A nose job keeps Nissan’s aging sedan looking young(ish)

The fifth-generation Altima debuted for the 2013 model year and Nissan didn’t let it simmer too long before introducing a mid-cycle refresh for the 2016 model year. The refresh is mild at best, consisting of a revised front fascia with Nissan’s V-motion corporate face and swoopy curves that mimic the Maxima’s. The greasy bits and interior remain basically untouched. But are these changes enough to keep the Altima selling at its record pace?

To find out, I spent a week with the 2016 Altima. Granted, the model year is currently rolling towards 2017, but Nissan isn’t making any changes. That makes the 2016 just as good to review.

The Altima is dug in hard against some fearsome competitors. There’s the hot-selling Honda Accord, the surprisingly upscale Volkswagen Passat, and the venerable Toyota Camry. As you might expect, the Toyota leads the segment in sales by a long shot, moving a whopping 429,355 Camries in 2015. Honda follows, having sold 355,557 Accords. Nissan isn’t too far behind, with 333.398 Altimas finding homes in 2015. Year over year, the Altima is maintaining is monthly sales goals in 2016, putting it on track to sell the same number as before.

Numbers aside, the Altima has a lot to offer. Leading headlines is fuel economy. The 2.5-liter Altima gets an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined. Those are compact sedan numbers. In fact, only the Mazda 6 with its i-Eloop energy recovery system scores better, offering 40 mpg highway.

Despite is frugality, the Altima’s four-cylinder isn’t a complete penalty box. In fact, with its 182 horsepower, the 2.5-liter and CVT combination are surprisingly peppy. Yes, I normally complain about Continuously Variable Transmissions, but Nissan has been building them longer than just about anybody. It seems it has finally eliminated the rubber-banding effect that plagued CVTs of the past.

So, the 2016 Altima has a new face and some impressive fuel economy numbers. But what else does Nissan’s mid-level sedan have to offer? Keep reading to find out.

Continue reading for the full driven review.

Exterior

Nissan’s design team took out their straight-edged rulers for the 2016 mid-cycle refresh. Looking at the 2016 side-by-side with the 2015, the differences are clear. The 2016’s front end is far more sculpted and angular, now wearing Nissan’s V-motion grille with sharper lines on the bumper, hood, and within the headlights. Whereas the previous Altima looked like your aunt’s leftover Thanksgiving pound cake wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, the 2016 Altima looks more like your cousin Brad’s face when he rides his crotch-rocket sans helmet.

Looking at the 2016 side-by-side with the 2015, the differences are clear. The 2016’s front end is far more sculpted and angular, now wearing Nissan’s V-motion grille with sharper lines on the bumper, hood, and within the headlights.

From the A-pillars to the D-pillars, nothing changed. The rear of the car, however, sees more tightening and lifting. Again, gone is the bulbous, bloated look of before, replaced with sharpened lines and with more purposeful angles. Granted, you’ll probably need to see the two cars parked side-by-side to recognize the differences.

Changes aside, my tester came fitted with the upper-grade SL trim. That brings the handsome 17-inch wheels with machined faces and black-painted pockets. They’re wrapped with 215/55-series all-season tires. Everything else basically stays the same across the trim lines.

Interior

Since we’re talking trim, the range-topping SL grade brings leather seats with heating, eight-way power adjustments for the driver side, and four-way power adjustments for the passenger side. A Bose audio system boasts nine speakers and a heated steering wheel makes cold mornings more bearable.

Changes for 2016 are minor, but changes are present nonetheless. Most are constrained to the center console and center stack area.

Optionally available is the Altima’s Technology Package. It cost $2,190 but bundles a slew of features together, including the seven-inch touch screen with NissanConnect with navigation, Intelligent Cruise Control, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, and Forward Emergency Braking. LED headlights with LED daytime running lights are also included.

Down low on the console, Nissan revised the cup holders with a pass-through between them.

Changes for 2016 are minor, but changes are present nonetheless. Most are constrained to the center console and center stack area. Down low on the console, Nissan revised the cup holders with a pass-through between them. Nissan says this helps accommodate coffee mugs with large handles. Updated trim work helps dress things up, as well. Above, the center stack has a revised satin chrome accent piece that wrapped under like a big “U.” Pretty much everything else carries over unchanged.

Drivetrain

As mentioned before, this car is equipped with the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder. A 3.5-liter V-6 is available, but cuts efficiency down to 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, while adding 88 horsepower and 71 pound-feet of torque. The Altima probably isn’t the first choice of most performance sedan seekers, so most customers will stick with the four-cylinder.

2016 Nissan Altima – Driven High Resolution Drivetrain
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The all-aluminum engine features port fuel injection and natural aspiration, meaning its missing modern tech like direct injection and turbocharging.

The all-aluminum engine features port fuel injection and natural aspiration, meaning its missing modern tech like direct injection and turbocharging. Nevertheless, it still generates 182 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 180 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Nissan has become known for its obsession with Continuously Variable Transmissions. One look at the Altima’s EPA fuel economy estimates justifies that. The CVT does wonders for keeping the four-cylinder humming perfectly in its power band, generating power without killing fuel consumption. Its operation is smooth while not being rubbery or numb. It offers a much-improved character over previous generation CVTs I’ve sampled.

For customers looking for niche-market powertrains, Nissan is a no-go. The Altima does not offer a hybrid model (not that it really needs to) nor does it have the option of AWD. Forget about a turbodiesel. Still, the 2.5-liter-equipped Altima does a good job at being a car without robbing customers at the gas pump or penalizing them with a poor driving experience. It’s no sports sedan, but the Altima isn’t terrible.

Behind the Wheel

2016 Nissan Altima – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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So I’ve established the Altima’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder isn’t underpowered or inefficient. Those are good attributes, right? Yes. But the Altima is more than that. The engine offers a surprising amount of pep and the CVT isn’t the penalty box it used to be. It does string the engine along at a constant speed at times, making it drone under moderate to heavy throttle. Besides that, the powertrain combination offers a quiet, non-invasive operation that just works.

The steering is a bit numb, but that’s common with most FWD cars. The brakes are smooth and linear. Throttle inputs are smooth as well, with little tip-in. The car offers a smooth ride with no squeaks or rattles and highway wind noise is kept to a minimum. During cornering, the car experiences some body roll, but it’s predictable. Once loaded into a corner, the car stays planted until understeer begins creeping in at the limit of tire grip. Outward visibility is impressive thanks to large windows, good-sized side mirrors, and the wide-angle backup camera that comes on in reverse.

All told, the 2016 Altima is a comfortable sedan that neither excites nor disappoints. It’s an honest sedan for the average car buyer looking for reliable and comfortable transportation with exceptional fuel economy and low operating costs.

Pricing

2016 Nissan Altima – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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According to Nissan’s website, the 2017 Altima carries a base price of $22,500. The range-topping trim with the four-cylinder, just like my SL tester, starts at $28,570. Opting for the V-6 at its basic level costs $27,900. A loaded V-6 SL will set you back $32,690 before options. These prices are competitive in the market, with the 2017 Honda Accord starting at $22,355 and the 2017 Toyota Camry starting at $23,070.

My tester came with three main options: the $800 moonroof, the $210 floor mats, and the $1,700 Technology Package. The tech package might seem expensive, but it does bring a lot of feature and intrinsic value to the car. Things like the seven-inch infotainment system with navigation, Intelligent Cruise Control, Automatic Collision Notification, and Forward Emergency Braking are all good items to have. Think of it this way, $1,700 is just slightly more than your insurance deductable the first time you rear-end someone while texting. (Don’t be that guy though, please.)

All told, my tester’s price came to $32,115 after Nissan’s $835 destination fee.

2017 Nissan Altima Price
2.5 $22,500
2.5 S $22,900
2.5 SR $24,470
2.5 SV $25,460
2.5 SL $28,570
3.5 SR $27,990
3.5 SL $32,690

Competition

Honda Accord

2016 Honda Accord High Resolution Interior Exterior
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The Accord received a significant update for 2016, including a new exterior and interior. Honda has aimed the sedan higher in the market, yet has kept the price competitive against the Altima and Camry. The dash is filled with technology that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and the Honda Sensing safety suite that includes Collision Mitigation Braking System, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation with Lane Departure Warning, and Adaptive Cruise Control.

Coming standard under the hood is a 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder. It generates 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque yet achieves 27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined when mated to the optional CVT. The Accord can also be had with a 3.5-liter V-6 and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid. The hybrid is available starting with the 2017 model year.

Prices for the Accord sedan starts at $22,105 for the six-speed manual-equipped LX. Opting for the range-topping Touring V-6 will cost $34,580 before options.

Read more about the Honda Accord here.

Toyota Camry

2015 Toyota Camry Exterior
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Toyota last revised its class-leading Camry for the 2015 model year, but the changes still look fresh. A handsome cabin matches the stylish and swoopy exterior, while also offering plenty of techy gadgets. Toyota’s Entune system does not provide Apple CarPlay or Android Auto though. The Camry does offer a suite of safety systems, including Pre-Collision System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert, Auto High Bean, and the Blind Spot Monitor.

Power can be had from either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 178 horsepower, a 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 horsepower, or a 2.5-liter and hybrid drivetrain.

Prices start at $23,070 for a 2017 Camry LE. The range-topping Hybrid XLE commands $30,140 before options.

Find put more about the Toyota Camry here.

Conclusion

2016 Nissan Altima – Driven High Resolution Exterior
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The 2016 Nissan Altima has a handful of changes that make it a more attractive sedan yet it still retains its competitive pricing, comfortable interior, smooth ride, and fuel-sipping four-cylinder.

It might not be the most expressive or most luxurious sedan in its segment, but the Altima works at being a honest car with more room than the Sentra yet less expensive and feature-laden than the full-size Maxima. It’s the perfect Goldilocks solution for Nissan fans in the market for a new sedan.

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