2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL Long-Term Update 9
I-4 or V-6: How Much is it Worth to You?
Raise your hand if you've got an extra $2100 laying around. What, no hands? Many drivers -- even enthusiasts -- just don't have the funds to drop an extra two grand to pay for a six-cylinder midsize sedan. A choice must often be made between extra features and additional power. Like Toyota with the Camry and Honda with the Accord, Nissan still offers an available V-6 engine. Is it worth the extra money over the standard 2.5-liter I-4?
A 182-hp engine doesn't sound impressive on paper, but wring out an Altima like our 2013 long-termer and you might be surprised by its responsiveness. I've become accustomed to the wide-open throttle whine as a necessary compromise for the car's decent acceleration and EPA-rated 27/38 mpg city/highway. Not everyone will feel this way, though, and that's where the 270-hp 3.5-liter V-6 comes in.
As with all 2014 Altimas, the 3.5 model is mated to a CVT, and 0-60 mph takes 5.9 seconds, compared with the 7.7-second time of our 2.5-liter long-term car. It's a noticeable difference that could serve well for those who consider every highway on-ramp a starting line. It's not surprising, though, that the Altima loses its balance with the V-6.
"The V-6 front end is wayward, like a Labrador puppy on linoleum," said editor-at-large Angus MacKenzie about an Altima V-6 at our 2013 Car of the Year testing. "The torque steer pushes the front wide under gas, and dives to apex when lifting off."
Neither Altima is a sports sedan, but, for the price, I've found the 2.5 SL to perform respectably on winding roads. Another important difference between the two cars comes at the pump. The upgrade in power is met with a corresponding drop in fuel economy, from 27/38 mpg with the I-4 to 22/31 mpg. Even if you don't care about fuel economy, consider that in ideal circumstances, the EPA says you'll travel nearly 100 miles longer on one tank with the I-4 than with the V-6 -- and that's assuming you don't take advantage of the V-6's power at every stoplight.
For $30,560, a 2014-model-year Altima 2.5 SL like our 2013 tester has leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, a nine-speaker sound system, a moonroof, lane departure warning and blindspot monitoring systems, plus a navigation system on a 7-inch screen. A comparably equipped 3.5 SL with options is $32,660, and adds V-6-only equipment including paddle shifters, 18-inch wheels, and HID headlights. Not an insignificant amount of money, but justifiable if you must have a V-6 and every feature. A 2014 Altima 3.5 SV without the HID headlights, upgraded sound system, or leather goes for $30,360, while a $31,570 navigation-less 3.5 SL keeps the leather and HIDs but doesn't use the 7-inch screen.
Local and regional incentives can significantly change this picture, but I simply don't see the Altima as quite as much of a value once you move far beyond the $30,000 mark. Those who can do without frills might consider the 2014 Altima 3.5 S around $27,000 if they can do without features that would be standard on a similarly priced Altima 2.5.
In the $30,000-$35,000 price range, I want a car that feels half a class above ordinary midsize sedans; a car that has premium features, drives well, and an exterior design with a little premium appeal. To varying degrees, the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Mazda6, and Kia Optima fit this description best. By the numbers, it's the 278-hp Accord we'd expect to pull away from the others in 0-60 mph acceleration. We've clocked a 2013 Optima SX-L at 7.2 seconds, while an all-wheel-drive Fusion with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost I-4 reached 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. We have yet to test an Accord V-6 sedan, but an Accord V-6 coupe with a six-speed manual hit 60 mph in 5.4 and 5.6 seconds on two separate occasions.
As I've covered in a previous Altima update, the Accord also places its 8-inch center stack screen in the right place, high on the dash and pushed back, for better visibility. That car also has more interior space than the Altima, though the Honda gets pricey with the V-6 and a couple options.
Before regional incentives change the financial picture, the Altima's value argument is already strong as a moderately or fully equipped 2.5. If I had the money for a six-cylinder midsize sedan under $35,000, however, I'm going to more closely consider an Accord V-6 or loaded Mazda6, despite its I-4-only powertrain.
|Service life||11 mo/19,793 mi|
|CO2 emissions||0.72 lb/mi|
|Energy consumption||125 kW-hr/100mi|
|Maintenance cost||$204.92 (2-oil change, inspection, rotate tires; 1-cabin-air filter, engine-air filter)|