Different is good. If you think back to high school, we'll bet it's the slightly different kids who turned out to be the more interesting adults. We're not talking about the destructive behavior prone, but rather those kids who just didn't go along with the crowd. Maybe they were really into being on the yearbook staff, or they skipped the Friday night lights of football in favor of tennis or golf. Think of the 2013 Nissan Altima as one of those kids; it isn't the most popular midsize sedan, but it is smart, good looking and every bit as competent as the star quarterback of cars, the Toyota Camry.

Nissan knows the Altima might not be top dog when it comes to midsize sedans, but they also know plenty of people like the Altima just the way it is. The new 2013 Altima is still identifiable as a Nissan Altima, but now it has a more dramatic exterior look, a nicer interior and a host of expected tech features that add an extra measure of convenience and safety.

Revised Engines and Transmission

The real headline for the new Nissan Altima is the expected 38 miles per gallon (highway) from a traditional internal-combustion engine. At this point, there's no hybrid version of the new Altima, and that's just as well because it doesn't really make sense. The added expense and complexity of a hybrid likely would net only a few miles per gallon difference in combined city and highway driving. The 2013 Altima 2.5 is expected to get 27 mpg in the city.

The added miles per gallon comes courtesy of a re-engineered 2.5-liter, 182-hp four-cylinder engine that's lighter and generates less friction than the previous engine. It's a similar story with the Altima's Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). A CVT doesn't have traditional gears, but rather it works by constantly varying the gear ratios to keep the engine working in the optimal range. That transmission is lighter, and Nissan engineers reduced friction 40 percent. New, less-restrictive oil in the CVT also helps boost efficiency.

A 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6 is also available. It's smoother than the four-cylinder, and it gives the car a more premium feel. With this engine, a direct comparison to the new Toyota Camry SE V6 makes sense, and it's really hard to pick one over the other in terms of acceleration and refinement. The Altima does have a nicer interior in terms of look and feel, however.

Upscale Look and Tech

Even with the added fuel economy, the Altima comes off plusher and sportier than competitors like the Toyota Camry, and it's more upscale inside and out than the Honda Accord. The Altima's sleeker look sort of hints at a more Infiniti-like experience, especially in the Altima's SL trim. Notable interior features include Nissan's NASA-inspired front seats that somehow offer just the right amount of cushioning and support. Nissan says the design results in increased blood flow in the legs, and that means less fatigue on long commutes and family road trips. We spent about two hours in the car and never felt uncomfortable.

The 2013 Nissan Altima also has tons of available tech features. As expected, smartphone integration is available, as are Pandora, satellite radio and an iPod connection as part of the Nissan Connect package. It's standard on the 2.5 SV model, which is priced around $25,000. The Tech Package ($1,090) adds navigation with a 7-inch touchscreen, Google points of interest, Google send to car, blind spot warning and lane departure warning. Remote start and a new tire pressure alert system are worthwhile, too. The tire pressure system makes it easy to fill tires to the correct pressure - the horn honks when the correct pressure is reached in each tire.

On the road, the new Nissan feel substantial, but never heavy. The revised multi-link suspension delivers sharp handling in the corners, but it still has a compliant ride in a straight line. The Altima's ability to effectively balance a comfortable ride and responsive handling is one of the things that we've always like about this car, and we're happy that hasn't changed.

Clearly, this updated Altima is an improvement and Nissan's brand of different is sure to find plenty of takers. Nissan kept the look and feel of the car familiar but added tech bits, efficiency and interior refinements that make it a very good midsize sedan. Is it better than the Toyota Camry, Chevy Malibu and Honda Accord? Probably, but it really depends on what you're looking for. The 2013 Nissan Altima is every bit as good as those cars, but it simply feels like a more premium midsize sedan.

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Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. An automotive writer and presenter for more than 12 years, he's contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Edmunds.com, Fox Business, Speed TV and The Today Show.

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