Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 Nissan Altima offers great ride, impressive tech features -- TECH TIME AUTO REVIEW

With a fresh design, Nissan has come out swinging at the competition in the mid-size car market with its 2013 Altima. I’ll let you know about my experience in the car and delve into all the tech goodies that have been included in this reboot.

Though it’s not a luxury line, the Nissan offerings still have a very stylish look to them. I found the 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL that I tested to be very well-designed and made to impress, and this was the intent.
Altima senior planner Jay Sizemore said that Nissan wanted people to see a car that was not your ordinary mid-sized vehicle.
“The initial concept for this Altima was to “make this a class above”, to target look and feel, like entry-level luxury,” he explained. “Full chrome trim around windows; chrome door handles standard; sweeping grille that widens as it grows upward. Full masked fascia similar to Infinitis.
All that was with the goal of creating a class above, more of a ‘Wow’ when people see it at the dealership.”

The V6 version of the Altima that I tested is rated at 22 city mpg and 31 highway mpg, for an average of 25. Depending on how you drive, you can do pretty well (I averaged about 26 mpg in my time with the car.) There is also a 4-cylinder version of the Altima that offers 31 combined mpg, which is a pretty strong number for this segment.

While Bluetooth streaming capability is standard on all Altimas, if you want to do a hard-connect of your music player to the vehicle via USB port, you’ll have to go beyond the base model. Starting with the SV trim level (the middle option), you’ll get a bunch of features offered, including the USB port, satellite radio, hands-free text messaging and Nissan Connect.
I can see the lack of universal USB inclusion both ways. While it’s true that people are going more and more cordless these days, I still would have liked to see it be included on all vehicles, since there are folks who don’t do Bluetooth streaming yet.
All Altima models include an AM/FM radio and CD player.
On the top trim level (SL), there is a booming 9-speaker Bose sound system that was a joy to listen to. Lower trim levels will feature either four speakers or six speakers, but not the Bose quality.

On the SV and SL trim levels of the Altima, you can get the navigation package as an option. I found the system easy to learn and easy to use, and it is a helpful addition that I would highly recommend just for peace of mind when you’re getting around town -- especially if you travel a lot. The Navigation system can also keep track of traffic for you, so you know what parts of town to avoid.
The 7-inch screen that comes with the navigation package offers plenty of real estate to display all the information you’ll need in your travels.
Also at these trim levels, you can get the Google POI services through Nissan Connect. This means you can use you car to do a Google search for nearby points of interest, then tell the system to guide you to the destination you choose.

There is some integration of Pandora Radio in the Altima, and Sizemore said that Nissan recognizes this is an area for potential growth in the future as they look into other options for app integration.
“We’re studying what apps … Spotify, I Heart Radio, etc. … if we should offer some of those in the future. We’re staying up with the trends,” he said.

One area where Nissan does very well in terms of competing with the rest of the car tech industry is with its cameras and safety features on the Altima.
Many of the tech features on the Altima have trickled down from the Infiniti brand -- which is Nissan’s luxury line of vehicles and usually gets the latest tech updates first. On the top SL trim level, you can get safety features like blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection.
“These are some technologies that were on Infiniti that are now on Altima,” Sizemore said.
There are differences, though. He explained that the Altima’s safety systems do not actually help stop the vehicle in cases of oncoming collision, like some Infiniti vehicles can. Instead, they provide you visual and audible warnings and you have to stop yourself..
“The camera is always processing what’s behind the vehicle,” he said. “If the position of the object moves, then it alerts the driver and highlights the screen and has an audible alert”
During short trips, and those through a construction zone where they might go off unnecessarily, you can turn off these features with a button on the dash.
The rear-view camera is very helpful when you’re backing out of your driveway or a parking spot in a busy parking lot. The camera has two views you can toggle -- Wide angle view, or straight back.
The wide angle view features a sort-of fish-eye look to give a more broad blind spot warning detection from that camera. It uses close to 180 degrees of viewing ability, and I found that to be the more reliable view to use when backing up. It’s one of the better cameras I’ve seen on a vehicle that’s actually pretty affordable.
Sizemore explained that a lot of the safety features on the Altima are made possible through the rear camera.
“The lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and moving object detection: We basically achieve those three alerts through that camera on the rear trunk. It can process images and where the images move with respect to the car. It alerts either passenger side or driver side unlike some of the competitors don’t do both sides). It can let you know if you’re drifting out of your lane,” he said.
In the case of a blind spot warning, you’ll see a light show up on the door mirrors that will blink if someone is in your blind spot. If you turn on your blinker and are about to head into harm’s way, it gets brighter. Also, an audio alert will sound in addition to the signal from the light. I found this feature to be very helpful when driving, as our blind spots are often the most dangerous part of driving..
One other thing about the camera that’s nice, which not all automakers do, is that it’s self-cleaning.
“The Altima automatically cleans and dries the little camera in the back with pressurized washer fluid and air shoots out and dries it off,” Sizemore said.
The safety systems on the Nissan lineup are less sophisticated than the Infiniti lineup, which uses radar, and not just a camera, to protect you.
But that more sophisticated system will put you in luxury price range, and if you can’t afford that price range, Nissan vehicles are more affordable and their camera-based system does an adequate job of keeping you safe, giving you proper warning and letting you finish the job of protecting yourself..

One safety feature I like to see built in to vehicles is an OnStar like feature that automatically alerts the proper authorities if the vehicle is in an accident. That’s not present on the Altima, but Sizemore said it’s something being looked at.
“We’re studying that right now,” he said. “People that do find it to be a need can buy it at stores.”

The Nissan Connect feature available on the Altima features some helpful tech options, including Google POI and Google Send to Car.
Google POI works through your smartphone. You can search for something on your phone, then transfer the address to your vehicle’s navigation system. You’ll obviously want to do this before you get on the road, as that’s not allowed while you’re driving.
Send to Car, lets you get directions ready online at home and send the directions to your car.

The ride with the 2013 Altima I tested was powerful and smooth, thanks to the 3.5-liter V-6 engine that boasted 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. Overall, it was one of the more enjoyable vehicles to drive that I’ve tested in the past year.
There is also the more mpg-friendly 4-cylinder model offered, with a 2.5 liter engine and 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, which won’t be quite as powerful but gives you the extra mpg to make up for it.

Another interesting feature standard on all Altimas is easy fill tire alert, which means will let you know when you have the proper inflation in the tires.
“The car will blink its lights, saying it knows you’re filling the tire. When it gets to the proper level, it will beep the horn to let you know to stop,” Sizemore explained. “If you overinflate, it will alert you to that too with a triple chirp of the horn” You don’t even need to know the number you need to reach.”

To be as safe as possible, you want to keep your eyes on the road at all times. And voice and steering wheel commands help with this.
On the Altima, you can make phone calls with your voice via Bluetooth (as long as your phone is connected to the car), give navigation commands with your voice, and choose your audio source via voice.
You can not control climate with voice, but on SV trim level and above, you can have remote start engine, so you can just preset your temperature settings and they’ll come on when the engine starts.
On your Altima steering wheel, you get: Volume up/down buttons, voice control button, cruise control buttons and a music source button. Also, there is a button that controls the info screen on the dashboard -- a nice-looking 4-inch color screen which allows you to toggle through mpg, tire pressure and other settings.

Target audience
So what type of people tend to go for the Altima, which is in a very competitive field of mid-sized vehicles? Sizemore explained it like this:
“We have a younger target customer than Toyota or Honda. More tech-savvy customers,” he said. “We have a target couple in mind between Gen X and Gen Y -- a forward-thinking dynamic couple that wants something nice but isn’t quite ready to go luxury.”
Nissan is not the only company out there offering impressive technology on its vehicles, but Sizemore said there are some compelling reasons to consider Altima.
“I’d say that on any grade, you’re going to see useful thoughtful technology. From the tech package, all the way down to standard Bluetooth streaming, we’re not discriminating,” he said. “Nissan Altima is about forward technology -- keeping eye on fuel economy, tire pressure, etc. Every step has a thoughtful technology for the customer. Regardless of budget, we’re trying to make your life a little easier“

If you’re willing to give up all the frills I’ve described and just want a nice ride, the base Altima is pretty affordable with a starting price of $21,700 (plus 790 destination charge). But I’d say it’s worth upgrading at least a little bit to get more of a taste of the tech touches Nissan.
The top level, which I tested, starts at $30,500, and all totaled (plus destination and technology package) the version I tested will cost you $32,380. And in between there are a lot of variations and combinations to be considered.

Overall, the 2013 Nissan Altima offers a smooth an enjoyable ride, and there is a lot to like overall in this car in terms of technology and safety features. You’re not going to be at the level of features you’ll get on the luxury Infiniti line, but enough trickles down to the Nissan lineup, which is much more affordable, that you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in the market for a mid-size vehicle with some solid features and good tech capability, the Altima should definitely be on your list of cars to test.

On the Web
For more information on the Nissan Altima and other vehicles, visit

Matt Myftiu can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”.


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