Nissan's Altima is a midsize sedan designed to compete with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and other popular models. In the face of mounting pressure from newer family sedans, the 2016 Nissan Altima receives a styling update along with some new features and a sporty trim level. While these changes add appeal, they are not enough to move the Altima to best-in-class status.
What Is It?
The 2016 Nissan Altima represents a midcycle refresh to the current-generation Altima that debuted in 2013. The most prominent change is the exterior styling, adopting Nissan's corporate V-shaped grille and "boomerang" headlights. There are also several available advanced safety features, minor interior changes and a sporty trim addition to the lineup.
The base Altima 2.5 starts at $23,325 and includes power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning, Bluetooth and little else. The 2.5 S trim costs $400 more and gets you a rearview camera, keyless ignition and entry and an upgraded infotainment system with a 5-inch display. A new $25,295 2.5 SR trim adds sportiness with paddle shifters, a performance-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels with stickier tires, daytime running lights, active grille shutters, a rear spoiler and power-adjustable sport seats.
The 2.5 SV jumps to $26,285 but foregoes the SR's performance features in favor of items like 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, remote ignition, a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alerts. The SL hikes the price another $3,000 and adds leather upholstery, a power front passenger seat, heated steering wheel and premium audio.
These 2.5 models are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine good for 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. One transmission is available: a continuously variable unit (CVT) that sends power to the front wheels. A 3.5-liter V6 is available on SR and SL trims that cost $28,215 and $32,915, respectively. Power output jumps to 270 hp and 251 lb-ft. Notable feature differences include navigation and a 7-inch infotainment display for the 3.5 SL. Some features are available on lower-trimmed models as options.
How Is the Interior?
Changes to the interior for the 2016 refresh are very subtle. The overall design and materials quality are decent for the class, but the infotainment systems are showing their age. The standard 5-inch display is tiny compared to contemporary systems. The 7-inch upgrades easier to read, but isn't as intuitive or easy to operate as rival systems. Its low positioning forces drivers to take their eyes off the road to use it.
Base Altima cloth seats deliver good long-distance comfort and despite the lack of adjustments, most drivers will find an acceptable position. The leather upholstered seats on higher trims have more adjustability, but on a hot day the surfaces can be stifling. Rear seats provide adult-size head- and legroom and feature an elevated seat cushion for better forward visibility. Nissan touted an increase in sound insulation for 2016 but we still noticed an abundance of road and engine noise.
The 60/40-split folding rear seats can be lowered with handy remote latches in the trunk, expanding its 15.4-cubic-foot capacity. The cargo space is about average for the class, but the deep trunk, wide opening and low liftover height give it an edge over competitors. Interior storage is more than adequate to hold your personal items as well.
How Does It Drive?
We spent an afternoon driving the Altima 2.5 in a variety of trim levels. Among the many CVTs on the market, Nissan's is the best. It has better response and less drone than most competitors. The last time we tested a mechanically similar Altima, it accelerated to 60 mph in a better-than-average 7.8 seconds.
By using simulated stepped shifts, the CVT mimics a traditional automatic, making it feel as though the engine isn't as heavily burdened. Reaching highway speeds and passing slower traffic does require a healthy amount of pedal pressure, but acceleration is adequate for the average driver.
Previous Altimas have held a slight advantage in the handling department, but as rivals have stepped up their game, the Nissan's performance is about typical for a family sedan. The new SR trim adds some athleticism, but is still tuned with a bias for ride comfort. For the rare individual seeking lively handling in this class, the Altima is limited by its tendency to understeer.
What Safety Features Are Available?
Base and midlevel trims offer the typical safety features found in all new cars, with a rearview camera standard on the S trim and above. SV and SL trims benefit from a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alerts. The SL trim is also eligible for the optional adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning that scans two cars ahead and automatically applies the brakes if the driver doesn't.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Should You Expect?
The 2016 Nissan Altimas with the 2.5-liter engine are estimated by the EPA to return 31 mpg combined (27 city/39 highway), though the SR is rated slightly lower at 30 mpg combined (26 city/37 highway). The 3.5-liter V6 is estimated at 26 mpg combined (22 city/32 highway). These estimates are competitive with other family sedans.
What Does This Car Compete Against?
When the current-generation Altima arrived in 2013, we awarded it an Edmunds "A" rating. Since then, full redesigns for the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata (and its Kia Optima cousin) and the Mazda 6 have surpassed the Nissan in some key areas.
What's the Verdict?
The 2016 Nissan Altima is a strong midsize family sedan, but doesn't manage to claim the top spot in the class. The midcycle refresh gives it sharper cosmetic appeal, but it remains largely the same. As a result, the 2016 refresh may not be enough to maintain the Altima's "A" rating. Though it's priced competitively with others in the segment and offers similar features, we recommend a test-drive to evaluate each car's strengths and weaknesses.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.