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2013 Nissan Altima
Whoa, this is nice!

The Altima reset the bar for the family car back in 2002. Look what a decade has done.

By Malcolm Gunn

First impressions are often lasting ones, and for new-car buyers they can also make the difference between closing the deal right then and there or searching elsewhere. Where the 2013 Nissan Altima is concerned, most shoppers' reactions will be, "whoa!"

The outgoing Altima that has been around since the 2007 model year was certainly no mutt, but the new car really shows that its best-before date has come and gone. The mid-size sedan presents a graceful face, with a grille and headlight pods that almost appear to melt into the stylish fenders. The windshield pillars have a bit more rake to them to help reduce aerodynamic drag.

At the opposite end, the knife-edge-style taillights neatly encircle the fenders and the trunk lid's spoiler is integrated as part of the sheetmetal. Viewed in profile, the Altima doesn't appear significantly changed, but the fancier chrome door handles and similarly coated trim pieces throughout attest to the car's more glamorous presence.

2013 Nissan Altima.Beyond the Altima's new skin, most of the basic length/width/height dimensions vary only slightly from the previous car with the notable exception of a wider front and rear track (the distance between the left and right wheels). Even so, Nissan has reduced overall weight by about 33 kilograms.

The interior offers about the same passenger and trunk volume as before, but a concerted effort was undertaken replace or recover hard-plastic surfaces with soft-touch materials. Nissan also claims to have taken a page from NASA - yes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - in developing new "zero gravity" front-seats that, in the company's words "reduce pressure on the spine and improve blood flow, thereby reducing driver fatigue."

Another area of focus was noise reduction, achieved by adding more sound-absorbing materials around the instrument panel, floor and roof areas and reengineering the engine mounts.

2013 Nissan Altima interior.A bit of reengineering has also taken place with the base engine. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder's output has notched up to 182 horsepower from the previous 175 due to a new valvetrain. An all-new continuously variable transmission (CVT) offers fewer moving parts (reducing friction) and electronic-control improvements so that it more closely mimics a traditional multi-speed automatic. The results are impressive, with Nissan claiming a 7.4-l/100-km city rating and 5.0 highway, compared to 8.7/6.0 for the previous Altima. Those numbers also beat current four-cylinder versions of the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and Honda Accord.

The Altima's optional 270-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 remains unchanged, but it too benefits from the same CVT upgrade and is now rated at 9.3 city/6.4 highway (previously 10.4/7.3).

On the road, the Altima uses Active Understeer Control. During turning, light braking is applied to the inside wheel to counteract the natural tendency for the car to continue in straight line.

Also assisting is Nissan's Easy Fill Tire Alert that was initially installed in the Quest minivan. Instead of putting in some air and then checking with a gauge (and repeating until the pressure is right) the horn will sound when the correct amount of inflation has been reached.

Finally, the Altima's headlights will automatically turn on after the wipers have completed four cycles, which helps other drivers see you during downpour conditions.

Base Nissan 2.5 pricing begins at $25,300 (including delivery to the dealer) and includes all the usual bells and whistles.

From that point, S, SV and SL models pile on the the content, but can add more than $9,000 to the base price with luxuries such as heated front seats leather interior, heated steering wheel and a power moonroof.

The Altima's impressively restyled sheetmetal and interior appointments, matched with seriously improved fuel economy, serve notice that this Nissan has what it takes get your attention. "Whoa," indeed.

What you should know: 2013 Nissan Altima

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan

Engines (hp): 2.5-litre DOHC I4 (182); 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (270)

Transmission: Continuously variable (CVT)

Market position: Mid-size sedans are the backbone of the auto industry. As such, the segment is also one of the most competitive. The Altima reset the bar 10 years ago and the same kind of innovation returns for 2013.

Points: Standout redesign gives Altima a unique look; Base four-cylinder has league-leading fuel economy; V6 no slouch either; New CVT transmission should cut noise and excessive engine revving; Understeer-reducing tech should be standard safety on all FWD cars; Wide assortment of options can bring Altima to near-luxury-car status.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 7.4/5.0 (2.5)

Base price (incl. destination): $25,300


Toyota Camry
Base price: $25,200Newly redesigned with optional V6 and much improved hybrid drivetrain.

Volkswagen Passat
Base price: $25,500Built-for-North America sedan has plenty of cabin room; turbo-diesel choice.

Ford Fusion
Base price: $22,500 (est.)All-new 2013 edition has lots of I4 choices, plus plug-in hybrid model.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted Aug.11, 2012. © TM


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