If there is a space for the family sedan among all the SUV’s and crossovers, the Nissan Altima is square in the middle of it.
Although the Nissan Altima is ripe for refreshing in the 2016 model year, we took one final look at the outgoing 2015 Altima and found a lot to recommend in those final models still left on dealers’ lots. We’ve liked the Altima, actually, since our first drive of the 2013 Altima, the first of the new model replacing the 2012 Nissan Altima. Nissan made the Altima stronger, roomier and more up to date, a big challenge for a car that was already a top market performer.
Our tester was a 2015 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL, which means it’s the top model, over the Altima 2.5 (the base base model you won’t find on dealers’ lots), the Altima 2.5 S and the 2.5 Altima SV, but with the 2.5-liter four that powers all the Altima models other than the Altima 3.5 SL (which we tested) that comes with Nissan’s powerful 3.5 liter V-6. The six is quick and the Altima to have if beating the guy out of the next tollbooth is important, which it might be if not getting stuck in the slow lane isn’t an acceptable option. But that’s not for us to decide.
The fact is, however, that for most daily events, the 2.5-liter four under the hood of the Altima 2.5 SL for everything from merging to climbing hills to waiting in line to pick up Junior after school. The 2.5 is rated at 182 horsepower with torque rated at 180 lb-ft.
Like most Nissans, all Altima models have a continuously variable transmission. We’ll concede that most drivers won’t notice the difference one way or the other, but we’ve always been put off by the way under full throttle, a CVT makes the engine revs to near redline—for the Altima 2.5-liter model, about 6200 rpm—while the transmission reels the car in to the engine speed. Let off the gas and the engine drops to its normal revs for driving at whatever speed. That’s us. Your smilage may vary. As we said in our notes, it’s not very sexy but it works.
The payoff, however, is in fuel mileage. The EPA estimate is 27 mph city and 38 mpg highway. Our overall consumption in mixed driving was 26.1 mpg while an extended but a don’t-spare-the-horses highway run netted 32.1 mpg. No doubt hypermiling techniques could have raised the highway fuel consumption rate, but we drove more like most people drive. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
The Altima’s sophisticated suspension system includes, even on base models, Active Understeer Control, which aids cornering by lightly dragging the inside front brake. It’s not an emergency stability control system that only kicks in when the vehicle is out of control. It’s an aid rather than a rescue. In less than energetic driving, the ride was smooth, quiet and unobtrusive, the way a family sedan should be.
The interior is sophisticated and awash in soft touch materials, including the hood over the instrument panel, which actually isn’t touched very often. The “Zero Gravity” seats are among the best in the business, and the rear seat isn’t a penalty box, with generous rear leg room.
New for the 2015 model year, the Altima 3.5 SL grade adds NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps, Blind Spot Warning, Moving Object Detection and Lane Departure Warning as standard equipment. It’s still a $1,000 option on the 2.5 SL, but well worth the price. Four-way power front passenger seat became standard on SL models. A Special Edition package was added, and the 3.5-liter engine picked up another mpg for 2015. But there were no Big or even Semi-Big Changes like those due for 2016.
Despite the popularity of Nissan’s crossovers—Juke, Rogue and Murano—and SUVs—Xterra, Pathfinder and Armada—the Nissan Altima continues as Nissan’s number one model. It’s right there. Right in the middle, and right.
Specifications and window sticker on next page.