2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL Review
The third best-selling family sedan takes things up a notch
Published: April 7th, 2016
Though pretty much everyone in the auto industry doubts the Altima will ever unseat family sedan powerhouses Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, that doesn't mean the folks at Nissan aren't trying. And good for them, really, since we believe some of the hype behind the front runners has a lot to do with a self-perpetuating reputation that's not always resting on solid ground. The Accord is as great as it's ever been, but the Camry still lacks the interior design and driving dynamics of a car that should be in the top-selling spot in the industry.
This is where the Altima comes in. Whereas the last generation car was decent, the new one shows serious promise in this segment where more and more competitors like the Ford Fusion and Mazda6 are leading the pack in design and driving chops. The Altima gets redone inside and out in more than a refresh, and the payoff appears to be worth it. We took it out for a week to see what the new car is all about.
Suffice it to say that there's really only one mainstream family sedan that gets our pulse racing from a driving excitement standpoint, and that's the Mazda6. It seems to do just about everything well. The Accord is next in line thanks to a great chassis, suspension and really good steering. The new Altima gets a boost in this area with stiffer springs that keep body roll down, though no one will accuse the Altima of being truly sporty.
The Altima's electric assisted hydraulic steering is interesting, providing some heft without really providing a confidence-inspiring level of feel. Though we easily prefer this to overly-light and ponderous steering, we think Nissan can do better in this department. The new Altima, however, is more engaging to drive than the leader-of-the-pack Toyota Camry.
- Ride Quality: A happy medium between firm and soft that won't thrill or upset anybody. It does what it's supposed to do -- transport the family in comfort without putting them to sleep while doing it.
- Steering: Heavy from the get-go but almost artificially so. The setup provides decent inputs but lacks precision and feel. We'd give up the weight for more feel in a heartbeat.
- Acceleration: The 4-cylinder engine provides decent accleration but is noisy when used aggressively. Throttle response isn't immediate, but there's no huge delays, either.
- Braking: The brakes are progressive and pedal feel is good.
- Handling: Body roll is reduced thanks to the improved rear springs and thicker sway bars in front and back. Brake-based torque vectoring improves the cornering experience.
Technology and Safety
For a car that's been seriously refreshed, we had hoped the UI would be better -- it's not terrible, but the controls for the infotainment screen are hard to use with the confusing twin banks of buttons that flank the screen. Grey, dull and a bit hard to understand (Bluetooth audio had to be accessed by pressing "AUX' twice, not exactly the first thing you think of doing).
Climate controls were well-positioned and great to use. The fact that knobs and not buttons adjusted temperature was brilliant. We also loved the steering wheel controls.
- Infotainment Screen Size/Quality: 7" screens are standard across the segment for the most part, so the fact that you have to pay to upgrade to this size in the Altima is a disappointment. The resolution is decent, but the font and graphics seem dated in this new car.
- Bluetooth Phone Pairing: iOS and Android pairing were easy, and the car did a good job of re-pairing the phone when getting back in the car.
- Voice/Sound Quality: Audio quality of the BOSE sound system was very good, though we did experience some vibration from the system with the sound cranked up half way. No more Eminem in the Altima for us.
- Controls: We loved the steering wheel and climate controls, but the infotainment buttons were an exercise in frustration.
- Safety: The Altima gets top marks from the IIHS for crash safety, which is pretty much expected if you want to sell a family sedan in high numbers. Crash mitigation tech earns it a 'Superior' mark, as well, thanks to Predictive Forward Collision Warning and Forward Emergency Braking. The Intelligent Cruise Control included in the Tech Package worked well and was easy to modulate.
Exterior Design & Styling
Upon initial glance, it would be hard for anybody to tell the difference between the 2015 Altima and this refreshed 2016 version. But the changes, especially to the front end, are significant and bring it more in line with the more dramatic and busy aesthetic of the new Maxima and Murao. Those two cars seem a bit overdone compared to the new Altima, so we laud Nissan for toning things down some with their more popular model.
- Front: The u-shaped billet grille shows up here, replacing the old and oddly shaped version last year, flanked by chef's knife-shaped headlamps with bigger intakes on the lower fascia. The look is far better, far more attractive than the last car's and gives the Altima much-needed distinction.
- Rear: The rear is a strong improvement, as well. Gone is the massive bumper that seemed to swallow the back of the car. Now, pincer-style taillights offer more crisp style and the chrome bar from last year appears straighter, thinner and longer.
- Profile: The overall shape of the Altima hasn't changed much, but the front end appears thicker thanks to a beefier hood, and the crease that runs from tip to tail retains the same except it seems to flow better with from the trunk to the front door.
Driver and Passenger Comfort
Like pretty much all other family sedans in this segment, the Altima continues to be roomy and comfortable. You can't compete at this level without being able to provide ample room for driver and passengers. The four main seating areas are comfortable and provide good support, while the middle passenger in the rear won't suffer too much since there's plenty of legroom.
We couldn't get used to the bizarre beige trim that looks like someone tried to be original and failed. The leaf pattern looks strange, especially for a trim level that's supposed to be a few notches up from base. Even something texturized and less shiny but still plastic would've been better. Overall material quality in the cabin is good but not great, and the ergonomics could be improved. It's even hard to see the engine start button, which also happens to look like it was made from leftover med kit parts. We did appreciate the classic white-on-black speedometer and tach, which were easy to read and attractive. It seems everyone wants to do flashy instruments these days, but easy-to-read black and white pretty much always wins.
- Front Seats: Comfortable but could use better lateral bolstering and more thigh length in the seat cushion. Seat heat control buttons are where they should be, right between the seats. They work quite well, too.
- Rear Seats: The seatbacks in the rear are a bit on the flat side and could use some contouring. Otherwise, they are comfortable for six-footers, and there is plenty of legroom.
- Visibility: Visibility out the front, sides and rear are excellent. None of the pillars seems overly thick, thankfully.
Storage and Trunk/Cargo Room
Again, in this segment, you have to have good storage options, and the Altima doesn't disappoint with an ample center armrest compartment that's divided into an upper and lower section. The top tray is grippy and good for smartphones and other small items, while the lower compartment has charging ports and a deep bottom. The center tunnel has a small, rectangular bin for smaller items like pocket change, and the glove compartment is deep and easy to access.
Trunk space is plentiful at 15.4 feet, just shy of the Honda Accord's 15.8 feet with all seats in place. The 60/40 split rear seats fold down for even more space. The trunk opening is large, meaning getting bigger items in shouldn't prove a problem.
- Storage: Good storage and well thought out, though the door pockets in front could use a bit more length.
- Trunk/Cargo Room: Cargo space is big and easily accessible. Simple pull handles from the trunk allow easy deployment of the split folding rear seats.
We're glad to see Nissan upgrade their staid Altima with more styling drama, especially on the outside. The car instantly went from vanilla to handsome with some sheet metal tweaks and big changes to the fascias, front and rear. With 18" or 19" alloy wheels, the Altima can finally turn some heads. We had hoped the interior would be more attractive and better with UI functionality, but we were a bit disappointed. The interior is still on the plain side, though it's plenty comfortable for all.
Driving the Altima is better than ever but by no means thrilling. We appreciated the effort to make the steering more hefty but the feel lost us, as did the lackluster CVT that does its best attempt to sound like a real transmission. No owners will take this car to the track, so it's okay for the Altima to be respectable in the handling department rather than really good like the Mazda6. The new Altima is a few steps in the right direction and more than enough to make for a solid family sedan. It's an alternative buyers should seriously consider.
Price & Specifications
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-Cylinder
Transmission: Xtronic Continuously Variable
Drivetrain/Layout: Front-wheel drive, front engine
Power Output: 182 horsepower, 180 lb-ft of torque
Fuel Economy (mpg): 27 city/29 highway
Base Price: $28,570
As Tested: $32,115 (incl. $835 destination fee)
Standard Features: ABS, Traction Control System, Tire Pressure Monitoring System with Easy-Fill Tire Alert, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Vehicle Security System, Nissan Vehicle Immobilizer System, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Leather Seats, Heated Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel, Leather-Wrapped Shift Knob, 8-Way Power Driver's Seat, 4-Way Power Front Passenger's Seat, Heated Zero Gravity Front Seats, BOSE Premium Audio System, NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, 5"Color Audio Display, Siri Eyes Free Voice Recognition, USB Connection Port, Hands-free Text Messaging Assistant, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, RearView Monitor, Bluetooth Hands-free Phone System, Streaming Audio via Bluetooth, Advnaced Drive-Assist Display, Individual Tire Pressure Display, Dual Zone Automatic Temperature Control, Rear A/C Vents, Nissan Intelligent Key w/ Remote Engine Start System, Push Button Ignition, Power Windows w/ Driver's Window Auto Up/Down and Auto Reverse Feature, Front Passenger's Window w/ One-Touch Auto Up/Down and Auto Reverse Feature, Dual Illuminated Visor Vanity Mirrors w/ Rod Extensions, Cruise Control, Auto-Dimming Inside Mirror, Homelink Universal Transceiver, Two 12-Volt DC Power Outlets, 60/40 Split Fold-Down Rear Seats, Auto On/Off Headlights, Fog Lights, Manual Folding Outside Mirrors w/ LED Turn Indicators, Heated Outside Mirrors, Dual Chrome Exhaust Finishers
Options on our test vehicle: Moonroof Package: Power Sliding Moonroof w/ Tilt; Carpeted Floor Mats and Trunk Mat; Technology Package: Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Intelligent Cruise Control, NissanConnect with Navigation, Mobile Apps and Services: NissanConnect Services powered by SiriusXM, 7" Touch-Screen Color Display, Nissan Voice Recognition and Audio, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, Autoamtic Collision Notification, Remote Start via Smartphone, Emergency Call, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Dealer Service Scheduling and Maintenance Alerts
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2016 Nissan Altima, click here: 2016 Nissan Altima.