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One and Done: The Best Midsize Sedan in America

The best midsize sedan in America, and four other cars.

By Jason Davis | Photos By Jason Davis | February 26, 2013

Altima Says Hi, Few Noticed

Like the Ford Fusion and the Honda Accord and the Chevy Malibu, the 2013 Nissan Altima is also brand new. And like the Accord, it's still a lot of familiar territory: the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission are from the previous model, and the styling isn't too different than the one it replaced. None of this is a bad thing; despite the similarities, the Altima is more premium looking than before, when it was turning into one of America's favorite midsize sedans.
But it isn't more premium than the car it replaced. "I'm surprised by how little has changed," said Married Guy #1. It's still plain looking on the outside, though it looked massaged in the right places, and there's not much to look at on the inside, either. And that totally conceals that the new Altima has a fantastic platform for weekend duties. The engine is peppy and gets up to speed nicely, and the continuously variable transmission, although it results in a distractingly loud engine, was the most responsive performer of the group. Stomp the gas to pass on the freeway, and the Altima responded like that dork in high school whose hand shot up at every question in class -- pick me, pick me, PICK ME! Compared to other family sedans, we mean, the Altima is very dynamic, and eager, like an amped-up puppy. Which belies its sedated appearance. But that's about it. In fact, it's a lot like the Camry (see below), except that it's fun to drive. Sure, the Altima was fine on regular roads, though a bit noisy, and it was well composed, too. It did very well in real-world fuel economy, second only to the Camry, and that's important. But our real problem with the new Altima, and this is our harshest criticism of it, is that we felt the interior was alarmingly unrefined. This same approach won Honda zero new fans when its cheapened 2012 Civic debuted with a less refined interior than the previous generation. And Honda was chastised by the press. "It's like Nissan spent all of its development money on the chassis, and nothing for the rest of the car," complained Bachelor #2. The shiny plastic schematic is insultingly cheap and "already dated," moaned Bachelor #1. The center stack felt "bulky and cheap," said Might As Well Be Married Guy. "What a letdown," remarked Married Guy #2. "It still feels like it takes a backseat in refinement compared to the rest of the group," said Married Guy #1. But were the interior features at least functional? The audio was uninspiring, and the satellite radio lost its signal and couldn't retrieve it on our drive; Married Guy #1 is a giant, as is Might As Well Be Married Guy, and they both felt the seats were too upright, too short, nicely squishy, but otherwise annoying. And the backseat? Not as spacious as the Accord, Camry, or Fusion, and particularly lacked headroom. So, for $26,000, what you're left with is a best seller with a fantastic but noisy ride, and a cheap, half-assed interior dominated by an unsightly, wobbly, center console. A second-year refresh could take the Altima a long way.
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7 comments
DRJJJ
DRJJJ

The Accord is the best looking, but the Camry is the best choice if you're looking for reliability! The Camry has the traditional engine/drivetrain config-no direct injection and no cvt tranny like the accord auto! Read forums, these two features are over sold and may just lead to very expensive repairs down the road! I'm guessing manufacturers will regret DI and CVTs! These two features have not delivered as promise in the mpg department either as promised! All the cars are good looking outside and competition is tightening, but this should be known to the buying public! The chevy and chrysler engine/drivetrain is still sub par too ( I rent them), but getting better! Thanks, picky EngineerĀ 

Audi Love
Audi Love

The Fusion is the best of them all, honey! ^^^^^

Gregory Smitherman
Gregory Smitherman

I'm chevy all the way, both the Honda and Chevy Malibu looks the best.

Automotive.com
Automotive.com

It takes a little coercing to get our staff photographer (and talented writer if you haven't read the story yet) out of the dark dungeon known as our cubicle-walled office. But when he gets out, he does a great job. -Jacob

Alex Brown
Alex Brown

This is a great picture.... If the fusion was in a different color, I'd give it the best grill award. Def goes to Honda tho! :)