2013 Nissan Altima SL – A top pick for fuel economy

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If you’re shopping for a new mid-size sedan, count your lucky stars.  There’s a whole slew of all-new cars for 2013, and it looks like a Battle Royal is brewing among manufacturers to win you over.  Not only is the Nissan Altima new for 2013, so are the heavy hitting Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Mazda6.  Toyota’s legendary Camry was new from the ground up in 2012 and still fresh to fight.  With the mid-size sedan the second biggest-selling passenger vehicle segment in Canada, buyers in 2013 will have the best selection ever.

Nissan brings their new Altima to the fight very well equipped and with much-needed upgrades.  The Altima has always been a solid choice in the mid-size sedan segment, but among car enthusiasts, their interiors have been criticized as being too plasticky, earning it the backhanded compliment of being a ‘nice rental car.’  For 2013, Nissan has significantly improved the interior with attractive, soft to the touch surfaces and the feeling of quality is now very comparable to its competitors.

An all-new fifth-generation Altima means new exterior styling, and its new lines are obviously an evolution of the previous generation.  The new sheetmetal is handsome with more pronounced fender flares, larger grill and fog light surrounds, and more angular, bolder headlights giving the car a fresh, yet familiar look.

Our test unit was the 2.5 SL, top-of-the-line version with the base 182-horsepower 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT (continuously variable transmission), plus the optional ($1,100) Technology Package that adds a navigation system, 7-in. colour display, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, backup camera, and moving object detection (that warns the driver when an object is moving near the rear of the vehicle when the transmission is in Reverse.)  Our test vehicle rang in at a competitive MSRP of $30,833.  Some of the much-appreciated features of the SL include keyless entry/ignition, heated steering wheel and front seats, sunroof, power trunk release, and a Bose stereo.  A more powerful 3.5-litre V-6 is available.

Inside the Altima SL the cabin feels modern and roomy.  One of the Altima’s great strengths is the simplicity of its instrument cluster and all the car’s controls, including those for its audio/navigation/HVAC system.  This is one vehicle that’s blissfully easy to hop in and drive.  The latest generation of vehicles are typically loaded with electronic controls, and learning these can be infuriating.  Not so with the Altima.  Even as a technically challenged dunderhead, I was able to quickly dive into the audio controls to set base, treble, balance and fade, and whip through the GPS system to set destinations and most other frequently used functions.  Kudos to Nissan’s interior designers.

Every car manufacturer has their strengths, and Nissan marches to the front of the class on two fronts – the new 2013 Altima is the lightest mid-size sedan on the market.   (Nissan uses high-strength steel and aluminum brings the sedan in at a relatively feather 1451 kg, some 109 kg lighter than the class fatty 2013 4-cylinder Malibu LT.)  Lighter weight generally means better performance – acceleration, braking and handling, and the Altima certainly feels quicker and more responsive than the Toyota Camry LE.  But today’s Holy Grail is fuel economy, and that’s where light weight pays dividends.  The Altima’s fuel economy alone ought to draw the attention of dedicated penny-pinchers – the Altima scores the best fuel economy rating of any mid-size 4-cylinder gasoline, automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive sedan – an impressive 7.4 city/5.0 highway l/100 km (38/56 mpg!)

The new Altima has its share of irritants, but like having a super model girlfriend with quirks, these are things one can live with.  The excellent CVT transmission occasionally emits a barely audible mechanical hissing sound, steering wheel and front seat heaters seem slow and uneven until fully warm, and the trunk has no inside handle or strap; you’ll be covering your hands in road grime every time you close the trunk.

Still, it looks like Nissan entered the 2013 sales fray well-armed and ready to duke it out with the Big Dogs.  The 2013 Nissan Altima SL handles confidently, interior materials are significantly upgraded and best of all, has the best (non-hybrid) fuel economy rating in class.  In my books, that makes the 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL an excellent choice and one of the top picks of this year’s crop of ‘worthy’, mid-size family sedans.

The Specs

2013 Nissan Altima SL

Type of vehicle:  Front-wheel-drive mid-size 5-passenger sedan

Engine: 2.5-litre DOHC 4-cylinder

Power: 182 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m; 180 pound-feet of torque at 4,0 00 r.p.m.

Transmission:  Xtronic continuously-variable (CVT)

Brakes: Front ventilated disc/rear disc brakes. ABS with electronic brake force distribution (EBD)

Tires: 215/55R15 winter, rear, temporary spare

Price: $29,598;  As-tested:  $32,528 (includes Technology Pkg., $1,100; Metallic paint, $135; Frt. & PDI, $1,695)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 7.4 city, 5.0 highway (regular unleaded)

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