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2013 Nissan Altima review:

Nissan supersizes the new Altima

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But there's something else about this Altima that suggests the paddles are not wholly out of place. The ride quality is surprisingly supple, as if the Altima were sprung to carry a ton or two in cargo. This suspension leads to a strong feeling of quality as the Altima barrels down the freeway, making quick work out of the bumps and expansion joints. The Altima's rigid suspension tuning resists body roll in the corners very well.

For further driving-quality engineering, Nissan opts for a hydraulic-electric hybrid power-steering system, rather than the pure electric power-steering systems becoming so common. The latter type of system boosts steering input through an electric motor, entirely doing away with the older pure-hydraulic systems that sap power from the engine to maintain pressure. The hybrid system used by Nissan boosts steering input with hydraulics, but maintains pressure using an electric pump, thereby avoiding sucking power from the engine.

The result of this power-steering system is to give the Altima an old-school steering feel. Instead of the numb, lifeless feel common with electric power-steering systems, the Altima's wheel shows familiar heft and communicates road feel to the driver. I found steering the Altima almost novel, as so many new cars that come through CNET use electric power-steering systems.

2013 Nissan Altima
The instrument-cluster LCD shows not only trip information, but also the current music selection. Josh Miller/CNET

With the suspension and steering system, not to mention the big paddle shifters, I actually enjoyed running the Altima along one of my favorite twisting mountain roads. On the harder corners, some understeer became evident, but I was surprised how much the Altima felt almost like a rear-wheel-drive car. Nissan says it aimed for European handling with this new generation, and I think the company succeeded.

Old engines
Powering the front wheels in this car was Nissan's 3.5-liter V-6, from its VQ series of engines. A V-6 in a midsize sedan seems overkill these days, when fuel economy is paramount. Nissan's V-6 makes 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, while the 2.5-liter four-cylinder makes what should be an adequate 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. The four-cylinder also gets about 6 mpg better than the V-6 in average fuel economy.

Neither of these engine choices really pushes the envelope of efficiency technology, relying instead on good, old variable valve timing. The CVT is the main reason why the Altima V-6 can achieve 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. At some point, Nissan will have to exploit the sort of direct-injection and turbocharging technologies used by other makers to reduce engine displacement, thereby boosting fuel economy. It is surprising that Nissan did not take the opportunity to upgrade its engine tech for this new Altima.

However, the CVT is better than ever. This transmission delivers smooth acceleration and keeps the engine running in its sweet spot for fuel economy. When I slammed the accelerator for some quick acceleration, the CVT readily changed ratios, pulling extra power from the engine. Nissan also gives it seven shift points, programmed fixed ratios you can select using those big magnesium paddles.

2013 Nissan Altima
The Tech package not only brings in this navigation system, but adds driver assistance features. Nissan

With the 2013 Altima, Nissan seems to have concentrated on ride quality as a core value, without pushing into new tech. In the drivetrain, the CVT stands out as the most advanced component, and Nissan applied solid engineering to the power-steering system in order to maintain a traditional feel while still gaining the efficiency of an electric system.

The available cabin electronics satisfy core features, with the added bonus of a connected search feature for the navigation system. Voice command, at least in a car without the navigation option, was very limited. It would be nice to see Nissan extend it to control the audio system. The navigation option, especially as it also brings in blind-spot detection and lane departure warning, looks like a good value, and it is disappointing this package was not included on CNET's review car.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Nissan Altima
Trim SL
Power train 3.5-liter V-6 engine, CVT
EPA fuel economy 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 26.1 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based with traffic integration
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming audio, iPod integration, USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system Bose 9-speaker system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $30,080
Price as tested $31,045

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