Think about what you were doing 20 years ago. For most of us, email was a rare form of communication, a "text" was a book, and hybrid technology was something best left to the experts at NASA.

Many things have changed in the past two decades, and the Nissan Altima is no exception. It's been 20 years since the first Altima rolled off the line in Tennessee. Now in its fifth generation, this midsize sedan is completely reinvented for 2013, with a more muscular exterior, polished interior and new powertrains.

Altima's new profile looks sportier and more substantial. A blend of concave and convex surfaces has been designed to evoke the look of a Japanese samurai coat. A broad, curved trapezoidal grille caps a grinning air dam, while arrowhead headlamps point toward brawny wheel wells and shoulders.

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The roof is raked downwards, creating a couple-like effect from the C-pillar to the trunk. One element the 2013 sedan has in common with its predecessors is a broad lower back section, which looks either substantial or clunky, depending on the angle.

Inside, smooth surfaces and sculpted lines echo the sleek curves of the outside. The cabin is custom-designed for long rides. Having consulted with NASA, Nissan designed "zero gravity" seats to let the body rest comfortably with optimal posture and less fatigue while driving. It feels calmer, too, due to a 30 percent improvement in noise absorption.

Seats have standard cloth upholstery with black and chrome accents; six-way driver and four-way passenger adjustments are standard. Leather seats and alternative trims are available.

The center stack and controls are symmetrical and unobtrusive, adding to the serene feel of the cockpit. The standard audio system, which includes steering wheel mounted controls, is a four-speaker AM/FM/CD unit with MP3 and Bluetooth phone/streaming connectivity. Remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, and power adjusting side mirrors are standard.

Starting at $21,500, seven models make up the new 2013 Altima lineup: four 2.5-liter engine equipped models: 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SV and 2.5 SL; and three 3.5-liter V-6 equipped models: 3.5 S, 3.5 SV and 3.5 SL.

Under the hood, Altima is powered by one of two powerplants. A redesigned 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder makes 182 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque, while the 3.5-liter V-6 remains rated at 270 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Both are mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission boasting more than 70 percent new components.

EPA gas mileage estimates range from 27/38 mpg city/highway for the 4-cylinder Altima to 22/30 mpg for the V-6 model.

We drove two versions of the 2013 Nissan Altima on a recent test-drive that originated from Nissan's headquarters in Franklin, Tenn. It's a great area for motoring since the region has a good mix of high-speed, urban four-lanes and tight and twisty two-lanes.

Our testers included the base 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder model and a top-of-the-line 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder model over a course of 150 miles. The upgrades are notable to exterior looks and interior freshness, with a host of comfort and convenience features, as well as new technologies.

Most notable are the upgrades to the 4-cylinder model that had great power on tap and a very responsive drive in the "sport" mode. The V-6 has good performance, especially on the highways, where power comes on smoothly for high-speed passing.

Nissan benchmarked the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class for the quality and feel of the Altima's drive, with features like active understeer control and improvements to the suspension for ride feel, with upgrades to comfort and handling. Also, of note, is the weight reduction of the new Altima and its redesigned CVT that has expanded the gear ratio, bringing "higher highs" and "lower lows" and boasts a 0-to-60 mph. time of 7.1 seconds.



VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD midsize sedan

BASE PRICE___________________ $21,500 (as tested: $22,280)

ENGINE TYPE__________________16-valve 4-cylinder w/SMPFI


HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 182 at 6000 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 180 at 4000 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ CVT

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 191.5 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 36.1 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,108 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 18.0 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway

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