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2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL Verdict

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/8/2014 Zach Gale, Motor Trend Staff

In a quest to maximize midsize sedan sales, Nissan's family four-door boasts a new CVT, and, as I found out over the course of a year, that's where the story starts and ends.

As with the six-cylinder model, our 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL mates a four-cylinder engine to a CVT -- the powertrain combination that makes up the majority of the car's sales, which have averaged nearly 300,000 units per year in 2011, 2012, and 2013. After more than 20,000 miles I learned that while the Altima doesn't make a memorable first impression, it deserves a place on a midsize sedan shopping list. That's because what the Altima lacks in curb appeal, it mostly makes up for with attention to detail. I'm talking about the high-quality execution of features you use every day, including the instrument cluster info screen and the engine-braking button. Though I wouldn't mind some side bolstering in the front seats, they were genuinely comfortable -- and that's important on any commute whatever the length.

2013 Nissan Altima© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Nissan Altima What sets the Altima back in test drives isn't the rear seat, which isn't as spacious as that of the Accord or Passat, but the sound of the CVT wringing out the 2.5-liter I-4 at wide-open throttle. I learned to accept the slight noise as part of the tradeoff for a package that delivers respectable straight-line acceleration and decent fuel economy. Probably because many drivers are averse to CVTs, Nissan has tuned the Altima's to be responsive, meaning it doesn't take all that long to awaken the car's 182 hp when you really want to get moving at near full-throttle. And it's tough to beat how quick (for a four-cylinder midsize sedan) 0-30 mph feels from behind the wheel. The CVT is also smooth: You won't be feeling any gear changes unless you're in Sport mode, where the car will pretend it's a conventional automatic transmission and "shift." For another perspective on the midsize sedan, read about how a 2014 Nissan Altima fared in a recent Big Test comparison.

What I really wanted from the Altima isn't likely to change until the next full redesign arrives: a bigger center-stack screen mounted much higher on the dash. Another workable solution: the same 7-inch screen, but pushed to the top of the dash with or without a navigation system. Placing the smallish 7-inch screen (part of the navigation system package) low on the dash results in a layout that reminds me of midsize sedans from a generation ago. Since you can't enter navigation destinations while in motion, I'd also like to see an update to the car's navigation voice commands, which work fine but take about two minutes to complete from the time you first press the steering wheel button to the directions being fully loaded on the screen.

A higher-quality rearview camera also would be a meaningful upgrade, though when you start adding up all these improvements, I wonder whether the car would continue to be such a value. The best-selling 2014 Toyota Camry might be offered with a big pile of incentives, but the Altima is decently priced for the amount of content you get. Just don't expect too much specialness. Instead, what you have is a good -- not great -- car with a few manageable faults.

Were I shopping for a midsize sedan, one not-insignificant detail that would put the Altima on my list is the simple fact that I fit inside the cabin. In a sunroof-equipped Altima, I actually have enough headroom, and the top of my head doesn't touch the roof of the car—not something that's true for every Altima competitor. For drivers just under 6 feet, 5 inches tall like me, lack of headroom can be a deal-breaker

2013 Nissan Altima© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Nissan Altima During its time in the Motor Trend garage, we experienced few issues with the Altima. An air-to-fuel ratio sensor was replaced free of charge under warranty, and a dealer service campaign tweaked the CVT early on in the car's stay. A couple times in more than 20,000 miles of driving, I noticed the passenger airbag sensor wouldn't turn on when a passenger was actually seated there. While we would've liked two years or 24,000-25,000 miles of complimentary regularly scheduled maintenance (offered on the Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, and Volkswagen Passat), servicing the Altima proved affordable. The major service cost just over $200, or slightly more than a major service on the 2011 Kia Optima SX. The Altima was the subject of a dealer service bulletin related to the ECM, and air/fuel ratio sensors were replaced under warranty. We had no recurring issues with the car.

The Nissan Altima is not an aspirational midsize sedan. Consider the Nissan Altima if efficiency and acceleration are more important to you than bold styling (Fusion and Optima) or class-leading rear-seat comfort (Accord and Passat). The Altima covers lots of ground, not badly, and for the right buyer, I'd have no problem recommending it for consideration on a midsize sedan shopping list.

2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL Verdict

More on our long-term 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL:


Our Car
Service Life12 mo / 21,774 mi
Base Price$28,830
Price as Tested$30,105
Options Options / Technology Package ($1090: navigation, blind-spot monitoring, lane- departure warning), carpeted floor and trunk mats ($185)
Average C020.71 lb/mi
EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Con27/38/31 mpg
Average Fuel Economy27.2 mpg
Problem Areas O2 sensors, TPms sensor
Maintenance Cost $204.92 (2-oil change, inspection, rotate tires; 1-cabin-air filter, engine-air filter)
Normal-Wear Cost$0
3-Year Residual Value*$15,354
Recalls Transmission control module reprogramming
*Automotive Lease Guide


2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUTFront engine, FWD
ENGINE TYPEI-4, aluminum block/head
VALVETRAINDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT151.8 cu in/2488 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO9.6:1
POWER (SAE NET)182 hp @ 6000 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET)180 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
REDLINE6200 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER17.4 lb/hp
TRANSMISSIONCont. variable auto
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO4.83:1/2.08:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REARStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO16.4:1
TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK2.6
BRAKES, F;R11.7-in vented disc; 11.5-in disc, ABS
WHEELS, F;R7.5 x 17-in, cast aluminum
TIRES, F;R215/55R17 93V M+S Continental ContiProContact
DIMENSIONS
WHEELBASE109.3 in
TRACK, F/R62.4/62.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT191.5 x 72.0 x 57.9 in
TURNING CIRCLE37.4 ft
CURB WEIGHT3174 lb
WEIGHT DIST., F/R59/41%
SEATING CAPACITY5
HEADROOM, F/R39.1/37.1 in
LEGROOM, F/R45.0/36.1 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R56.4/56.4 in
CARGO VOLUME15.4 cu ft
TEST DATA
ACCELERATION TO MPH
0-30 2.8 sec
0-404.2
0-505.8
0-607.7
0-7010.0
0-8012.8
0-9016.3
0-10020.5
PASSING, 45-65 MPH3.8
QUARTER MILE15.9 sec @ 88.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH120 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION0.82 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT28.0 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH1500 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
BASE PRICE$28,830
PRICE AS TESTED$30,105
STABILITY/TRACTION CONTROLYes/yes
AIRBAGSDual front, front side, f/r curtain
BASIC WARRANTY3 yrs/36,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY5 yrs/60,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCEN/A
FUEL CAPACITY18.0 gal
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON27/38/31 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY/COMB125/89/109 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS0.62 lb/mile
RECOMMENDED FUELUnleaded regular

2013 Nissan Altima© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Nissan Altima
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