23,698. The 2.5 SL I had sits near the top – it came in at CDN $32,528 including the fantastically-priced Technology Package. The only way up from here is to spring for the 3.5-Liter model. It’s an extra 3 grand.

 

Under the Hood

Nissan’s lesser engine in the Altima isn’t so lesser after all. It’s a 2.5-Liter inline-4 cylinder. It puts out 182 HP at 5600 RPM and 180 lb.ft of torque at a reasonably low 3900 RPM. These numbers are just fine, considering it’s only towing a 3200 pound vehicle around.

The power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll already know how I feel about Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs). I’m not a big fan. But I’ve had to admit that a few I’ve driven as of late have had me coming around.

Fuel economy ratings are very good. The 2.5 Altima is rated at 7.4 L/100 km (32 mpg) in the city and 5.0 L/100 km (47 mpg!) on the highway. As always, there’s no chance you’ll ever see those numbers. I tried to drive economically for a few days – I averaged 8.7 L/100 km (27 mpg) during that time, and that’s pretty darn good. For the balance of the time, I drove normally – almost all city, couple of jaunts down the freeway and highway, mostly commuting – and averaged 9.7 L/100 km (24 mpg). That’s not bad, but it’s a far cry from the rated fuel economy.

I appreciated the 68 Liter tank, which is decent for road trips.

 

Exterior

Although Nissan kept the Altima looking familiar, there are a great number of changes here. I always thought the old Altima had a bit of a cheaper edge to it. It’s tough to explain, but it came across as a bit rent-a-car. Not so the new one.

It’s been nicely sculpted and I find the lines to be more organic and significantly more fluid on this updated model. The front end has Nissan’s new grille, fenders that bulge nicely out of the hood, nifty swept back headlight pods (that seem to be carved into the face) that remind me a bit of the Maxima’s, and integrated light/foglight clusters in the lower air dam.

The rear flanks are pronounced and become the lower parts of the trunk lid plane, blending into the swooshy rear light assemblies, which come complete with LED lights. Dual exhaust tips finish things off back there.

I like the smooth roofline, and I appreciated the touches of chrome – noticeable around the windows (especially at the back) and on the rear fascia.

The wheels, while “only” 17″ rims, are handsome and don’t look undersized. With that said, it does look hotter with the bigger rims on it.

 

Interior/Tech/Convenience

The front seat of the Altima is pretty roomy – headroom is good, and it feels spacious. The heated leather seats (the driver’s is power adjustable) are quite comfortable and were well-bolstered for this class of car.

The materials in the cabin are pretty, but not the most luxurious. They are nice to look at and have been given good visual textures, but as it turns out, you’ll have a tough time finding much in terms of soft-touch plastics. The majority of the dash and console are hard touch plastics. The fit and finish is good. The gaps between some of the interior pieces are a bit surprising, but it’s the way it’s designed, not because it’s poorly put together. It took me a while to get used to the combination of colors too – there’s some glossy stuff, some matte stuff, some weird fake carbon fiber stuff, some metallicized stuff… it’s a bit of a mish-mash, but it ends up looking alright.

The manually adjustable and heated steering wheel (with controls for cruise, media, handsfree, phone and the driver information screen) is decent, and sits in front of a set of two large gauges. They’re clear and easy to read, and are separated by Nissan’s fantastic new driver information screen. I say it’s fantastic because it provides a lot of information and the graphics and text on it are super crisp. It always shows your fuel range and outside temperature, and lets you cycle through a myriad of fuel economy, elapsed time, and average speed read-outs, as well as the vehicle settings. You can also get graphics of the driver assistance goodies, compass and other fun stuff.

The center stack starts with a medium-sized touchscreen at the top, surrounded with some hard buttons. It handles audio, navigation, phone, app and back-up camera functions. The BOSE sound system (feeding off AM, FM, satellite, CD, USB and auxiliary sources) sounds pretty good – nothing mind-blowing but above average. The screen was quite responsive to touch, but I wasn’t excited about the voice recognition’s accuracy or to be more specific, the consistency of the system. Sometimes it recognized a name immediately, other times it would take a few shots at it, and just get it wrong every time. I wish the back-up camera would offer more than distance markings – trajectory help, or audible distance alarms would be very beneficial. Below that sits an automatic dual-zone climate control system.

The center console houses the gear selector and a raised armrest.

Everything in the Altima is powered of course – windows, door locks, mirrors, trunk release, tilt/slide sunroof. The headlights are automatic. Entry is keyless, and the ignition is push-start. The keyless FOB also offers a remote starter – a convenience I appreciated during this cold snap!

There’s a ton of driver assistance tech in this car. You get a blind-spot monitoring system, moving object detection, lane departure warning, and other good stuff. I liked this tech here, because none of it seemed intrusive.

 

Rear Seats

The rear seat area offers three seats, three seatbelts and three headrests. The seats are very comfortable, although as is typical, the middle position is raised, narrow and there is a bit of a raised floor area in the middle – all of which would make it the least comfortable place to sit back there – for an adult anyway.

The previous generation of Altima suffered from a lack of headroom. Things have improved, but I wouldn’t say they’re great. I’m not tall, and my carefully-coiffed noggin was sneaking up quite close to the ceiling. Legroom however is fantastic. It’s very spacious in terms of rear passengers’ knees and feet. To give you an idea, I’ve moved the front passenger seat back as far as it goes in the picture – it still leaves plenty of legroom.

The middle seatback folds down to make a nice armrest, and has two integrated cupholders. Door bins are nothing more than bottle holders, and there are two seatback map pockets and an adjustable air vent. Nothing else. It would be nice to see a 12V plug at very least.

Our three kids were quite happy back there. Space is not an issue, and there are 2 sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats if you need them.

 

Storage

You have a nice glove compartment, and there are acceptable door bins in the front.

There’s a storage bin at the front of the center console – the lid flips up to reveal an oddly-shaped but useful space including the USB and a 12V plug.

There are two perfectly sized cupholders on the right side of the center console. At the back of the console’s flat plane is a small open bin that is perfect for standing up a smart phone. It would also work for change, etc.

The upholstered armrest lid opens to reveal a two-level bin – an organizer tray at the top, and a deeper bin underneath with another 12V plug. There are two latches, allowing you to access one or the other level – I found them to be sticky, and it always wanted to open the organizer tray compartment regardless of which latch I grabbed.

The trunk is reasonably sized, although not huge at 436 Liters (15.4 cubic feet). The rear seats do fold down in a 60/40 split, which allows you to add some cargo space if you need it. I found the trunk to be oddly shaped, with the rear wheel wells being very intrusive. I also thought the fabric rear-seat release straps felt like a cheap touch.

 

The Drive

At first, I thought the Altima’s ride was superb, and for most situations, it is. But over harsher road irregularities, it was noticeably crashy – particularly expansion joints and potholes caused it to get noisy and a bit rough. But most things are soaked up well.

I do like the car’s handling. It’s neutral. I wouldn’t call it sporty, but it is very competent and the car stays quite flat around corners. Although it’s not a heavy car, I thought it behaved more like one. It’s not a car that encourages you to throw it into curves, but it will do fine if you choose to. The electronic steering is quite vague – I’d even say it’s pretty dead, and I thought it sapped a bit of fun out of the car. I also thought the steering could be a bit more centered when it comes to highway driving – it seemed to wander a bit.

Nissan’s CVT is a good one. It’s able to be in the right ratio at almost any point in time, and somehow avoids that irritating rubber-band feeling while you’re driving. It has a Sport mode which will definitely hang on to the shorter ratios longer, and it doesn’t seem to fear staying there for a few seconds, which is great if you’re trying to have some fun. There are no paddle shifters, which is just as well, since gear ratios in a CVT are all synthetic and don’t really exist anyway. I liked that the CVT seems to take advantage of the Altima’s smaller engine’s character traits. It was always willing to fly up to higher RPMs, and although it’s not sporty, it is efficient, somewhat involving and an entirely smooth-as-liquid experience.

Noise levels in the Altima are well-controlled. I found road and drivetrain noise around town and on the highway to be quite low, and wind noise on the highway is very good. I didn’t like the mechanical whine/buzz from the transmission when the car is under load. When you step on it, you’ll definitely hear some interesting sounds from the CVT, all of which go away when you’re just driving normally.

I found the brakes to be nice and linear, and powerful when I needed them to be. Visibility out of the Altima is very good.

 

Detail

The Altima offers the Easy Fill Tire Alert feature as standard equipment. If you haven’t seen the ads, it works like this. When you need to pump up a tire, it will gently honk the horn to let you know when it’s at the right pressure. So simple. So useful! I love stuff like this.

 

Nitpicks

The seat heaters have two settings – low and high. Or as I prefer to call them “well-done kidneys” and “completely crispy kidneys”. Even on the low setting, I found the seat got way too hot. I’d rather it not get as hot, which would allow me to leave the heater on.

I will always complain about this issue – there is no grab handle inside the trunk. Since it’s winter here now, and we had a few dumps of snow while I drove the Altima, it was a perfect demonstration of why this sucks. I had to find purchase somewhere on the vertical or horizontal surfaces of the trunklid to close it – all of which were covered in muddy road grime. My hands got dirty every single time I closed the trunk. PUT A HANDLE IN THERE!!!!

I’m not sure if you can turn this “feature” off, but every single time I started the vehicle, the driver information screen said “Low Outside Temperature” and kept that on the screen. Until I changed it. So annoying! I KNOW it’s cold outside. No need to remind me every time I start up, and then keep it on the screen in case I forget.

 

The Verdict

The new Altima is a darn nice car. Although the materials leave a bit to be desired, and the suspension isn’t perfect, they are pretty close to it considering all the things you get here, and what you’re paying for them.

I give the Altima 2.5 SL a 7.5 out of 10. Although I love my horsepower, I’m not even sure I’d spring for the upgrade to the V-6. This was a great combination!

I have to say that Nissan and Infiniti have really impressed me with the CVTs they are pairing with their engines. It seems that they do well with the bigger engines, and the way a CVT works is less noticeable with a more powerful engine. Maybe that’s just me, but I barely notice that the transmission is working differently here, or in the JX35 for example. Which is quite a contrast to something like a Prius.

The Altima feels like a much more mature vehicle than its predecessor, and all the appointments inside and out take things several steps up the ladder and raise the bar. I felt the car was very well put-together, and everything felt solid and well thought-out.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was quite high. She liked how smoothly it drove, she liked the seats (including the kidney-crisper heaters) and she thought it looked “really pretty”. She also commented specifically on the ride, saying it was very comfortable.

Whenever I found myself wanting for more – more power, more luxury, more tech – I quickly reminded myself that this car is extremely well-equipped at this level, and the fact that it is less than $33,000 is actually surprising. It must also be a sobering thought to the competition, especially since the one major step that’s left (the big V-6) is only another $3000.

If you’re in the market in this crowded segment, you’d do well to give the new Altima a close look. It’s a tremendous value, and a great car.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Nissan Canada.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out more of them under my vehicle reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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