The Nissan Altima, refreshed for 2016 but fundamentally unchanged since 2013, remains the Japanese automaker’s biggest seller in the U.S. market. It’s to Nissan’s credit that its best-selling model competes in what may be the toughest sector out there – the midsize, medium-priced 4-door sedan. Americans bought nearly 35,000 Altimas in March, an 8.9% increase over March 2015 sales; only the Rogue, a compact SUV, came close at 27,713.
The meticulous shopper who wants to kick the tires of every model on the market is likely to check out the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger and Mazda6. That’s a long list with some truly fine cars in it. And it doesn’t even include models from upscale Japanese automakers like Acura, Infiniti and Lexus, not to mention the highly regarded, though costlier, European sedans.
The Altima’s best qualities are its refinement, especially when equipped with Nissan’s acclaimed 3.5-liter V-6; and its exceptional fuel economy when powered by the 2.5-liter inline Four. It’s also quiet, reliable and priced right – and it’s American-made, built in Smyrna, Tenn.
Our 2016 Altima 2.5 SL had a sticker price of $32,115, nearly $10,000 more than the base 2.5. Its 4-cylinder engine was rated at 182 horsepower; it sent power to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. The shifter, if one can use that term in describing a CVT, is tuned to give the impression it’s a conventional automatic. The result is the most compliant CVT we’ve tested.
So equipped, the 2016 Altima is rated at 27 mpg city, 39 highway, using regular unleaded gasoline. Those numbers represent a remarkable achievement, accomplished without gimmicks like stoplight shutoff and mild-hybrid technology.
The interior of the Altima feels roomy and luxurious, with “Zero-Gravity” heated front seats – standard equipment at the SL trim level – designed to stave off fatigue and discomfort on long trips. Rear-seat passengers may not fare quite as well over the long haul, even though there’s plenty of knee room for most people. The problem is head room for passengers taller than 5-10 or so. We put a 6-footer back there, and his head made contact with the ceiling even though the car wasn’t moving.
The 2.5 SL – top of the 4-cylinder line – features leather upholstery, power seats for the driver and front passenger, Bose premium audio system, color display, satellite radio, rear-view monitor, dual-zone automatic climate control, streaming audio via Bluetooth, hands-free phone system, push-button ignition and remote start. The power sliding moonroof, floor mats, trunk mat and technology package added $2,710 to the price. The standard-equipment package on this model includes two highly desirable features – blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
The hybrid version of the Altima is no longer available; and Nissan does not offer all-wheel drive on this model.
The Altima has been rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL
Engine: 2.5-liter V-6, 182 horsepower, 180 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Weight: 3,254 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17×7.5-in. alloy
Tires: 215/55R V all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 15.4 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons
Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline