- Quiet, comfortable ride
- Improved infotainment
- Flowing design that looks like an Infiniti
- Fuel economy that touches 39 mpg
- Borderline bland interior
- CVT is the only transmission available
- Less sporty handling than previous models
A new SR model brings some driving fun back to the 2016 Nissan Altima, while preserving its mainstream family-sedan appeal.
The Nissan Altima has been many things over the years. It began as a compact with upscale pretensions, evolved into a mid-size family sedan with athletic handling and avant-garde styling, then settled into a reputation for outstanding fuel economy and a serene, comfortable cabin. In the process, it became one of the best-selling cars in its class—and for good reason—but we've missed some of the friskiness that went missing during its last full redesign, for 2013.
With a heavy update for the 2016 model year, however, and the addition of a sporty SR model, the Altima's performance-oriented credibility may be making a low-key comeback.
Revised styling for 2016 more closely aligns the Altima's front and rear fascias with the design language we've seen on the new Maxima sedan (with which it shares running gear) and the Murano crossover. Notable changes include a V-shaped grille, re-sculpted fenders, and the availability of LED headlights. In profile, though, the latest Altima's sheetmetal will look familiar. The cabin has also been refreshed in the spirit of the high-fashion Maxima and Murano with a dashboard that looks less conservative than in did from 2013 to 2015.
Nissan still offers a pair of engines for the Altima. The base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder makes 182 horsepower, and mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), is tuned for maximum efficiency. Its EPA city rating continues at 27 mpg, but highway mileage gets a single-mpg bump to 39. This means an Altima with the 2.5-liter engine is as frugal as some hybrids. Top-spec Altimas have a quick-footed 3.5-liter V-6 that generates 270 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. The larger six isn't nearly as economical as the four, but still manages EPA ratings of 22/32/26 mpg. Six-cylinder cars also use the CVT—there's no escaping it in the Altima's universe—but they get standard paddle shifters with a manual mode that mimics the gear ratios of a conventional automatic transmission.
Nissan credits the fuel-economy gains to a set of aero add-ons, like an active grille shutter, smoothed underbody covers, and the reshaped front and rear ends. For better response, the CVT gets better programming, for quicker transitions and acceleration from lower speeds.
Electrohydraulic steering has new programming for what Nissan claims is better steering feel and response. During our initial drive of a pre-production SR, though, steering felt too light under any circumstance—it necessitated nearly constant correction at highway speeds, and lacked on-center feel even when cruising down boulevards at 45 mph. This may be the fault of a tire design chosen for optimal fuel efficiency.
The SR's performance is otherwise impressive. Our test car had the smaller 2.5-liter engine, but felt much more eager than its sub-200-horsepower rating would suggest. The CVT still isn't a conventional automatic or dual-clutch, but it's gotten nearly as good, and does an excellent job of wringing power from the engine, especially in sport mode.
The Altima rides on an independent suspension, with Sachs shocks for better ride control and a more luxurious feel. For better handling, Nissan has swapped out its shocks, springs, and bushings, and offers new tires on all models. The Altima SR—which can be specified with either the four- or six-cylinder engine—gets thicker stabilizer bars and stiffer dampers. The SR we drove handled with authority in the everyday situations encountered by the typical driver of a mid-size family sedan—feeling nicely planted in the swift curves of a freeway on-ramp, or when entering and exiting a tight right turn at a traffic light. The SR is a family car that feels like a near-sport sedan.
With its retuned suspension and revised electro-hydraulic steering, the 2016 Altima SL we drove was smooth, quiet and comfortable. It's a pleasant car for commuting, especially on rough highways. While the first-generation Altima was sporty, it rode hard and was rough around the edges. Conversely, the 2016 Altima is relatively refined, tuned for easy cruising. There is nothing sporty or entertaining about it. It's more about comfort, competence and convenience.
The Altima remains a five-seater, riding on the same 109.3-inch wheelbase it has for many model years, and it's 191.5 inches long in all. This isn't a problem since the Altima was already big enough for most families. 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 optional. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down to expand access to the trunk. This year, Nissan has added acoustic glass and more sound deadening to quiet the cabin.
Safety is just as important as fuel economy when choosing a family car, and Nissan offers all the advanced features currently offered by suppliers. These include: forward-collision warnings with automatic braking; a rearview camera; blind-spot monitors; and lane-departure warning systems. The IIHS has given the Altima its Top Safety Pick+ accolade (with top scores in all categories), while the NHTSA has given it five stars overall for crash-test performance.
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, an auxiliary jack, and a 5.0-inch color audio display. 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. All but the base model now come with Siri Eyes Free, which offers voice control for Apple devices. A larger 7.0-inch color touchscreen comes on pricier models, along with navigation and real-time traffic data.
Other available features include automatic headlights; LED taillights; heated rearview side mirrors; a USB port; Bose audio; satellite radio; navigation; dual-zone climate control; keyless ignition; remote start; a wide-view rearview camera; and a glass sunroof.
The Nissan Altima's frugal 4-cylinder powertrain delivers 27 mpg city, 39 highway, 31 combined, according to the EPA. On the sporty SR model, however, it drops to 26/37/30 mpg. With the V-6 and CVT, the Altima is rated at 22/32/26 mpg.
2016 Nissan Altima
The Altima has adopted some of the sleek Maxima's styling cues; it's more traditional inside.
The Altima gets a fresh new look at its nose and tail for the 2016 model year. Its hood and fenders have been reshaped, its front fascia lowered, and its grille now features an up-to-date Nissan look. At the rear, wider taillights join a new fascia, trunk lid, and bumper. Sheet metal in between remains the same, but that isn't a bad thing. The overall effect is of a less spectacular Maxima. You won't, for instance, find a canopy-effect roofline at the Altima's C-pillar—here, it just flows smoothly into the rear fender.
Nissan added a sport-oriented SR model to the lineup, and it's notable for smoked headlight housings, daytime running lights, fog lights, a rear decklid spoiler, and aluminum-alloy wheels. Inside the SR, blue stitching on the seats, steering wheel, and shift knob gives contrast to the black upholstery.
The design-heavy exterior doesn't translate into a rather straightforward cabin layout. There are some nice undulations in the shape of the dashboard, but they're restrained and symmetrical. A center stack places controls where they're easy to access and use; beneath is a large cubby, and there's also a usefully large storage bin in a wide center console, where you'll also find the gear selector and cup holders.
Finishes are generally good, and soft-touch plastics dominate—except at the door pulls, where it's hard, wide-grain plastic. It's probably as durable as possible.
2016 Nissan Altima
With its new priority on a quiet ride and high fuel economy, the Altima's athletic feel is subdued—except in the sporty SR trim.
Recent generations of Altima sedans had an immediacy of steering feel and a more tightly damped ride that made them feel like the sports coupes of the class. Like the Ford Fusion, the Altima was the "other" choice in a class full of softly sprung four-doors. But with its move to a luxury-car level of shock performance and a plush ride, the current generation had surrendered that "other" status and its resolutely firm, taut ride to the VW Passat and Ford Fusion.
That may be about to change, though, as Nissan redesigns the Altima's independent suspension for 2016 with new Sachs shock absorbers, rear springs, and bushings chosen for their ability to deliver more dynamic handling. Active Understeer Control applies braking to inside front wheels to tighten cornering lines. Sixteen-inch wheels are now standard on the Altima; 17- and 18-inch wheels and tires are available.
We've spent time in the commuter-queen SL and the performance-oriented SR. About the SR: It's not just a styling exercise. In addition to revised damper tuning, Nissan has increase stiffness in front and rear stabilizer bars—by a full 258 percent at the rear. It's also fitted with 18-inch tires, and a manual mode with paddle shifters for the continuously variable transmission (CVT). The result is a sedan with a strongly sporty feel that feels confident and planted in the daily maneuvers encountered by the drivers of family cars. It's a nice approximation of a sport sedan. The one drawback is overly light steering that may be the result of tires chosen for optimal fuel economy.
In the SL, the ride is relatively soft but not so much that the suspension bottoms out over hard bumps or wallows excessively in transient handling maneuvers. On a winding road, it crisply steers from left to right and back to left without hesitation and it's stable and steady at speed, not requiring small steering inputs to go straight. The Altima does not achieve the crispness or refinement of the current Honda Accord, but it appears to offer a good value.
Altima buyers choose between two engines. Those looking to save money will love the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. It produces 182 hp, and gets to 60 mph in just under eight seconds. The CVT has been heavily reworked, and it's considerably more responsive than it has been in the past—especially in sport-shift mode, where it moves more quickly in the rev range, making the most of the smaller engine's power. This engine is loud, though, and the CVT doesn't do it any favors there. Drivers will be discouraged from running it all the way toward the redline, even though it's surprisingly refined at those engine speeds.
The CVT that comes on all models is smooth and responsive. It works so well in everyday usage that it goes unnoticed and many drivers may not even become aware that it is a continuously variable transmission. Nissan has been a leader in this technology for quite some time and it shows.
The swift Altima comes with a 270-hp 3.5-liter V-6. It's fitted with a CVT too, but to go with its manual-shift mode, it also gets paddle shifters and simulated gear ratios that click the engine down a few hundred rpm once it flies too close to the redline. It's effortlessly smooth compared to the inline-4, very quick (60 mph in about 7.1 seconds), and not too thirsty.
2016 Nissan Altima
Comfort & Quality
The Altima's cabin has supremely comfortable front seats and good rear-seat space.
The Altima's priority on comfort reaps benefits in the cabin, where road noise is almost successfully muted. For instance, the Altima does a far better job than the Passat or Sonata of filtering out tire drone on the highway. The exhaust note of the four-cylinder makes its presence known, but the V-6 is rarely more than a mellow hum.
Fit and finish is mostly successful, though some plastic trim looks cheap—if, perhaps, durable. The shiny upholstery in the all-black interior in our test SR looked almost cheap, but woven mats countered with an upscale look.
The cabin feels spacious for four adults—five in a pinch. With 45 inches of leg room and 40 inches of head room, the front seat has more than adequate space for taller drivers. The rear seat looks cavernous, but even with a fairly steep rake headroom drops to 37.1 inches—just enough to keep tall passengers from making contact with the headliner; rear legroom of 36.1 inches is about average for the class, but there isn't much room for feet under the front seats. Rear seatbacks are split 60/40, and fold down for access to the trunk.
Nissan claims that the shape and compression of their "Zero Gravity" seats were inspired by NASA research, and we've found them to be comfortable on trips short and long. The Altima's dash cuts into a little of the knee room, though, leaving cars like the Passat with an advantage there. The driver's seat is a standard power six-way adjustable seat, with the option to upgrade to eight ways, but the passenger seat remains manual in most trims.
The Altima's 15.4 cubic feet of trunk space is about average for the class. We're disappointed by some unfinished areas ahead of the hinges—exposed speakers and the like—although the Sonata has also been a culprit. As a nice touch, Nissan has seatback releases inside the cabin and in the trunk—they're made of lightweight fabric rather than plastic, and we admire the mix of ingenuity and cost-cutting.
2016 Nissan Altima
Excellent crash-test scores should carry over with the new Altima.
The new Altima has more safety gear than ever, starting with the requisite dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; and tire pressure monitors. Nissan uses those monitors cleverly for Easy Fill, a system that lets you put air into the tires until the horn sounds—your signal that the tire pressure's reached the recommended level, no gauge required.
The 2016 Altima has expanded its suite of available safety features to include alerts for blind spots, and rear cross traffic; adaptive cruise control; and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. Sensors in the optional forward-collision warning system can detect unexpected slowing from vehicles traveling in front of the vehicle you're following, even if they're not in your view.
Nissan restricts automatic emergency braking to the range-topping Altima SL, however, where it is optional. We would prefer to see this important technology available on more trim levels.
The 2016 Altima earns a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS with top "Good" marks across the board in its various crash tests. It's also rated "Superior" for front crash protection, with optional equipment.
And the NHTSA largely agrees, awarding the Altima five stars overall.
2016 Nissan Altima
The Altima's missing some tech features, but base models are competitively equipped.
Nissan offers an inline-4 or V-6 Altima. All get an enhanced trip computer and related functions with a 4.0-inch LCD screen between the gauges, depicting the car—in the correct color—in a 3-D-like effect. The display shows information on fuel economy, trip distance, tire pressures, audio functions, and directions when a navigation system is included.
Bluetooth now comes standard on the sedan, as does audio streaming and incoming text-to-voice translation, along with a CD player, an auxiliary jack, and a 5.0-inch audio display. The Altima's infotainment system also permits streaming from Pandora, and accepts mapping information from Google Maps, too. A larger 7.0-inch touchscreen comes on pricier models, along with navigation and real-time traffic data. All but the base model now come with Siri Eyes Free, which offers voice control for Apple devices.
Key features on the 2.5 S include a rearview camera, steering wheel-mounted controls, automatic headlights, and keyless ignition. A 2.5 SV comes with blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, 17-inch wheels, and satellite radio. The 2.5 SR adds a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, and special exterior and interior trim. Upgrading to a 2.5 SL brings leather upholstery, Bose audio, heated front seats and steering wheel, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The 3.5 SR adds LED headlights to the 2.5 SR's standard features. The range-topping 3.5 SL builds on the 2.5 SL's features with equipment like navigation, an eight-way power driver seat and four-way power passenger seat, a moonroof, rear air conditioning vents, and front and rear sonar sensors.
Many features from higher-spec Altimas are available in optional packages for the rest of the range.
2016 Nissan Altima
The Altima's real-world fuel economy nearly matches its sky-high EPA ratings.
The Nissan Altima's frugal four-cylinder powertrain simply delivers better economy than any mid-size sedan can. Its EPA-rated gas mileage this year rises to 27 mpg city, 39 highway, 31 combined.
On the sporty SR model, however, it drops to 26/37/30 mpg. With the V-6 and continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Altima is rated at 22/32/26 mpg.
Both the four-cylinder Altima and the V-6 version come equipped with a single transmission. The CVT uses a set of pulleys and a belt to simulate an infinite number of gear ratios—on V-6 drivetrains, with some electronically constructed "gears" programmed in along the way for a more conventional driving feel. The CVT has seen progress over the years: in 2013 Nissan changed out 70 percent of its parts in the name of efficiency, for a reduction in friction of 40 percent, which helped the Altima reach its current sky-high EPA ratings, which outpoint perennial economy winners like the Accord and Camry (at least, in non-hybrid versions).