What’s the most important quality of a mid-size sedan: a distinct personality to call its own, or the ability to please most of the people, most of the time? From a sales perspective, the latter design spec more often than not takes precedence over the former when dealing with family buyers looking to maximize value from an affordable car.
The realization that the Altima was a serious contender for North American market domination was cemented in recent years for Nissan when the car began to trail only the vaunted Toyota Camry in terms of overall units moved. The 2013 Nissan Altima, which has been completely redesigned, can be thought of as a reaction to that towering precipice of success that the humble sedan has suddenly found itself balancing on, an all-new model that apes its class-leading competitor's willingness to trade an engaging driving experience for a well-rounded performance where it counts most.
Spacious and Comfy
The 2013 Nissan Altima's styling doesn't differ dramatically from the previous generation of the car, providing an evolutionary take on the Altima's relatively sleek curves. Inside the car there is ample space for both front and rear passengers, and the 3.5 SL model we sampled during our week-long test drive featured supportive leather seats (heated in the first two positions) as well as a raft of standard equipment. We were more than pleased with the Altima's navigation and infotainment system, as its touchscreen interface and voice command capability are amongst the best in the business. We were less impressed with the uninspired design of some of the vehicle's switches, buttons, and gauges, and flat-out puzzled by the utility of the digital representation of the sedan displayed on the small LCD screen mounted directly in front of the driver. Although we could toggle through different colours for the tiny car's paint job, it did not seem to serve any practical purpose.
These complaints indicate the high expectations we had for the all-new Altima, and should not be confused with actual criticisms of the car's functionality. There's nothing wrong with the Nissan's interior - indeed, it's a comfortable place to spend some time, and it comes with a gargantuan trunk - but it almost feels as though the brand has lost some of its uniqueness in order to please a wider range of family shoppers.
Drives Bigger Than Its Spec Sheet
This identity shift becomes more apparent from behind the wheels of the 2013 Nissan Altima. The sedan is one of, if not the lightest in the business when ordered in four-cylinder trim, and even our V6 test vehicle checks in at a svelte 1524 kilograms. From a handling perspective, however, the car comes across as much bulkier, imparting the feeling that one is piloting a full-size automobile rather than an actual mid-size model. The suspension is tuned for comfort instead of cornering prowess, and while the Altima does an excellent job of insulating occupants from rough roads it doesn't offer the same fun-to-drive experience that is part-and-parcel of what is found in many other Nissan models.
The Nissan Altima's drivetrain manages to rise above the sedan's staid dynamics and provide more than adequate grunt across the board. The Altima's 3.5-litre six-cylinder engine churns our 270 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque, managed by a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Rather than frustrate with unusual power delivery, the CVT found in the Altima does an excellent job of keeping the car's motor at exactly the right RPM for any given driving situation. Virtual gear ratios are programmed into the unit, and can be accessed via steering wheel-mounted paddles, but there's really no need to second-guess one of the best affordable CVTs around. The upshot of the Xtronic transmission found in the Altima is impressive fuel economy, as the car comes with a highway rating of 6.4 l/100 km.
Are We Wrong To Expect More?
The 2013 Nissan Altima does exactly what it is advertised to do: provide comfortable transportation for up to five adults while also delivering excellent efficiency figures and a raft of available safety and other features. So why did we walk away from our time with the Altima feeling as though the re-design of the sedan had lost something compared to older versions? As near as we can figure it, the goal of beating the Toyota Camry at its own game comes with some collateral damage of its own - namely, the decision to build a car that doesn't prioritize focused handling and performance over the 'one-size-fits-all' philosophy that has been so successful for its rival. We are certain that Nissan will sell many, many Altimas. We are just a bit melancholy at the cost of achieving such success.