The Altima V-6 certainly provides very eager throttle response and lots of power. There's a bit of torque steer, that tug at the front wheels under hard acceleration, but it's not bothersome. I was merging onto a freeway in the Altima and the merge lane traffic didn't have much of anywhere to go due to heavy traffic in adjoining lanes, so I was in one of those situations where I either needed to brake hard and dawdle, waiting for traffic to clear, or else gun it. Naturally, I chose to gun it, and the Altima's V-6 responded without hesitation, propelling the car from 55 to 80 mph easily and sounding pretty good while it did so. Nissan, which committed to continuously variable transmissions years ago, has come a long way in its CVT engineering. I didn't even remember that the Altima had a CVT until the second day I drove it.
With this all-new 2013 Altima, Nissan is eschewing the route taken by some of its competitors, like the Hyundai Sonata and the Ford Fusion, to offer only four-cylinder engines. The Altima's energetic V-6 appeals to Americans' appetite for instant, smooth acceleration. Of course, it also adds to the cost of the car, such that this $29,000 example was far from fully loaded and had a pretty boring tan-on-tan interior. That said, the seats are very comfortable, the ergonomics are straightforward, and the outward visibility is pretty good in all directions. I also appreciated the fold-down rear seatback, which allowed me to easily carry a six-foot stepladder in the trunk.
As much as I like this V-6, I'd probably choose the four-cylinder engine and spend the extra money dressing up the cabin with more equipment.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Nissan Altima 3.5 SV is 191.5 inches long, has a 109.3-inch wheelbase, and a 3.5-liter VQ-series V-6 engine that sends its power through a continuously-variable transmission to the front wheels. Those dimensions and that powertrain should sound familiar: they're nearly identical to those on the Altima's pricier sibling, the Maxima.
I spent my weekend with the Altima 3.5 SV constantly thinking about how similar it was to the Maxima I drove late last year. Both are impressively quick, both have massive metal shift paddles that make the continuously-variable transmission livelier, and both are interesting to look at, even if neither is actually pretty.
With the Altima's recent updates, however, it's about time for the Maxima to fade into the background. The Altima 3.5 SL (which adds navigation, leather seats, and a host of high-tech safety features) tops out at $31,950, $1250 less than the least expensive Maxima (which makes do with cloth seats, no navigation, and a standard audio system). Our 3.5 SV costs a whopping $4680 less than a comparable Maxima.
The Maxima's interior might look nicer than the Altima's, and its engine makes 20 hp and 10 lb-ft more than the Altima's, but neither addition is worth nearly $5000, and drivers won't notice the power deficit in the less-expensive car. My advice: keep the change and get the Altima.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
That Nissan is offering a mid-size sedan with a V-6 for the 2013 model year is surprising. Headlines everywhere proclaim the death of displacement as carmakers usher in an era of forced induction. Nissan hasn't even added direct fuel injection to the Altima for this redesign. What's going on?
Since the 3.5-liter V-6 carries over largely unchanged from the old Altima, Nissan didn't have a lot of cost associated with the V-6 powertrain. Developing a turbo four that would match the performance of the V-6 would have been too expensive to allow Nissan to offer the upgraded engine in a $26,140 car. And the V-6's fuel economy isn't so bad -- its 22/31 mpg ratings match the EPA figures for five-cylinder Passat while providing an extra 100 horsepower.
True, most buyers will opt for a four-cylinder Altima, which gets a 38 mpg highway rating. However, after driving the 2.5-liter and the V-6 models back-to-back on the winding roads of rural Tennessee, I was much more impressed with the smoothness of the V-6 engine. The four can be a bit buzzy and it really hangs in the upper echelons of the tachometer range when you want to get going in a hurry whereas the V-6 delivers a lot of torque down low and rarely needs to rev at high speeds for extended periods of time. There's certainly a bigger market for the cheaper and more efficient four-cylinder cars, but it's impressive that Nissan is giving people the option of a V-6.
With a new Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, and Chevrolet Malibu right around the corner, the midsize sedan segment should be white-hot this year. Of those new entries, only the Accord will offer a V-6 to compete with the Altima 3.5.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The new Nissan Altima feels significantly more substantial than several of its competitors. In its quiet, refined isolation, it feels like a near-luxury car. Although you'd ever mistake this ho-hum interior for a luxury car's.
I was most impressed by the Altima's supple suspension, which transforms Michigan's beat-up pavement into Florida-like smooth roads. While the tuning is on the soft side, the Altima isn't sloppy in corners. And as long as you're not in a hurry, the strong V-6 and the continuously variable transmission make a fantastic team. The 3.5-liter six-cylinder is smoother and more responsive than the turbocharged four-cylinders that competitors offer while the CVT calms the slow-moving chaos of a stop-and-go commute. It all adds up to a car that drives like it's more expensive than the Volkswagen Passat, Hyundai Sonata, and Toyota Camry. We'll see if it can hang onto that distinction as it faces fresh competition from the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord, and the Chevrolet Malibu.
Nissan's mid-size sedan certainly isn't without fault, however. The Altima uses an electrically driven hydraulic pump for its power steering system. It's more efficient than traditional hydraulic setups but not as efficient or as tunable as electric power steering, which is becoming the industry standard. The issue is that Nissan's calibration is wretched. Just like the Infiniti JX35, which also uses the 3.5-liter engine and electro-hydraulic assistance, the Altima suffers from light steering that's marred by occasional mid-corner fluctuations in the power assist. It's intolerable to my snobby enthusiast tastes, and I imagine even apathetic commuters might notice it.
I was also expecting to be wowed by the Altima's rearview camera. In addition to helping you back out of your driveway, the single camera can warn of cars in your blind spot and detect when you're drifting out of your lane. Nissan's approach eliminates the additional cameras and sensors that other automakers use for these systems, in turn reducing the cost of these modern safety technologies. So I was disappointed to discover that our test car had a backup camera that wasn't capable of blind-spot monitoring or lane-departure detection. They are part of a $1090 technology package, which is a great value, adding the aforementioned safety features plus navigation and a seven-inch touch screen. But this car's $29,230 sticker price and the dull interior had me wondering where all the money went.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I first saw the 2013 Nissan Altima at a preview in Farmington Hills back in March. When I walked into the conference room, I remember wondering why Nissan had a previous-generation Altima on display. Only as I looked more carefully did I realize it was in fact the all-new car. The lesson here is that the new car is not a huge leap forward from the old one. Think of it as evolution, not revolution.
That's not a slight. The 2013 Altima is just as handsome to look at, satisfying to drive, and well-equipped as the top-selling 2012 model. The design isn't as daring as the Hyundai Sonata, the engines aren't as innovative as those of the Ford Fusion, but the Altima is still miles more interesting than the new Toyota Camry and soon-to-be-redesigned Honda Accord. My only criticism is that using the instrument cluster LCD screen proved a bit tricky, owing to the small buttons on the steering wheel.
As several others have noted, the optional V-6 engine makes this Altima an absolute rocket. I can't see why anyone would need this much power in a front-wheel-drive family sedan. Given that the Altima's four-cylinder engine produces a healthy 182 hp, choosing the V-6 seems like a great way to waste money and fuel.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor