"I dislike CVTs, all of them, but the Altima's is the best I've experienced."
Last month, we mentioned that we were annoyed by a sideview mirror that whistled more than Andy Griffith, particularly at speeds of 60 mph or so. We took the Nissan Altima to our local dealer, seeking some respite. The dealership technicians, trying to isolate the cause, applied masking tape to the door/fender seam as well as the gap between the mirror glass and its frame. They eventually determined that the sound originated from the spot where the mirror housing meets the door. A replacement mirror assembly was ordered.
A few days later, the new mirror arrived and we returned to the shop. Wouldn't you know it: in those few days, a technical service bulletin came in -- apparently whistling sideview mirrors was something many 2013 Altima owners were complaining about. Turns out, there was no need to install the new mirror assembly. Instead, the service bulletin advised the technicians to detach the existing housing and trim a piece of "insulation lining" (used to cushion the junction where the plastic housing meets the metal door) so it would seal better. Problem solved.
Eliminating the excess noise created by the exterior mirror has given us a chance to reflect again on the Altima's atypical powertrain soundtrack, a factor of its continuously variable transmission. A fundamental characteristic of such transmissions is what we've described before as "CVT wind-up," where the engine drones at high revs for long moments when the driver demands lots of acceleration.
In the Altima, though, that situation is less pronounced than in other CVT-equipped cars -- at least according to most editors. "This is perhaps the best implementation of a CVT I've experienced," said senior web editor Phil Floraday. "This is the first CVT I've sampled that doesn't make it feel as if the car is being driven by rubber bands," agreed videographer Sandon Voelker. "I dislike CVTs, all of them," wrote road test editor Christopher Nelson, "but this one is the best I've experienced."
Executive editor Todd Lassa was less generous: "The CVT makes the engine sound like it's on some sort of kitchen-appliance over-rev setting. Still, Nissan's V-6/CVT combo is far better than its I-4/CVT pairing, although not necessarily better than Honda's I-4/CVT combo."
Deputy editor Joe DeMatio is one who's not feeling to the CVT love. He reported: "A friend in the industry was riding with me and the first time I really hit the gas, he said, 'Wow, the CVT is like a speed-discouragement device. You don't want to accelerate hard, because the CVT makes the engine sound so horrible when you're at high revs.' I couldn't disagree, but that didn't stop me from routinely driving between 80 and 90 mph." Of course, the reason that Nissan (and other manufacturers) use CVTs is for greater efficiency. And through its first 15,000 miles, our Altima has averaged 25 mpg, which exactly matches the EPA's combined fuel economy estimate. Sometimes, though, we've even done better than the EPA numbers. Senior editor Joe Lorio got an indicated 32 mpg (beating the EPA highway rating by 1 mpg) on his recent drive from Ann Arbor to New York, where the car will be living for a while. You can read more about his experience in our next update.