It ain't fancy, but it's foolproof.
The Altima we drove was equipped with navigation, which comes as part of a $590 package that includes a seven-inch touchscreen, plus Pandora connectivity with a Pandora-equipped smartphone. That's a lot of equipment for little money as far as built-in nav systems go. We wish the screen had a bit higher resolution, since street names weren't always easy to see, but prompts were accurate and on time.
This one gets a cool trick in addition to a low price. Like many infotainment setups on the market today, NissanConnect uses your phone to search Google for places of interest (POIs), but it doesn't use your phone's data plan. Instead, it uses Bluetooth to call a phone number in Seattle, using your plan's voice minutes to transfer data just like an old-fashioned dialup modem. The upside of this is that you don't need a data plan to search Google from your car. The downside is that functionality is fairly basic, but it's enough for on-the-go searches.
We typed in the very generic-sounding name of our favorite coffee shop without any qualifiers, and NissanConnect had no trouble finding it. Ditto with any number of locations, from hotels to grocery stores. Every time, our phone would make a brief call to a number with a 206 area code, process data for a few seconds, and eventually show us a place name and estimated distance. Unfortunately, voice recognition doesn't work with NissanConnect.
There are a few other features in addition to POI search. First is a "send to car" option for Google Maps, which is only possible from a computer's browser after you've registered your NissanConnect account. We wish it were possible to send a destination from a smartphone, but it's not. That's not Nissan's fault, though. Also not Nissan's fault: text-message-to-speech functionality doesn't work with an iPhone.
A much appreciated facelift
Inside and out, the Altima is completely redesigned. The exterior is more sensual than the outgoing car, with arched fenders, front "shoulders" and rear "haunches" instead of the slab-sides of the 2012 model. The greenhouse (all the windows on the side of the car) is trimmed with chrome accents, which give the car a slightly more upscale feel. Thankfully, Nissan's ditched the prior model's clear taillamps, a faddish, expired style statement that cheapened the Altima's overall look.
Open the door and you'll see an interior that's been both decluttered and spruced up. Gone are the bulbous round air vents, but also gone are the vast expanses of plastic on the passenger side of the dashboard. Accents are tasteful, and buttons are easy to see and click.
We're especially thankful that Nissan put physical control buttons around the touchscreen, including knobs for volume, tuning, and climate control in addition to dedicated navigation controls. Radio controls are redundant on the steering wheel and touchscreen, should you so prefer. A screen in the center stack shows fuel economy, maintenance, or infotainment data depending on which tab you choose.
A note of interest: Nissan claims the seats in the new Altima are "zero-gravity," and inspired by NASA. Regardless of adjustment, the front seats are angled as if you're leaning back in your chair ever so slightly, just like your elementary school teachers told you not to do. We found the car extremely comfortable after a six-hour road trip, though we'd opt for leather over the oddly plush upholstery that easily attracts hair, dust, and pet fur. The rear seats weren't as comfortable.
Adds a little excitement to the everyday
Among the many sedans in its class — Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6 — the Altima is among the more nimble when it comes to handling. Equipped with a 3.5 liter V6, as our tester was, it was also quite sprightly. We did wish, however, for a slightly more absorbent suspension, as pavement imperfections could occasionally unsettle the Altima. It's a tough line to straddle, though, as many family midsizers instead opt for a smooth-as-glass ride that offers little driver feedback.
The Altima only offers a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is designed to help fuel economy. Even with the thirstier V6, we saw mpg numbers in the low 30s on the highway and low 20s around town. In the case of the car we drove, the CVT also allowed for smooth acceleration—not always a hallmark of earlier, less sophisticated CVTs. Our only complaint: we found coasting down to slower speeds difficult. At the slightest hint of traffic, slowing down was only accomplished through active use of the brake pedal.
A competitive choice in a crowded segment
There are a lot of midsize family sedans out there, and most of them are household names. That's why Nissan had to make an impression with the 2013 Altima. With affordable, simple technology, an attractive new design, and an engaging driving experience, the Altima isn't a bad choice for those looking for a four-door that's better than the basics.
There are seven trim levels of the Altima, ranging from a basic, four-cylinder 2.5 that starts at $21,760 (MSRP), to a six-cylinder 3.5 SL that's loaded with all available features. In order to get Navigation, which is a $590 option that includes NissanConnect, you need to get at least an SV model.
The majority of Altimas sold will feature a 182-hp, 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine. A few will have the 270-hp, 3.5 liter V6. All Altimas come with the same CVT.
The 2013 Altima is an IIHS Top Safety Pick +, with top "Good" scores for side and frontal impact. The Altima gets the second-highest "Acceptable" score for the new "small overlap" test, which mimics a crash that impacts only the front corner of the vehicle. NHTSA gives the Altima the top score of five stars all around, with the exception of rollover prevention, which gets four stars.
With the four-cylinder engine, the Altima is rated at 27 mpg city/38 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 31.
We drove the V6, which the EPA rates at 22 city/31 highway, 25 combined. We saw numbers in line with those in our real-world tests.
Meet the tester
Former Editor in Chief, Reviewed Home@itskeithbarry
Keith was the Editor in Chief of Reviewed's appliance and automotive sites. His work has appeared in publications such as Wired, Car & Driver, and CityLab.
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