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All-new fifth gen Nissan Altima debuts in New York

by Dan Heyman

2013 Nissan Altima front 3/4

The 2013 Nissan Altima (photos by Dan Heyman)

New York, NY – Chances is are if you live anywhere other than under a rock, you will have seen a Nissan Altima sedan on the road. Probably many; it’s been one of Canada’s highest-sellers among the buying public for quite some time now, not to mention the examples you might see decked out in taxi liveries.

That being said, it was getting close to refresh time—the Maxima got its latest update a year after the Altima did, and it ushered in an era of bolder, more athletic and edgier styling for Nissan sedans.

So, for 2013, the fifth-generation Altima bows, appearing in public for the first time at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

Most of the talk surrounded around the latest Altima being a technological masterpiece, class-leader in fuel economy and a dynamic dynamo. Not much talk, however, on the car’s styling. This is perhaps because, well, it’s not as big of a departure from the outgoing model as we would have hoped.

Yes, it’s got the new pointy headlight lenses that mimic those found on the Maxima and the rear end gets a more steeply-raked rear window and…that’s about it. It’s not a bad looking car, but the current Maxima, with all its swoopy lines and squat stance kind of casts a bit of a pall over the Altima.

2013 Nissan Altima rear 3/4

2013 Altima gets visual upgrades, but could have used more flare, especially when compared to upcoming mid-size offerings from Ford and Hyundai

That being said, the new body is 80 pounds lighter than the older body thanks to the use of more high-tensile steel. And like the Maxima, a reinforced shelf behind the rear seats means a stiffer chassis that should provide better handling dynamics.

Handling dynamics have always been a sticking point with Nissan and so it was a pretty glaring shortcoming when the last model’s under-steer issues made for a sometimes frustrating drive. In that light, Nissan has developed an Active Understeer system which brakes the inside front wheel during cornering in an effort to stop the car from “snow-plowing” towards the outside of the turn (which could be dangerous should drivers find themselves heading for the opposing lane). The system is reportedly un-noticeable in its operation, but we’ll have to drive it to find out. New shocks from ZF Sachs will also help the car dance through the twisties.

And once you’re out of the bends and on to the straight and narrow, you’ll have the choice of two returning engines—a 2.4 litre four-cylinder and a 3.5 litre V6—but the 2.4 is lighter than that which was found in the old model and now has variable valve timing.

2013 Nissan Altima front light cluster

New headlight lenses and fog lamps an some much-needed stylistic excitement to the Altima

So the engines are no big step forward but Nissan—big surprise coming—has re-engineered their Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), with 70 per cent of the parts being redesigned to make for smoother, more efficient operation. What should be noted here is Nissan’s promise to have reduced the noise from the system—this was one of our main complaints when we recently sampled a CVT in the 2012 Nissan Rogue. Thanks to the new transmission architecture, both the four-banger and V6 get nearly identical fuel consumption ratings; Nissan is claiming a combined fuel rating of 31 miles per gallon for the four-cylinder, and 30 for the V6, which translates to about 7.6 and 7.8 litres per 100 kilometers, respectively, in Canadian currency.

Interior styling has been updated as well, but Nissan’s claim of the Altima’s interior having “just the right balance of mature sophistication with a highly dynamic and emotional edge,” according to Brian Carolin, senior vice-president of Nissan sales of marketing, may be pushing it just a little. Like the exterior, the interior is more “evolutionary” we’ll say, than “revolutionary”. Sure there are some new materials, a few flares here and there but there are just too many straight edges and right angles for it to be all that striking.

That being said, there is some cool new tech like “Zero Gravity Seats”—if this sounds like something off of the Challenger space shuttle, it’s because they were, in fact, developed in a partnership with NASA—that are formed to help drivers maintain the best posture during a drive, relieving fatigue. And let me tell you that from my limited time in one of these saddles, Nissan’s claims appear to be spot-on. Again, a proper test-drive will be necessary but the early impressions are good.

2013 Nissan Altima interior

Interior is well finished, but like the exterior, a little bland. Seats are developed in co-operation with NASA

Also notable for the 2013 Altima is that it’s the first Nissan vehicle to be equipped with a new infotainment system, called NissanConnect. Like Ford’s Microsoft SYNC system, NissanConnect is all about voice commands and seamless integration of Bluetooth, SatNav and satellite radio all channeled through a five-inch display on the center console.

To compliment this, the Altima gets an Advanced Drive-Assist Display on all trims, which contains fuel consumption, tire-pressure monitoring and turn-by-turn navigation all found on a four-inch display nestled between the tachometer and speedo.

So, it’s a tech-laden affair, the 2013 Altima, but we are really curious to see how its modest styling will compete with wilder looking stuff from Hyundai, Ford and the new Mazda6 sedan, also revealed in New York and due to arrive in early 2013 as a 2014 model.

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