Still a five-seater and not much bigger in any direction than last year's model, the 2013 Nissan Altima grows a little bit on its 109.3-inch wheelbase to fit neatly in a place somewhere smaller than a Honda Accord and the titanic VW Passat, but bigger than the outgoing Ford Fusion.
This year's Altima is 1.4 inches wider than before, and sits at 191.5 inches in overall length. That puts front leg room at 45.0 inches and rear leg room at 36.1 inches, both above average in the family-sedan segment, and headroom checks in at 40.0 inches in front and 37.1 inches in back--an inch less in front when the sunroof is specified.
Those numbers translate into a very spacious cabin for four adults--five with some jostling--and exceptional comfort thanks to lots of effort put into the Altima's seats. Better sculpting makes the most of the available headroom--I had more than an inch of space left under the sunroof, though I'm six feet tall and sit fairly upright. More surprising, the Altima's cloth front seats felt just as comfortable after a couple hours of driving. Nissan says it patterned the shape and compression characteristics after NASA's own research--whatever the inspiration, it's paid off in long-distance comfort that holds up even when the seats are covered in leather. The Altima's substantial dash trims a little more knee room away than some sedans, though--the Passat for example. The six-way power driver seat can be upgraded to eight-way control and seat heating, but the passenger side is manual-only on all versions.
In back, the Altima has just enough head room to keep tall passengers from making contact with the headliner. The seat is laid back at a fairly steep angle, and there's some, not a lot, of foot room under the front seats. The rear seatbacks are split 60/40, and fold down for access to the trunk.
The Altima excels in muting and filtering out almost all road noises. It's far better than the Passat and Sonata, for example, at eliminating the constant tire drone from freeway driving--though it's challenged by the four-cylinder's aggressive, always-present exhaust noise. The V-6 is subdued to a mellow hum, and it's easy to hear the sound system at low volumes, whereas the Passat's stereo has to be cranked up to overcome its significant tire and wind noise.
Elsewhere, the Altima's fit and finish is mostly a success, but some trim is better than others. The dash cap is soft and thick, and so are the armrest and those supportive cloth seats. The door pulls are hard plastic; the piano black trim on the dash is the kind that swirls and scuffs easily and quickly; and the radio buttons are metal chiclets of equal size and texture. They look like lesser pieces stuck on a center stack that's otherwise well composed, and mature. Skip the faux-metal trim on some models if you can--it reads like a cheap sharkskin suit.
With 15.4 cubic feet of space the trunk is average or a little better than average. Look up ahead of its hinges, though, and it's left unfinished, with exposed speakers, as we've seen in the Sonata. While Ford and Hyundai and VW have moved their seatback releases into the trunk, Nissan's kept some in the cabin--but they've added a thoughtful second set in the trunk, too. To save weight, they're not made of plastic though--they're lightweight fabric loops that weigh next to nothing and probably cost even less. You have to admire the ingenuity, and the bold cost-cutting, all at once.