Christopher Little

Under the Radar: 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL

To my knowledge, nobody has ever been excited at the sight of a Nissan Altima.  In fact, I never took notice of all the Altimas around me until I drove one.  Suddenly I found myself surrounded.  It turns out that the Nissan Altima is the second best-selling sedan in the country, behind the Toyota Camry.  After spending the week behind the wheel of the Altima 3.5SL, I can see why it’s so popular, but also why it flies under the radar.

Nissan Altima 1

The 3.5 SL we drove sits at the top of the model range with a 270hp V6.  My primary concern with the V6 was that it shared the same CVT as the 182hp four-cylinder models.  However, the Nissan’s latest CVT displayed no cause for concern.  The V6 powered Altima comes equipped with a Sport mode and column-mounted paddle shifters for manual shifting.  In manual mode, it does a decent impersonation of a 7-speed gearbox.  In Sport, it’ll even hold “gears” longer, and downshift early under braking as if it was preparing to accelerate out of a corner.  It adds a spark of enthusiasm to an engine that is more than capable.  It doesn’t feel it, but the Altima is quick on its feet.  In a straight line, it reaches 60mph in just under 6 seconds.  There’s enough torque on tap to feel a twitch of torque steer in the wheel, but it’s never unruly.

The Altima is deceptively speedy because of how comfortable and quiet the cabin is.  Don’t mistake those adjectives to be synonymous with disconnected.  Driving feel is solid, with good feedback in the wheel and spring rates that never let the car float away.  As long as the engine stays below 2,000RPMs, which it does most of the time if the CVT is left alone, there is just enough engine noise to remind you that the car is moving.  Wind noise is very limited thanks to the Altima’s new aerodynamic shape.  Inside, Nissan’s new “zero gravity” seats live up to their name.  They’re supremely comfortable to sit in for long periods of time, especially after blasting around in something a bit firmer.  Overall, the interior is very well put-together.  Soft touch plastics, metallic trim, and leather seats all make the Altima feel much more expensive than its sticker price leads you to believe.  The leather-wrapped (and vaguely uterine shaped) steering wheel is the perfect diameter and manages to be one of the few setups that doesn’t obscure the cluster display when comfortably positioned.

Nissan Altima 7

Our Altima came equipped with the optional Technology Package, which included a 7″ touchscreen navigation display.  The screen is sharp and easy to read in bright sunlight.  It also responds very well to touch inputs, something that can’t be said for all infotainment touchscreens.  The system accepts just about every form of input, from a simple audio jack to Bluetooth audio connectivity.  It’ll even read and responsed to text messages, a feature that is becoming increasingly popular.  Unfortunately the navigation system won’t allow for street addresses to be entered while the car is moving, a “safety” feature that just forces the driver to use a mobile device.  Three other actual safety features included with the Technology Package are blind spot warning, lane departure warning, and moving object detection.  Small icons in the driver’s display remind you that they’re activated and a button on left of the steering wheel serves to fully deactivate them if desired.  They work just as well as other systems we’ve tested.

Overall, it’s hard to find much of anything wrong with the Nissan Altima.  It’s very civilized yet you can drive it spiritedly without penalty.  We averaged 25.9MPG combined, which is slightly above its rating.  It also feels more comfortable and well-put together than most $32k vehicles we’ve sat in.  You get a lot of car for that money, as the SL trim includes heated leather seats, 17″ wheels, and xenon headlights.  Plus, with the Technology Package, you get a sedan with nearly as much technology as a $64k Lexus GS350.  In reality, the biggest disappointment came from the 9 speaker Bose sound system.  No amount of tweaking to the balance, fade, and levels could bring a fullness to the audio.  I’m no acoustic expert so I won’t try to explain it further, but it certainly doesn’t sound like an upgraded unit.

Nissan Altima 2

Nobody talks about the second-best anything, and that’s really the only problem the second best-selling midsize sedan has.  The 2013 Altima seems built to change that.  It’s smart looking, affordable, and meets a wide array of needs.  Over the course of a week, the Nissan Altima drew attention from a wide demographic of buyers.  Younger drivers saw it as an affordable alternative in the sedan market, with a balance of sport and practicality.  However, I also had an older gentlemen inquire about a new Altima as a replacement to his aging Chevy Malibu.  To each their own and for each, it seems, there is an Altima.  Perhaps that’s why there’s so many of them.  So next time you’re on the road, look around and take note of the 2013 Nissan Altima.

Nissan Altima 3.5 SL $30,080
   Technology Package $1,090
   Carpeted Floor & Trunk Mats $185
   Destination Charges $780
As Tested MSRP $32,135

-Christopher Little

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