2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV: Better than the typical family sedan.
Price: $26,415 as tested ($24,100 base)
Marketer's pitch: "The most innovative Altima ever."
Conventional wisdom: "The most refined, efficient, and upscale Altima ever . . . with more character than the typical family sedan." - Edmunds.com
Reality: It's not bad for a sedan.
Bare-bones package: I'm always impressed when a carmaker sends a fairly bare-bones model out for reviewers to test. It shows a certain comfort level with the product without feeling the need to add a lot of distractions.
The 2.5V I tested came with cloth seats and no navigation. I also tried a 3.5-liter V6 with spiffy leather seats and a quicker pickup, and wasn't that impressed with the upgrades.
Favorable comparison: I happened to have the Altima 2.5 around the same time as an Infiniti EX37 crossover, and the cheaper sedan actually compared quite favorably against the much more costly cousin.
Night shift: The map lighting in the roof console (part of the $1,350 convenience package that also added fog lamps, moonroof, HomeLink transceiver, and more) offered a much more pleasant light than the EX37's. And both rear window seats got lights as well.
Friends and stuff: If you and the Mr. decide to cruise into the city for dinner and a show with a neighbor couple some night, they might be a lot more impressed with the EX37's luxury, but their legs and feet will be a lot more comfortable in the Altima. Their heads will feel about the same; headroom was not generous in either vehicle.
And you'll be able to take more CDs and store more phones in the little cubbies up front in the Altima as well.
Cheap seats: I've found cloth seats in general to be more comfortable, and the Altima is another example. Having compared both versions, I'd save the money - and the cow's hide - and stick with the cloth version.
Driver's seat: One disappointment in the Altima is the power driver's seat. Unlike a few cars I've driven, the seat didn't actually go straight up and down, but moved in an arc, like those living room power-lift chairs that give a boost when you stand. So if you want to sit up high in the Altima, beware of sliding ever so slowly toward the foot pedals.
Storage: The trunk was ample and the rear seats folded down, but not too flat.
On the road: The Altima most reminded me of an old Lumina sedan I had years ago, and that's not a bad thing. Both were mannerly, carlike, and comfortable to drive.
Up to speed: The 2.5-liter offered fairly brisk performance. And either I'm getting used to continuously variable transmissions or Nissan is getting better at them. No complaints.
The 3.5-liter in the fancier version offered much faster performance.
Keeping track: While the Altima was accelerating or decelerating, it was easy to know just how fast I was going. The gauges are clearly demarcated and easy to read.
On the radio: The display on the map-free version was pleasant to look at and easy to read. The silver steering-wheel controls were an upscale touch.
But on the downside, Nissan and Infiniti both put the steering-wheel volume controls - the ones I think I adjust the most - in awkward locations. And the dashboard knobs that control the radio were mushy. It was hard to tune a station by feel, getting from First Wave on 33 to the Spectrum on 28 with just five clicks.
Fuel economy: The 2.5-liter version averaged 32 m.p.g. in my usual highway-heavy mix of testing. The 3.5-liter got just 27.
Where it's built: Smyrna, Tenn.
How it's built: The Altima has an above-average reliability rating from Consumer Reports.
In the end: The Nissan Altima was a nicely done family sedan that offered either great mileage or snappy acceleration. And it seemed to be built a bit better than the average Nissan.