- Quiet, comfortable ride
- Improved infotainment
- Flowing design that looks like an Infiniti
- Better safety technology than ever before
- Fuel economy that touches 38-mpg
- Borderline bland interior
- CVT is the only transmission available
- Less sporty handling than previous models
If you don't mind a CVT, the 2015 Nissan Altima is a solid choice that checks off all the boxes.
The Nissan Altima has been one of our favorite four-door family sedans to recommend on a regular basis. But in its past three generations, the reasons we recommend it have evolved. In the early 2000s, we liked it for its daring styling and firm, athletic ride. Now the Altima scores points for a quiet cabin, very supportive seats, excellent fuel economy, and an optimized base model that makes it hard to argue to spend more.
For 2015, the Altima soldiers on as a mainstream sedan, with its simplified drivetrain lineup, tastefully subdued cabin and new infotainment system, and NASA-inspired seats that take comfort to a new peak. Granted, it may not be quite as assertive as it once was, but the Altima has matured in many of the places where it once lacked refinement.
The Altima sedan's still a five-seater, riding on the same 109.3-inch wheelbase it did in the 2012 model year, 191.5 inches long in all. There's not much more room in any direction, and that's fine--the Altima was large enough for almost any family. Nissan's spent quality time on the seats, and it's paid off in very comfortable chairs that hold up for hours on end, at least for the front-seat passengers. On base models, the front seats are adjustable six ways for the driver, four for the passenger. A power driver seat and heated front seats are an option. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down to expand access to the trunk. Leather seats are still an option.
The current Altima melds some complex surfaces into an attractive body. The front end wears some of the angled, arrowed cues of other Nissans and Infinitis at the headlamps and taillights, while the side glass tapers gradually to a tasteful backstop. The fenders swell out in ways that recall Nissan's compact Juke crossover. The interior's a big contrast: it's conservatively drawn, with straight lines dividing off the center stack of controls from the driver and the passenger. There's also more space left for larger LCD screens for more advanced infotainment systems, a selling point where the Altima's lagged behind the Koreans and Americans.
The standard powertrain is a 182-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Tuned here for higher mileage than ever, it hits an EPA highway rating of 27 miles per gallon city, 38 miles per gallon highway, putting it on par with some hybrids and above leaders like today's standard Hyundai Sonata, rated at 35 mpg highway. It's plenty of power for the point-A-to-point-B school of driving, though the drivetrain can be loud at the higher reaches of its range. Premium Altimas continue to offer a quick-footed 3.5-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, rated at 22/30 mpg. They're also fitted with the CVT, but with standard paddle controls and a manual shift mode that simulates the gear ratios on a conventional automatic transmission.
With safety as strong a selling point as fuel economy in the Altima's class, Nissan's updated the sedan's technology to include all the advanced features on the shelves of suppliers. The list will include standard or optional rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, and lane-departure warning systems. The IIHS gives the Altima its Top Safety Pick accolade (with top scores in all but the new small overlap test), while the NHTSA gives it five stars overall for crash-test performance.
The Altima rides on an independent suspension, and it's upgraded to Sachs shocks for better ride control and a more luxurious feel. Coupled with a switch to electrohydraulic steering, the Altima's road manners have been buffed to a low gloss. The Altima now has excellent compliance over most every surface, but the tightly controlled ride and eager feel dialed into the old hydraulic-only steering have gone AWOL. We miss the more immediate feel already, because it's long disappeared from cars like the Honda Accord.
Finally, on the infotainment front, the Altima catches up to the competition with new bundles of features connected to audio and Bluetooth, which now comes standard on the sedan, as does audio streaming and incoming text-to-voice translation, along with a CD player and an auxiliary jack. The Altima's infotainment system also permits streaming from Pandora, and accepts mapping information from Google Maps, too. A central display in the instrument cluster brings together all this information for the driver to monitor while on the road.
Other available features include automatic headlights; LED taillights; heated rearview side mirrors; a USB port; Bose audio; satellite radio; navigation with a 7-inch screen; dual-zone climate control; pushbutton start; a wide-view rearview camera; and a glass sunroof.
Now in the thick of the family-sedan sales race, the Altima's come a long way since its scrappy also-ran days. Maturity has its upside--but we have to admit we miss the frisky old feel.
The Altima Coupe? You're curious, right? It's gone, and Nissan has announced no plans to replace it.