First Drive: 2013 Nissan Altima

The mid-sized sedan market is the most competitive segment in the auto industry with 2 million vehicles sold per year, and Nissan has ridden the popularity of the Altima to second place in the annual sales war. We were invited out to Nashville to test drive the next generation Altima that will go on sale this summer. With a fresh new look and 38 MPG on the highway, the new Altima should do just fine in this segment. This is the first of five all-new models that Nissan will be introducing in the next 15 month, representing 70% of the company’s sales.

Exterior

The new redesign is striking and will definitely grab your attention. Nissan is phasing in a new front grille that began last year with the new Versa, but the grille on the new Altima is much more stylish, with the curved edges that takes some cues from Nissan’s Infiniti line of luxury cars. With the wrap-around headlights and the new grille, the Altima features a more aggressive front end, which is then matched by an equally stylish rear end with its LED taillights. The new Altima looks great from all angles and should compete well with the flood of new vehicles in this segment.

Interior

Nissan’s designers worked on making the interior more comfortable, with more soft padding on the doors and the new NASA-inspired “zero gravity” seats. Research by NASA on a natural, stress-free posture measured in zero-gravity influenced the design of the new seats, with the goal being an increase in blood flow, decreased muscular load and lower fatigue. I can’t speak to those specifics but the seats were certainly comfortable during our drive. The overall feel of the interior was modern and comfortable.

If you choose a leather interior, you’ll find perforated leather and a woven headliner along with a leather steering wheel that feels very comfortable to the touch. It definitely creates the upscale feel Nissan was shooting for. It feels like you’re cruising in a luxury sedan when you try the decked out model with the V6. The new Altima is also very quiet with a significant noise reduction from the previous model.

The technology package offers some nice features including NissanConnect, 7” Touchscreen, Navigation, Google POI, Google Send-to-Car and Blind Spot Warning. It also includes two new firsts for this segment – Lane Departure Warning and Moving Object Detection.

Performance

I had the opportunity to drive both the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder version and 3.5-liter V6. The next generation CVT (continuously variable transmission) worked fine in both models. The CVT has been improved with 70% of its parts redesigned, an expanded gear ratio, 40% friction reduction and improved control logic. The result was seamless acceleration and a more natural feel in CVT mode. Still, I liked how the Sport mode simulated the gear shifting sensation we’re used to from traditional automatic transmissions, and naturally it also provided more acceleration. I also liked how the Sport mode option is conveniently placed right after the “Drive” slot on the center console. You don’t have to search around for it and shifting in and out of that mode is very easy. But acceleration is fine in the standard CVT mode as well and this is where you’ll get the best gas mileage.

The Altima boasts 38 MPG on the highway with the base 4-cylinder which is best in class and should be a big selling point. Weight reduction was an important factor with greater use of ultra high strength steel and aluminum. With a 79 lb weight reduction Altima has the lowest weight in the segment.

The overall driving experience was very impressive. I’m partial to cars with some power so I loved the V6, but the base model also performed well.

Overview

This is an excellent vehicle that should continue to be a hit in this segment. The styling is impressive and should appeal to both men and women, and both the base engine and the V6 offer solid performance. The base model starts at $21,500 with the excellent gas mileage, and 3.5SL with the v6 and all of the options tops out at over $31,500. With the decked out V6, you start to rival the perks of a luxury sedan for a much lower price, particularly with the new technology package.

  

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First Drive: 2012 Nissan Versa

Seattle is usually spectacular in the summer, as the gray skies and drizzle is replace by clear and crisp summer days. So I was pleased to hear we’d be driving the redesigned 2012 Nissan Versa in the Great Northwest in July. The weather cooperated for the most part and I was able to test the pre-production vehicles in both city and highway settings while taking in some of the sights around Seattle.

Exterior

Nissan has completely redesigned the 4-dour Versa for 2012, while the update for the 5-door hatchback will come a little later. The new Versa is the first Nissan model to sport the new front grille for sedans, which is a huge improvement over the previous Nissan grille. That combined with the stylish headlights completely changes the look of the vehicle. It’s more polished and elegant that its predecessor, giving off the impression of a more expensive sedan. The previous model had a more vertical feel to it, while the new Versa has a much more aerodynamic look.

The lines of the new Versa are clean and sophisticated, and this will appeal to small car buyers who are turned off by the edgier designs from competitors that are common in the compact segment. I was impressed by the look of the car from all angles as I walked around it.

Interior

The interior was roomy and comfortable. The interior comes in two colors, charcoal and sandstone, and both fit nicely with the new exterior design. Again, consumers who prefer a more elegant vehicle over an edgy design will be pleased with the new Versa. It’s also very roomy in the back seat and has best in class trunk space, making it very practical for buyers who expect to have passengers and cargo.

Performance

The Versa features a continuously variable transmission (CVT), so you won’t feel gear changes as you’re driving the vehicle and accelerating. The new Versa sports Nissan’s second-generation CVT design, improving fuel mileage over the previous model by 5 MPG. The Versa now gets 30 MPG City, 38 MPG Highway and 33 MPG combined. Nissan official stressed that the combined mileage was tied for best-in-class, as the CVT provides great mileage performance in city driving. It also features a new 1.6-liter engine with 109 horsepower @6,000 rpm and 107 lb-ft of torque at @4,400 rpm.
I liked how the Versa felt, particularly in city driving where the CVT performed nicely. It has competitive power for vehicles in this class and solid handling.

Overview

The 1st generation Versa was introduced in 2006 and was the U.S. segment share leader for the in 2010. The small car segment is growing rapidly as more buyers look for fuel economy, and with this update we can expect the Nissan Versa to continue to be a sales leader in this space. Consumers will have many choices as more brands enter this space, and the new design will appeal to many consumers drawn to a more elegant look. It will appeal to many younger buyers and consumers looking for a commuter vehicle.

The Versa has the lowest standard MSRP of any vehicle in this space at $10,990 for the S MT. This entry-level model has few options and has a manual transmission instead of the CVT but is equipped with standard air conditioning and a radio. The S CVT starts at $12,760, the SV CVT starts at $14,560 and the SL CVT starts at $15,560, and you can add a Tech Package with Navigation, XM radio and USB for an additional $700.

  

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