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Altima is dressed up and thrifty

| Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Looking for America's roomiest, nonhybrid, mid-size sedan with the best gas mileage?

It isn't a Honda or Toyota. It's Nissan's considerably redesigned 2013 Altima.

This fifth-generation Altima, with a federal government's rating of 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway, is slightly larger and has more power than its predecessor and is restyled inside and out for a more upscale appearance.

In fact, even the base 2013 Altima has chrome-look outer door handles and chrome-look trim around its windows for a pleasing jeweled effect.

The new, five-passenger Altima has improved seats and premium features — some of them standard equipment, such as keyless push-button start and Bluetooth hands-free phone system.

Best of all, Consumer Reports says predicted reliability of the new Altima is expected to be above average.

The 2013 Altima garnered a five-star rating for frontal and side crash passenger protection in government testing.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $22,550 for a base Altima S with 182-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic transmission.

This is just $80 more than the starting retail price for a 2013 Honda Accord with 185-horsepower four cylinder and manual tranny. A 2013 Accord with a CVT starts at $23,270.

The Altima is Nissan's best seller and topped 302,000 sales in the United States last calendar year. This was up 13 percent from 2011 and made the Altima the nation's fourth most popular car.

The major impression of the new Altima is its size. On the outside, it looked substantial even though the car is only 1.3 inches wider and 0.8 inch longer overall than its predecessor.

Passengers remarked about how much room there was — particularly legroom in the front and back seats — but they didn't seem to notice the new premium plastics and materials on the interior.

The Altima's 2.5-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder powered the test car well, bringing the peak torque of 180 foot-pounds up by 4,000 rpm. This is the same torque that last year's Altima had, but last year, peak torque came on by 3,900 rpm.

This kind of careful engine tuning, plus judicious weight reduction and addition of the CVT help account for the improved mileage.

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