First Drive: 2016 Nissan AltimaPosted on November 13th, 2015
Best-selling midsize sedan undergoes a significant refresh
By Nina Russin
Midsize sedans are the meat and potatoes of the car world, comprising the highest volume of sales among passenger cars and second highest of all types of vehicles. It is no small feat that Nissan has been able to hold the number three position behind Japan’s ‘Big Two’ automakers: Toyota and Honda.
The Altima continues to be Nissan’s best selling model among both passenger cars and trucks. For 2016, the automaker has upped the ante with a significant refresh to the sedan that includes a revised exterior, new center stack, more fuel-efficient powertrain, and a new sport model called the SR.
Priced from $24,470, the SR costs about $2000 more than the base S model, adding 18-inch wheels with low profile tires, sport-tuned suspension, unique headlamps, a rear spoiler, paddle shifters, fog lamps and a ten-way power driver’s seat. Positioned to compete against the Toyota Camry SE and Honda Accord Sport, Nissan product planners expect the new trim package will conquest young buyers with a combination of styling and value.
All 2016 models are available with an updated 2.5-liter four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission. Buyers can opt for a V-6 on the sporty SR or upscale SL.
The challenge for engineers was to improve the 2.5-liter powertrain’s fuel efficiency over the 38-mpg highway figure for the 2015 model without negatively impacting performance. This precluded the use of reduced rolling resistance tires that would affect steering response and stopping distances.
The solution was to enhance the car’s aero through the use of active grille shutters, an aero shield underneath the chassis and upper body refinements, reducing the sedan’s coefficient of drag to .26: the same as the GT-R supercar. Engineers also increased the engine compression ratio to 10.3, and reduced internal friction though the use of an anodized piston coating and low-friction balance shaft.
The goal with the continuously variable automatic was to make performance more like a traditional step transmission, as opposed to straight-line acceleration that some drivers feel uncomfortable with.
Test drive in Southern California
At a recent media event, I had the opportunity to test drive the upscale 2016 Altima SL with the 2.5-liter engine priced from $28,570. The SL comes with standard 17-inch alloy wheels, an upgrade from the 16-inch rims on the base model, remote engine start, 10-way power driver’s seat, leather trim, navigation, power moonroof, Nissan Connect infotainment services, dual-zone climate control, premium Bose audio system and blind spot monitoring with cross traffic alert.
There is no question that the up-level Altima is a lot of the car for the money that can go head-to-head against other premium segment entries. The four-cylinder engine, while fuel efficient, does not want for power. Driving through canyon roads in the Malibu area the Altima easily powered up steep, pitchy hills.
I was not able to replicate the step transmission feel that product planners talked about but feel comfortable endorsing the CVT as one of the best units on the market, with solid linear performance throughout the power band. Those worried about the dreaded ‘rubber band’ feel of some CVTs will not experience that behind the wheel of the new Altima.
Steering feedback is likewise quite good, with positive on-center response on the highway and ample assist at lower speeds for maneuverability. The larger alloy wheels on the test car give the sedan an ample footprint to enhance performance on winding two-lane roads.
Interior quiet is markedly better, thanks to a new acoustic windshield. During the test drive, those of us in the front seats had no problems conversing with a product specialist in the second row.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. Blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots.
The 101 freeway in Los Angeles is a great place to test this feature, since drivers like to dart back and forth between several lanes of traffic without signaling. A standard rearview camera projects a wide-angle image to the back of the vehicle when the driver shifts into reverse while cross traffic alert sounds an audible chime if another car crosses the driver’s intended path.
Other available active safety features include forward collision warning and intelligent cruise control that is capable of bringing the car to a complete stop and resuming in stop-and-go traffic.
For the newest model, designers exaggerated the V-shaped grille, extending its lines over the hood towards the sedan’s A-pillars. Boomerang-style headlamps wrap around to the side of the car. New tail lamps sweep up from the trunk lid towards the car’s rear pillars.
The interior is attractive and spacious. Keyless entry and start saves the driver from fumbling for the key fob after dark, adding a measure of safety in urban areas. I found both the driver’s seat and front passenger seat comfortable for our drive lasting several hours in duration.
Power driver’s seat adjustments are intuitive to operate, with enough range to give smaller drivers a clear forward view. The tilt steering wheel helps as well by enabling the driver to lower it towards his or her lap.
We had the opportunity to test the Nissan Connect feature, asking for driving directions to one of our destinations. The advantage of the system over traditional navigation features is minimal driver distraction. Rather than having to pull off the road to program navigation, the driver simply connects to a remote service that uses the car’s GPS to locate the vehicle. Directions to the destination are then downloaded, with the entire process taking a couple of minutes.
The Nissan Altima comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring.
Nissan builds the new Altima in its Smyrna, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi assembly plants.
Like: A well-built, stylish sedan with a fuel-efficient powertrain, new active safety and infotainment features.
Dislikes: Buyers only have one transmission option. A six-speed automatic would add depth to V-6 offerings.
Model: Altima SL
Base price: $28,570
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 182 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 180 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 27/39 mpg city/highway