Last year, the Nissan Altima was the second-best selling car in the United States.

That stat is impressive on its own, but it’s even more impressive when you realize that the the Altima’s four-year old design was up against newer entries from the likes of Toyota, Volkswagen and Hyundai.

The Altima will soon face a redesigned Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu and Honda Accord, too, which makes getting the all-new 2013 Nissan Altima sedan right the first time that much more important for Nissan.

Based on our limited time behind the wheel of both the 3.5-liter V-6 and the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Altima variants, we’d say Nissan has hit the nail firmly on the head. In fact, don’t be surprised when we start slinging phrases like “class leading” around in regards to the new Altima.

If genius is in the details, the 2013 Altima comes across as pretty damn smart. Look at the gasket-equipped join between the hood and fenders, for example, or the two under-body panels to deflect air.

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima

Nissan does this to lower drag, which is just one of the reasons why the Altima achieves an EPA-estimated 38 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg around town. That makes the new Altima the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered midsize sedan you can buy, when equipped with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

Plenty of other tricks are used to boost fuel economy, too. While the new Altima isn’t the first car to tell you your tire pressure is low, it is the first car we can name that guides you through the process of filling your tires.

When you get a low tire pressure warning, the Altima tells you which tire needs air. Begin filling the tire, and the Altima blinks its hazard lights to confirm that pressure is increasing.

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima

Reach the desired pressure, and the horn beeps once; overfill the tire, and the horn sounds three quick beeps. It’s a nearly foolproof system, aimed at those who don’t even own a tire gauge.

We say “nearly foolproof,” since the system isn’t smart enough to determine the correct pressure based on tire temperature. Still, it gets tire pressure in the ballpark, boosting both fuel economy and safety.

The biggest gains in fuel economy come from the engine and transmission. Nissan’s tried-and-true QR25 engine is some 11 pounds lighter than last year, while its next-generation Xtronic CVT boasts a taller overdrive and a 40-percent reduction in internal friction (which helps durability along with fuel consumption).  

Don’t think that acceleration suffers in the name of fuel economy, either, as Nissan claims the 2013 Altima 2.5 delivers best-in-class acceleration. We didn’t time it, but it certainly felt quick enough to us to satisfy mainstream buyers, even with two passengers in the car.

On the road, the Altima delivers a surprisingly compliant ride that never manages to feel numb. Even the steering, which blends a conventional hydraulic system with an electric motor assist, is nicely weighted considering the car’s non-sporting role.

Perhaps the most impressive thing of all about the new Altima, however, is the amount of amenities for the price, which begins at $22,280 for the base 2.5 sedan and hits $28,830 for the range-topping 2.5 SL.

The seats (comfortable cloth in lower-trim models, not cow-from-a-test tube) were designed to reduce fatigue using posture research from NASA, and we’d give them two enthusiastic thumbs up for comfort.

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima

When the headlights are set to the “Auto On” position, the Altima will turn on the headlights after four passes of the windshield wipers, ensuring that drivers comply with “lights on with wipers” ordinances.

The cabin delivers near-luxury levels of quiet, too, thanks to the increased use of lightweight, sound-deadening materials in the headliner, instrument panel and floor mats. The new Altima also gets a more rigid body, ensuring that there’s nary a peep from the dash or center console over bumps and rough surfaces.

If connectivity is important, the Altima comes with Bluetooth phone connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming across all trim levels, while SV and SL trim models come with the full suite of NissanConnect apps (including Pandora, Google POI search and a hands free text-messaging assistant).

Navigation is available in higher trim models, too, for an impressively low $590. If you want the safest Altima possible, SL trim models can be ordered with a package including lane departure warning, moving object detection and blind spot warning, too.

Until Nissan decides what it’s doing with the next Altima Hybrid, the 2013 Altima 2.5 represents the automaker’s best option for a fuel-efficient, midsize family sedan.

2013 Nissan Altima

2013 Nissan Altima

Its bold exterior styling may not please everyone, and we’d still love to see a small turbodiesel under the hood, but there’s no denying the new Altima is improved in every way. We wouldn’t be surprised if this version proves even more popular than the one it replaces.

Disclaimer: Nissan put us up in a nice hotel and fed us breakfast and lunch as part of this drive event. Even if it hadn’t, we’d still say good things about the new Altima - it really is that impressive.


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