Nissan Altima — Refreshed styling, new features

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The approach over the past few decades — especially in such large segments as the mid-sized family sedan — has been to build a car with a five-year cycle, endowing it with a smattering of new technology and some exterior and interior styling tweaks in the third or fourth year of the cycle to keep buyers interested. But it seems the times are changing. Mid-cycle refreshening has been ratcheted up a notch.

Both the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord had extensive interior and exterior updates just three years after complete makeovers so it is not surprising that Nissan has followed suit with its mid-sized Altima sedan, which was last redone in 2013, receiving something more than a typical refreshening with an exterior styling update and a handful of new features.

The new V-shaped grille up front brings the Altima up to date with the newest Nissan vehicles and, when combined with restyled headlights and taillights, puts some new life into the sedan's conservative appearance. Also, adaptive cruise control, paired with forward collision warning and automatic braking are now on the menu. And a sporty SR trim has been added with 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a sport-tuned suspension, sport seats, and a simulated manual shift control via shift paddles.

We were surprised but not disappointed that the interior was not part of the update as Nissan elected to keep the status quo. Nissan’s easily legible instrumentation contains the usual array of gauges, and between the large tachometer and speedometer is Nissan’s Advanced Drive-Assist with a four-inch LCD in-dash vehicle information display system with custom selectable settings, system warning information, and tire pressure readouts, audio and (available) navigation.

Likewise, the drivetrains remain the same. And that's okay too, because the standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder makes 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque offering solid performance measured at a better-than-segment-average 7.7 seconds combined with excellent EPA mileage ratings of 27-city, 39-highway and 31 combined. If you demand even better opt for the optional 3.5-liter V-6 making 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. For comparison purposes, it will finish off a 0-to-60 run in around 6 seconds, one of the top performers in the segment. Likewise, gas mileage ratings are near segment best for a V-6 at 22 mpg city, 32-highway and 26 overall.

Both engines are mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and while we are not fans of the shiftless transmission, we admit that Nissan has done a remarkable job making the CVT in the Altima feel like a conventional automatic transmission with simulated gears.

We found the 4-cylinder in our SL top-trim-level test car lively with the ability to seamlessly push the engine revs through the CVT to near peak torque creating the power needed to quickly pass or merge without a hint of drama. Altima’s stability is dictated by standard Active Understeer Control, front and rear stabilizer bars and a host of suspension, steering and braking technology. Handling is responsive and the ride composed.

Passenger space is adequate with enough legroom in the rear for average-sized adult passengers. Front-seat passengers will find Nissan's NASA-inspired "zero gravity" seats comfortable for the long haul. Premium materials, be they cloth or leather, further decrease driver fatigue. Depending on the model the driver’s seat is either six-way powered or eight-way powered and the front passenger seat is four-way adjustable. There’s plenty of standard and optional connectivity and navigation as well as several audio systems of various content. And trunk space is class average at a useable 15.4 cubic feet.

The Altima is available is five trim levels — base, S, SR, SV and SL — starting at $23,325. We figure the true base price is $23,725 for the S trim, which is what most people on a budget will buy because of its relatively low cost and its abundant amount of standard features including full power accessories, automatic headlights, air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, a rearview camera, a six-speaker audio system with five-inch display and basic NissanConnect smartphone app integration. Edmunds reports True Market Value with added incentives and rebates on the S is currently $22,309.

Our SL test car came with a base price of $29,395 including destination charge and such standard features as leather upholstery, heated steering wheel and the Bose premium sound system with nine speakers. It also included the optional ($2,190) Technology package with NissanConnect and navigation (with a seven-inch touchscreen) and adaptive cruise control bringing the bottom line to $32,595. Edmunds says True Market Value is currently $30,429.

Base price: $23,325; as driven, $32,595
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 182 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 180 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.3 inches
Length: 191.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,254 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 39 highway, 27 city, 31 combined
0-60: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord

The Good
• Strong acceleration from 4-cylinder
• Above average fuel economy
• Effective styling updates

The Bad
• Tight rear headroom

The Ugly
• Engine can be harsh-sounding under full throttle