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Tue., Jan. 8, 2013, 3:44 p.m.

2013 Nissan Altima Review

The most innovative version yet, the fifth-generation 2013 Nissan Altima builds on its strong reputation for quality and reliability and adds new levels of innovation, fuel-efficiency, dynamic performance and premium style. (Nissan )
The most innovative version yet, the fifth-generation 2013 Nissan Altima builds on its strong reputation for quality and reliability and adds new levels of innovation, fuel-efficiency, dynamic performance and premium style. (Nissan )

Nobody likes to be called boring, and let’s face it; most family vehicles are about as fun as drinking with Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.  A push is emerging among car makers to try and breathe some chutzpah into their family haulers.  The 2013 Nissan Altima is no exception, and as the best-selling model in Nissan’s lineup the pressure is on. 

The 2013 Nissan Altima has a fully redesigned interior and exterior styling aimed at moving its image upmarket while leaving the starting MSRP at $21,760.  Even without your glasses on the new Altima bears a striking resemblance to the Infiniti M37, which starts at $48,760. 

Upper class image at a lower price point goes a long way in the car biz.  But I’ve already noticed a snarky air in critiques of the Altima, both in blogs and on comment boards questioning whether it’s redesign is only meant to conceal its boring underpinnings. 

After spending a week with the 2013 Altima sedan the car guy in me could entertain that notion.  The realist in me says Internet haters are inherently evil and their judgment is clouded by a thick layer of acne on their brains. 

But the question is relevant:  Is the 2013 Altima socks and sandals underneath its sultry skin?

The answer needs to be considered with a grain of salt. My test model Altima came in base trim with the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine good for 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.  Zero to sixty comes in about 7.7 seconds – one of the quickest times amongst four-cylinder family sedans. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated at 27mpg city/38mpg highway.  The latter is best in class.

It should be noted the leading fuel economy and acceleration come with the unique driving experience of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which eliminates gears and instead adjusts engine RPMS to the amount of throttle applied.   

Under normal acceleration there are no lurching shifts and the engine doesn’t always rev to where you might expect it to with a normal transmission.  Some people are weirded out by the effect; others, myself included, don’t care in a car such as the Altima so long as it saves the fuel it’s supposed to.

The biggest fun-factor test of the CVT comes in sport mode where it holds engine revs near the torque peak and throttle response is immediate.  In other words you don’t have to worry about keeping the engine’s power band in its sweet spot.  The car will do it for you. 

Most driving purest will poo-poo that sort of thing but not everyone is born with a manual transmission shifter-knob in their hand.  The biggest gripe I have with the CVT has more to do with the noises it generates from the Altima’s odd exhaust note, which under hard acceleration sounds like an angry dishwasher.

With the gas pedal floored the RPM’s jump to about 6200rpms and the engine blips there in small adjustments, as if a gurgling appliance is trying to tear itself from the kitchen floor and jump through the roof.

Once you adjust to the noise the Altima reveals itself as still deserving its reputation as one of the best-handling family sedans in its class.  I dare say it’s a fun car to carve through turns with confidence it won’t under steer into your kids’ favorite Popsicle truck.

The surprising handling is thanks in part to the diet Nissan put the Altima on.  The hood, trunk and roof are all aluminum now and the body uses more high-strength steel. The weight savings add up to nearly 100 pounds depending on the model.  Think of it as kicking a Justin Bieber out of the back seat.

But none of this news; most of the Altima’s major mechanical nuts and bolts are carryovers from last year.  So to answer the question:  No, the Altima is not a boring car and the last one wasn’t either.  There is fun to be had with it.  Nissan just took the initiative to make it look more the part.

So get over the redesign, Haters.  If anything focus on the possessed washing machine noise. 

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