Last year, the Nissan Altima became America’s second most popular car, right between its chief rivals, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Part of the credit goes to Nissan’s relatively speedy recovery from the tsunami that crippled supply lines for all three OEMs. The rest goes to the car itself, a steady and stylish performer in the mid-size segment.
The U.S.-assembled Altima was redesigned for 2013, and the fifth-generation model appears ready to keep fighting for sales. The new edition retains the prior generation’s base 2.5-liter I-4, which delivers 182 horsepower at 180 lb.-ft. of torque. The 3.5-liter V-6 returns for another tour as well, putting to rest any rumors of its demise at the hands of a turbocharged four-banger.
Both engines are mated to an “intelligent” continuously variable automatic transmission, which Nissan credits for the car’s improved fuel efficiency; the V-6 earns an impressive 31 mpg on the highway. Manny trannies are no longer available, but the Altima’s new, multilink rear suspension, active understeer control and electro-hydraulic power steering all contribute to a critically praised driving experience.
The exterior sports a windswept grille and headlight stack, outsize fog lamps and a curving shoulder line, falling right in line with the larger Maxima and compact Versa. The measurements are largely unchanged but, thanks to an abundance of high- and super-high-strength steel, the new Altima is 80 lbs. lighter than the 2012 version.
The layout of the interior is consistent with the 2012 model but upgraded with an abundance of soft-touch materials and a scarcity of hard plastics. Nissan is touting its new “Zero-Gravity” front seats, which utilize NASA-sponsored research to create a shape designed to reduce fatigue on long trips. Back-seat passengers might gripe about the tight rear headroom — another carryover from prior model years.
Standard features include 16-inch wheels, keyless ignition and entry, power everything and a four-inch infotainment interface. The list of upgrades includes bigger, better wheels, upgraded fabrics, stereo, climate control and many more; most are available in option packages. None are available on the base model, but there are six more trim levels to choose from.
The 2013 Altima is available now and starts at $21,500 (click here to see Nissan's fleet incentives). It’s a must-drive for fleet buyers. The refinements listed above — and an edge in the performance category — should help stave off competition in this crowded segment.