If the 2013 Nissan Altima sets a new standard for the midsize sedan, a full-size sedan must now be the length of a stretch limo. The new Altima is big, really big, almost an inch longer than the Nissan Maxima. Either those models are swapping places in the Nissan lineup, or the next Maxima is going to be a boat.
I never liked the trend of subsequent generations of car models getting bigger and bigger. However, when comparison-shopping some buyers will appreciate that type of bang for the buck. Certainly the cabin offers a generous amount of space.
The new Altima comes in trims ranging from a base model to SL, and with a choice of two engine options, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 3.5-liter V-6. CNET's car was the top-trim 3.5 SL. The car comes very well-equipped at this level, with only navigation remaining an option. Oddly, our SL was not optioned with the $1,090 navigation package.
I had a taste of this navigation option, a new system for Nissan, when driving the new Sentra earlier this year. With flash memory and traffic, the system seems to work well. And it also features a connected system that uses Google for points-of-interest searches. The navigation package includes useful features such as blind-spot detection. I hope to give this connected system a full test soon.
Even without navigation, the Altima SL still had a 5-inch LCD on the center dash, 2 inches smaller than it would be with the navigation option. This LCD displays audio information, and also has a noninteractive screen for the voice command-operated Bluetooth hands-free phone system.
The interface for the stereo works easily, with a button to activate the iPod menu and the tuning dial to scroll through lists of artists, albums, or tracks. The LCD even shows album art for the current track when available. Conveniently, the Altima's USB port sits at the base of the center dashboard, in front of the shifter. The stereo also features Bluetooth audio streaming, with full track information on the LCD, at least when using an iPhone.
Without the navigation option, the Altima's voice command is very limited, merely controlling the hands-free phone system. However, it does offer full contact list integration, meaning I could say the names of contacts stored in my phone to place a call.
A nice standard feature of the SL-trim Altima is a nine-speaker Bose audio system. It delivers very rich, powerful sound, although the clarity could be better. When listening to David Bowie, I appreciated the system's strong vocal reproduction. Bass did not sound very strong with the default settings, but turning it up produced frequencies I could feel. For heavily layered electronic music, I found some of the tracks got buried, hiding some of the softer or more delicate sounds.
The steering-wheel spokes host a variety of buttons and switches for controlling the stereo and activating voice command, while a nicely detailed LCD on the instrument cluster shows the currently playing track or trip information, depending on what the driver selects.
Behind the steering wheel are shift paddles for the Altima's continuously variable transmission (CVT). And I'm not talking about flimsy little pieces of plastic tacked to the back of the spokes, but wide, magnesium F1-style paddles anchored to the steering column. The paddles are a strange complement to the CVT's seven virtual shift points, and an unlikely find on any midsize sedan.