2016 Nissan Altima SL road test: Practical transportation for a family of four

2016 Nissan Altima SL

2016 Nissan Altima SL

Three years after a complete redesign of the Nissan Altima, the Japanese manufacturer is calling enhancements to the 2016 model “one of the most extensive mid-cycle makeovers in Nissan history.”

That may be technically true, but the hype is really to let potential customers know that Nissan is working hard to keep up with the Joneses or, in this case, the Toyotas, Hondas and Hyundais. Hundreds of thousands of annual sales must be protected for the Altima, Nissan’s best seller and perennial third-place entry in the extremely competitive mid-size sedan segment.

So, let’s examine what the company is talking about.

Altima instrument panel

Altima instrument panel

Noticeable first is a mild redesign, which up front includes a new V-shaped grille, bumper, headlights, hood and fenders. At the rear, a new fascia and bumper combine with a new trunk lid and four-place taillights. All of that gives the Altima a closer family tie to other Nissan models.

Beneath the sheet metal, the additional use of high-strength steel and other enhancements were used to reduce weight, increase durability and reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

Available new safety features include forward collision warning with emergency brake assist, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.

And, although the model I drove was the most luxurious 2016 Altima SL, Nissan is offering a new, sportier Nissan Altima SR, which features sharper handling and model-specific exterior and interior accents.

Altima front seats

Altima front seats

Other than that, the 2016 Nissan Altima SL is pretty much the same old, same old. And, that is not a bad thing.

As before, a 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6 engine is available, but the test car was powered by the carry-over 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

To my thinking, the four-cylinder engine entirely is entirely adequate for the 3,254-pound sedan, providing satisfactory performance and excellent fuel economy in all driving situations.

Zero to 60 mph acceleration has been measured by automotive web site edmunds.com, at just under 8 seconds. The EPA estimated the Altima will travel 27 miles on a gallon of regular-grade gasoline around town and 39 miles on the open road. In my travels during a week of mostly urban and suburban driving conditions I averaged 31 mpg.

I am not in love with continuously variable transmissions, but this one was more tolerable than many others. It is programmed with simulated gears, which made it feel more like a standard automatic transmission and reduced a CVT’s tendency to drone at high engine speeds while the transmission searches for the best gear ratio.

Altima rear seats

Altima rear seats

The suspension consists of independent struts up front and a multi-link setup at the rear. Steering is controlled by an electronic hydraulic setup and the anti-lock brakes are four-wheel discs,vented in front and solid at the rear.

Put all of that together and the Altima exhibited satisfactory, but certainly not exciting, driving dynamics. I found the ride quality to be a bit unsettled on rough roads, and the steering to be relatively numb.

I don’t think either of those things will be of concern to the target buyer, who I believe will care more about safety equipment, comfort and convenience features and Nissan’s known reputation for reliability.

Standard safety features on the Altima SL include airbags and side curtains, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, electronic brake force distribution, traction control, stability control and a rear-view camera. Optional are the adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning with automatic braking.

Comfort and convenience features include 9-speaker premium sound system, leather upholstery, heated steering wheel and front seats, power driver and front-passenger seats, automatic on/off headlights and keyless entry and ignition.

Altima trunk

Altima trunk

Besides the advanced safety equipment, the $2,190 Technology Package includes navigation, 7-inch color audio display, voice recognition for navigation and audio, satellite radio with traffic alerts and Travel Link with weather, fuel prices and more.

A power sunroof adds $800 and floor mats are priced at an extra $210.

Add all that to the $28,750 base price and $825 delivery charge and the total suggested retail price comes to $32,595.

An acquaintance of mine who has owned one for several years pretty much summed up the Altima in a couple of sentences.

”I really like this car,” he said. “You just get in it and go. It has never caused me any trouble.”

With a 15.4-cubic-foot trunk and a back seat comfortable for two adults or three small children, the Altima will easily serve the needs of a family of four. And the best part is that they can just get in and go.

To read about an important second look at the 2016 Nissan Altima, click here.

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