2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL Long-Term Update 6
Neither Bland Nor Bold: The Altimate Styling Critique
"Visually stunning" is how Motor Trend described the 2003 Nissan Altima in a comparison test it won over a 2003 Accord and Camry, and that design has held up exceptionally well over the years. But 10 years after the new-for-2002 Altima debuted, the midsize sedan segment is crowded with more serious players than ever before. Today, the 2013 Altima's curb appeal pales in comparison to the more stylish Kia Optima and Ford Fusion, but neither of those cars sells as well, consistently, as the Nissan. After several months of daily-driving the Motor Trend long-term 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL, however, I can share some impressions on what it's like to live with the design.
Especially in red, our 2013 Altima is no wallflower. Even for those who prefer a more subtle shade, this car can't justifiably be called bland, and I appreciate that. I've become accustomed to the stretched front grille and its thick, chrome edges. It's not pretty, but I prefer the look over the somewhat similar front end of the current-generation Hyundai Sonata, whose pulled-back headlights I don't think work as well as those on the Altima. One minor detail that could be improved is the cut line on the front edge of the hood. Too much of the rubber seal peeks through -- walk in front of a 2013-2014 Altima being serviced at a dealership and you'll get a better idea of what I'm talking about.
Keep moving around the Altima and the 17-inch wheels look good, but there's a tough-to-ignore large gap between the top of the tires and the bottom of the wheel well flares. Even in the unsexy midsize sedan segment, Ford offers 18-inch wheels on similarly priced Fusions, the turbocharged Kia Optima rides on 18s, and the options-limited Honda Accord Sport trim wears 18-inch wheels that better fill the wheel wells. Along with HID headlights, 18-inch wheels are exclusive to the six-cylinder Altima.
Just like the 2014 Mazda6, the Altima has a bold character line that rises from the front of the car and falls slightly on the front door. The Mazda is far better looking overall, but at least the Altima has actual rear quarter windows instead of black plastic triangles. The windows bring in a bit more light into the cabin and also distinguish the latest-generation Altima from previous Altimas that didn't have the design detail.
Move to the car's rear and you're greeted by dual exhaust outlets polished with chrome. Other than that, a couple details could use improvement. If I'm being picky, I would prefer LED taillights that, when lit, mimic the sideways-U shape created by the taillights' white strip, instead of the basic circular design currently used. One detail that can't be fixed in a mid-cycle refresh is the height of that rear trunk lid. I'm guessing the car's deck lid is so high to assure cargo capacity is class competitive, but rear visibility suffers a little as a result. Overall, outward visibility is fine.
Yes, the 2013 Altima lacks the clear taillight lenses and bold styling with which the 2002 model debuted, but that car had more to prove. Now Nissan is on track to sell more than 300,000 Altimas this year, and design is not likely a primary motivating factor behind its success. After living with the car for a number of months, I like seeing a few styling flourishes here and there. Our Altima 2.5 SL's sheetmetal is definitely more interesting than the exterior of the Camry XLE, but will it age as well in 10 years as an Accord EX-L?