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2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima Sedan
2013 Nissan Altima Sedan Wieck

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.

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 72 pounds.

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.

A bit of reengineering has also taken place with the base engine. The 2.5-liter 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 27-mpg city rating and 38 highway, compared to 23/32 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-liter V6 remains unchanged, but it too benefits from the same CVT upgrade and is now rated at 22 mpg city/30 highway (previously 20/27).

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 S pricing begins at $23,300 (including delivery to the dealer) and includes all the standard bells and whistles plus a six-way power driver’s seat and keyless start. The SV adds dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and Bluetooth short-range wireless networking. Move up to the SL and a leather interior, heated steering wheel and a power moonroof are yours.

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.