A Victory & Reseda review of the 2016 Nissan Altima
The mid-sized sedan is back!
This is not just a declaration based on a singular model. Rather, this is a sales trend that has been developing since the beginning of 2016. Over three months of sales data show the mid-sized sedan segment in growth mode, while the once-hot compact crossover/SUV segment are beginning to stagnate. One example is at Chevrolet, where the Malibu has been on the rise overtaking the Equinox as the second-best selling vehicle in that Bowtie's lineup.
This pattern has been the norm at Nissan. The mid-sized Altima has been the big driver of sales for the brand for the past few years. Though the Rogue crossover/SUV had gained sales throughout 2015, it, too, had seen modest of late. Even the compact Sentra sedan almost caught up the Rogue in March of 2016.
The importance of the Altima at Nissan goes beyond sales. It has to reflect the middle conscious of the brand. While customers are enticed by newer, more edgier products, such as the Maxima and Murano, they also fall for the performance chops of the 370Z and GT-R. Even the new Titan pickup has brought increased traffic at Nissan showrooms – more to feed the curiosity than anything.
Ask anyone at a Nissan dealer about the Altima, and they will tell you how many they can deliver in a single day – new and pre-owned. They are reliable, spacious, comfortable and very middle-of-the-road. They are also quite distinctive, considering what the Altima has to compete with among the top sellers in its segment – namely the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
When I last reviewed the current generation Altima back in April of 2013, it confirmed my thoughts exactly on how it will position itself in a tough segment to win. Yet, the Altima had sales months where it did outsell the mighty Camry and Accord. One would point out to its distinctive design, high quality and reliability, comfort, space and fuel efficiency as big factors for the success of the Altima.
For 2016, Nissan did a mid-cycle refresh of its popular mid-sized sedan. While there are some updates across the board, is it still one of the better products in its class?
The Altima's mid-cycle refresh was spurned by Nissan's want to expand the styling cues of their latest Mazima and Murano onto their most popular models. As a result, Nissan did their best to integrate those design tenets onto a familiar silhouette that has served the company well since 2012. To do so, the Altima received a "V" shaped grille that is split in three sections by a chrome applique, replacing the wide curved grille that served as the car's signature for the past few model years. Flanking the grille are two headlamp units with the "Nissan cut" shape, integrating LED signature and beam lenses.
The rear end received a nicer treatment with new taillight units that stretch out onto the trunk lid. It absolutely fills the space that was missing in previous model years – and that is a good thing. Overall, the Altima has not changed with its wide opening front doors, fine rear access and nice greenhouse for excellent vision all around. My SL tester came with nice 17-inch alloy wheels that set off the Altima quite well. In all, the Altima stands out among its competitors quite well and its basic shape has held up well.
Only minute changes were made to the Altima's cabin. Chiefly, a new accent trim – called Brushed Silver Wave – sets off the beige leather surfaces quite well. Both areas give the Altima SL a true upmarket feel, something you do not get with most of its competitors. There is a quality feel throughout the cabin with better materials throughout, although I wished the steering wheel had a thicker rim. Otherwise, the controls are good to the touch, the backlit instrumentation and TFT information screen are very nice.
Seating is also quite good. The front seats could use some more bolstering and less intrusion from the backrest. Yet, they are upholstered with a great grain of tough leather and offer plenty of power-assisted adjustments for height, cushion tilt, recline, rake and lumbar. There is plenty of space underneath the moonroof for tall drivers. Rear seat room is very good, especially when it comes to leg room. When equipped with the moonroof, taller passengers may have to navigate a bit for a comfortable position for the head. Otherwise, this is really a nice, spacious place to be.
On the SL, Nissan provided an infotainment suite that included NissanConnect. To use this connected technology, you have to download an app onto your smartphone and have it interface with the screen. First off, the app did not interface well with the Altima. Secondly, I found the graphics to be quite basic overall for radio, navigation and other functions used through this system. This system's saving grace is its nine Bose speakers. That sound fills the cabin very nicely.
The basics of the Nissan Altima remain, actually. Starting with a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine that spews out 182 horsepower. In terms of numbers, it is right at the sweet spot for this segment. However, Nissan does one thing extremely well – engines. This thing is smooth, quick and quite relaxed. It helps to have the most improved CVT in the marketplace – the Xtronic. It works quietly and does a good job emulating ratios along the power band. This is a very good driveline for a front-drive mid-sized sedan.
I will contend that the Altima is one of the most fuel efficient models in its class, evidenced by the average consumption figure of 30.4 MPG in my care. So far, we have a fantastic mid-sized sedan in our hands, right?
The kudos continue with a very smooth ride that loves any speed. The Altima's suspension system absorbs quite well through the worst conditions made by climate change. Handing is best described as "soft," but extremely competent. In the curves, there is nominal roll and lean – which is welcomed for an enthusiast. However, enthusiasts mights want to explore the new SR trim, as it is designed for those who want their share of the sporting life, while hauling families and carpoools.
Ruddering the Altima offered a solid turning feel, though. Not entirely precise, but good enough for the work at hand. Brakes are also good, with a light pedal feel and solid stops in normal and panic situations.
On board this SL is a suite of active safety technology that Nissan has done a good job piecing together. Features include Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Forward Emergency Braking, Intelligent Cruise Control, Blind Spot Warning, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. All of this are indeed helpful…and worth the cost.
One can get a very basic Altima model, starting off with a baseline of $22,500. However, most customers would go upmarket two spots to the SV, with a starting price of $25,460. Our SL tester came with a complete sticker price of $32,115, replete with Technology Package, moonroof and floor mats. For more adventurous customers, the VQ35 engine – the proven 270 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 – is available on the SR and SL trims. If you think I enjoyed being in smooth luxury, how about a smooth-rising rocket ship? That is a V6-powered Altima in a nutshell.
Which leads me to consider this about the Nissan Altima. We can argue all day about which mid-sized family sedan people should buy, but we should agree that there are plenty of choices out there. It is this breadth of choice that is driving the return of sales of sedans over crossovers and SUVs. This choice is driven by higher efficiency than before in terms of performance and fuel consumption., It also includes the wide variety of new safety and infotainment technology seen on these newer and updated entrants.
Nissan customers know that the Altima will serve them well for years to come. This update solidifies its leadership in sales volume. However, if one must have a spacious, comfortable, smooth and solid mid-sized sedan…why are you looking at those other models?
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Nissan North America