published Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Test Drive: Tennessee-made Nissan Altima ready to do battle with Camry for title of top-selling car in U.S.

2013 Nissan Altima test drive
2013 Nissan Altima test drive
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL

Exterior color: Super black

Interior color: Beige

Engine: 2.5 liter, 4 cylinder

Horsepower: 182

Transmission: CVT (continuously variable).

Fuel economy: 38 mpg highway, 27 mpg city

Dealer: Hunt Nissan

Price (as tested): $29,910

Watch out Toyota Camry, there's a new midsize contender in the ring.

Nissan's brand new 2013 Altima packs a powerful punch. Time will tell if it has the right stuff to dethrone the Toyota Camry as America's best-selling car, but I wouldn't bet against it.

Last year, Toyota sold 309,000 Camrys and Nissan sold 267,000 Altimas.

Often sedan redesigns are mostly hype, a bit of new sheet metal and a few upgrades in horsepower and standard equipment. The 2013 Altima, however, is a quantum leap in quality, refinement and styling.

Driving one of the first new Altimas to hit the ground at Hunt Nissan this week, a sleek black version with beige leather interior, I would have sworn somebody had slapped a Nissan tail badge on an Infiniti luxury sedan.

Hunt Nissan new car sales manager Danny McVay said word is out on the quality of the new Altima, and some customers are even ordering copies sight-unseen. Those early-adopters can exhale now. If first impressions count for anything, this is an exceptional car.

Some of the Altimas will be made up I-24 in Smyrna, Tenn., although our test car was assembled in Canton, Miss.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The 2013 Altima cuts a dramatic profile. Like the larger Nissan Maxima, the new Altima has athletic shoulders which frame the mid-section of the car from the hood to the trunk. The result is a muscular, planted look.

An aggressive, black-out grille ringed with chrome and bracketed by swept-back headlamps give the car a stern visage. The real visual drama though is from the rear, where the sedan's exaggerated mid-lines cue your brain to think "sports car."

Like all great designs, the Altima's virtues are not always line items on the sticker, though, but intangibles such as the silky action of the seat belts, the just-right front seat bolsters and the rearview mirror that perfectly reflects the geometry of the rear window.

The interior is an upscale blend of soft-touch plastics, faux wood accents and comfortable, perforated leather seats. While the previous generation Altima felt more like a rental fleet car, the new Altima's interior would be right at home inside BMW. Actually, it's quite comparable to the Chattanooga-made VW Passat, which, up to this point, I had rated the mid-size class leader in interior refinement.

Our Altima test car was outfitted in SL trim, which includes the leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, a power driver's seat, 9-speaker Bose sound system, a rearview camera, moonroof and push-button start.

THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE

Our test car was the four-cylinder version (2.5 liter, 182 horsepower), although a six-cylinder making 270 horsepower is also available. Our SL test car felt nimble and perfectly capable of passing and merging on the freeway. The robust exhaust note is a nice surprise.

The Altima's continuously variable transmission helps deliver a nice gift, class-leading fuel economy of 38 mpg highway and 27 mpg city. Superior cabin isolation translates to a hushed ride. You are free to fill the void with the lushly-tuned Bose audio system.

Our test car rolled on Michelin all-season tires mounted on 17-inch aluminum wheels.

BOTTOM LINE

While there are less expensive trim levels available, the Altima SL has a near-luxury quality that is well worth the money. Our test car stickered for $29,910, and compares favorably with top-trim Toyotas, Hondas and VWs.

In short: The Altima is ready to rumble.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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