2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Review Behind the Wheel ZipRage-21

Family sedans aren’t the most exciting cars on the street, but they’re likely the most important — the five best-selling midsized sedans in America accounted for 1.3 million of the 12.8 million vehicles sold in 2011. Due to their importance, it’s imperative that manufactures nail the segment. The last generation Altima managed to be the second best-selling car despite being far from the best, but as Ford taught us that trick only works for a generation or two, after-which the market wises up and you tank. Hard.

What’s required of the midsize sedan market? Fuel economy, without sacrificing too much power, a low base price, as much technology as you can pull from the luxury brand and a design that doesn’t alienate the customer.

2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL Review Behind the Wheel ZipRage-13In sharp contrast to hard plastic of the previous generations interior, the 2013 Altima’s interior is covered in light beige or dark leather, pleather and soft-touch plastics. The light materials make the cabin warm and visually it looks much larger, the dark is also nice but not quite as inviting. My top of the line SL also featured a heated tilt/telescopic steering wheel and an 8-way power driver’s seat with manually adjustable lumbar suport. Behind the wheel of the 3.5 lies a set of magnesium paddle shifters that rival those found in a BMW M6. Unfortunately, the paddle shifters are paired to a CVT — which doesn’t make a ton of sense but I still found myself using them. Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seat design proved comfortable and kept my legs from going numb as they often do during a long ride.

The base Altima is a four-cylinder only while the S, SV and SL models are available with either the I4 or a 3.5L V6 engine. While most of the segment is moving on to turbo fours, Nissan is sticking to the V6. In addition to the two extra cylinders, V6 shoppers get wider tires and shift paddles. The 3.5L V6 (VQ35DE) is good for 270HP at 6,000RPM and 258lb0-ft at 4,400RPM. The V6 sends power to the front wheels via a revised Nissan Xtronic CVT with tweaks to reduce friction, improve acceleration, and reduce the “rubber-band” feeling that us reviewers despise and love to write about.

Nissan’s new 7-inch touchscreen nav system dubbed “Nissan Connect,” comes with a larger display, a polished the UI, Pandora, Google-send-to-car, faster processing, voice commands and XM NavTraffic/NavWeather. The system won’t voice command your iDevice or climate control like SYNC, but it is a very responsive system that doesn’t crash, is easy to use and comes well priced. In the SL Nissan Connect will cost you $1090 because it is bundled with blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection. In the SV it’s only a $595 addition.

The Altima’s hefty diet and CVT pays off at the pump. The Altima 2.5 manages 27/38/31 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) while my 3.5 SL averaged 25.9MPG over the week, above the 25MPG combined EPA score.

Nissan’s new CVT has done a great job of removing the “rubber band” feeling of earlier CVTs. The new version also downshifts much faster. Impressively the CVT allows the Altima to sprint to 60MPH in 5.5 seconds.

So, how does the Altima live up to those midsize sedan must haves? Quite well actually. It’s affordable, it sips gas, it’s still fun and quick, it’s very comfortable and it has a pretty good mix of technology on board. Nissan has proved, once again, that they can build a sedan worthy of its lofty sales goals.

For a base price of $27,660 the SL model includes leather, fog-lights, 8-way driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and nine Bose speakers.