Nissan enginers have been busy, challenged as they were to improve fuel mileage by lightening the fifth-generation Altima, which for 2013 comes standard with technology usually found only in more upscale brands.
Nissan's plan is for this freshened and tricked Altima is to move from the second-best selling mid-size sedan to the top spot while also narrowing the gap between the Altima and the bells and whistles of the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and the C-Class Mercedes.
Connectivity was one strategy. Standard are Bluetooth hands-free phone, streaming audio and incoming text-to-voice along with a CD player and auxiliary jack. Also available is a navigation suite with Bluetooth phone and hands-free text message integration, Pandora playback, and real-time Google point of interest search.
That's not all. A tire pressure monitoring system lets you know when a tire is low, but that's become commonplace. Therefore, Altima's system will tell you what tire is low and how low it is. Not to worry when stopping at a service station to use those suspiciously inaccurate pressure gauges. When the proper pressure is reached, the Altima sounds a short beep of the horn, and if you go over the horn begins a noisy symphony.
Another feature is the remote-start system that allows the owner from a distance of 195 feet to warm or cool the car for 10 minutes before getting on the road.
The fifth generation has blind spot and lane departure warning, generated from the rear-mounted camera that has a washer system.
Styling is more aggressive with a Germanic flair using complex surfaces. The body also is a bit larger than the previous model and formed from higher strength steel and aluminum, which helps to lighten the car by 79 pounds.
Nissan says 70 percent of the parts in the continuously variable-ratio transmission (CVT) have been re-engineered to reduce friction and that effort accounts for 40 percent of the fuel mileage gain, now rated at 38 mph on the highway from the redesigned inline 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine.
The engine is lighter and rated at 182 horsepower, 7 more than the previous generation, and 180 pound-feet of torque. At 60 mph, the engine is steady at 1,450 rpm, not much above an idle speed. Also available is a 3.5 liter V6 generating 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, rated at 22/30 fuel mileage.
The "smart" alternator helps fuel economy, too, by not running unless it really needs to feed the battery.
The interior boasts NASA-inspired "zero gravity" front seats for maximum comfort and a standard Advanced Drive-Assist display in the center of the instrument cluster that integrates key information such as navigation and text messaging.
The 2013 Altima will be available in July, but Nissan premiered pre-production models at Nashville, Tennessee, where it has its stateside headquarters. Driving around the winding back roads of Tennessee allowed the car to prove itself.
Although the four-cylinder engine is certainly capable, the V6 is a far better choice for those who prefer power over fuel performance. Both engines are smooth and quiet, but the exhaust note contest goes to the six.
Handling is crisp, though the body does lean in tight turns, and the ride is smooth, not too hard, not too soft. For an assist to drivers unaccustomed to four-wheel drifts, the Altima has an active understeer control that takes over. We noticed it was effective.
Braking was smooth and quick with a solid pedal feel, but the electrohydraulic power steering system isolated the steering wheel from the road a little too much.
Over many miles of Tennessee roads, the NASA inspired seats proved comfortable and supportive.
Assembled in the U.S., Nissan offers the 2013 Altima in seven models to meet a range of customer needs and budgets -- the 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL, 3.5 S, 3.5 SV and 3.5 SL. Pricing ranges from $21,500 to $30,080.
The redesigned and re-engineered Altima offers handsome styling, communication technology, sophisticated innovations, and is far improved over earlier generations.
To sum up with commercial from yesteryear, Altima, "You've come a long way, baby."