I had just stepped out of Nissan’s refreshed Altima when the tone of the test was set. I had stopped at an area Nissan store to grab a ’16 brochure; sure, we have press kits available online, but there’s credible info in the brochure, and it also better speaks to how Nissan – or most OEMs – present their product to the public. So, I’m out of the car when a salesman approaches – he’s outside, it’s a nice day – and asks if I need help. I explain that I’m in need of a brochure, he sees I’m in a new Altima and asks if it’s a rental. No, Mr. Salesman, it’s a press car – but I’m immediately reminded that a lot of midsize Nissans find themselves at airport parking lots. And Enterprise will pick you up!
That so many Altimas populate rental fleets isn’t the fault of the Altima, per se. In fact, it may speak to the 4-door Nissan’s rep for reliability and essential simplicity; they are kinda’ like Donald J. Trump, altho Donald doesn’t come with the reliability. Regardless, what’s not to like about an accommodating 4-door sedan with your choice of 4-cylinder or V6 powertrains, innocuous styling and – with the 4-banger – 39 miles per gallon highway? And you get all this for a transaction price (Altimas come with aggressive incentives – under the hood, in the trunk and/or stuffed in the seats) far closer to $20K than it is to $30K.
EXTERIOR: In what is termed an ‘extensive redesign’ for 2016, no area – we’re told – was left untouched. On the heels of an all-new design three years ago, what Nissan labels a bold new design language has me thinking Maxima; the end result, however, is more ‘Minima’. We know both front and rear sections of the Altima are all new, but the end result may represent an uptick in its move to be regarded as more contemporary, but it’s an uptick – and not, notably, an upswing. What had been an inoffensive midsize sedan remains an inoffensive midsized sedan, altho looking slightly fresher.
We’ll admit to liking the Altima’s general proportions. It is not as visually dynamic as the Mazda6, but then, neither is it as intentionally busy as Toyota’s Camry. And while I have a strong preference for Honda’s Accord when spending between $25K and $30K on a sedan, many would find the Honda’s architecture too conservative, bordering on staid.
Along with its stylistic tweaks, know that the coefficient of drag is, uh, more coefficient; the previous .29 Cd has been reduced to .26. Along with a slickened exterior is a stronger structure, with additional areas of high-strength steel.
INTERIOR: Inside, the main focus is in the area of technology – and why are we not surprised. A new center stack features a standard 5,0-inch color audio display, incorporating a rear view camera while accessing the standard NissanConnect with Mobile Apps (except in the base Altima 2.5). And if there’s one thing I like better than driving it’s staying connected to my digital life. Bless their heart…
In those areas that actually matter to the day-in, day-out ritual of getting to a destination safely and comfortably, we found ingress and egress reasonably easy, rear seat room both accessible and comfortable, and the trunk is spacious and – with folding rear seats – adaptable. Nissan claims this newest Altima rivals upscale luxury sedans in ambience and sophistication. If that’s the case, no one told my test Altima. The interior is entirely comfortable and, by extension, capable. But on no day will you confuse it with the senior partner’s Bentley.
DRIVETRAIN: Unlike Hyundai (Sonata) and Kia (Optima), Nissan still provides Altima prospects with their choice of either a 2.5 liter four or 3.5 liter V6. The numerical difference is pretty significant – 182 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque in the 2.5, 270 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque in the V6. And while the fuel efficiency ‘delta’ is also worth noting, with the four providing owners a combined estimate of 31 mpg and the V6 netting a 26 mpg, in a day of under $2/gallon few will notice that difference at the end of the month.
With all of that, we found the 2.5 DOHC four reasonably responsive, if not exactly joyful in delivering that responsiveness. Of course, any disconnect between the throttle and your facial expression could be attributed to Nissan’s CVT. And while this ‘substitute-for-a-real-automatic’ is better than most, you won’t ever confuse its responses with anything but a CVT.
ON THE ROAD: Our biggest challenge was forgetting BMW’s 340i that occupied our previous week. Helping to minimize the memory – or, at the very least, keep it in perspective – was the BMW’s $58K window sticker juxtaposed against the Altima’s $28K Monroney. It’s telling to know that for the price of the well-equipped ‘3’ you could buy both the 4-cylinder Altima and a well spec’d Rogue.
With that, at first blush the Altima comes across as lacking refinement, even in this refreshed edition. The engine has a distinct quality, but I wouldn’t call it ‘quality’; rather, I’d call it coarse. But like most competent cars, once you get into its rhythm it goes about its business with competence, while providing virtually none of the excitement we at one time associated with Nissan sedans. You’d hope there would be a bit of the Maxima’s ‘4DSC’ vibe, and there was, but only if 4DSC references 4-Door, Some Car. The Altima is to ‘sporting’ what a slaughter house is to ‘hunting’.
SUMMARY: With that, know this is competent transportation for those needing and wanting nothing more, nothing less. You typically can find base models at advertised transaction prices south of $20K. If you see it, need it and want it – well, buy it.