2016 Nissan Altima SL revisited: Practicality, luxury and, oh, those mpgs

2015 Nissan Altima SL

2015 Nissan Altima SL

A few months ago, I spent some time with a top-of-the-line 2016 Nissan Altima SL and found it to be well appointed, practical transportation for a family of four. Recently, I took a more extensive journey in a nearly identical Altima and realized that the mid-size Japanese sedan has a very important feature that I did not adequately emphasize.

I’m talking about the number 39.

Of all the numbers that help to define an automobile, the 2016 Nissan Altima ranks right up there at the top among comparable gasoline-powered mid-size sedans with this one.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that is how many miles a 4-cylinder Altima can travel on a single gallon of regular unleaded fuel while cruising out on the open road.

Normally, I take that number with a grain of salt because the habits and road conditions of individual drivers differ greatly and, as a result, so do their fuel efficiency averages.

However, this time I was forced to pay attention because I was on a trip of more than 250 miles. Cruising with the traffic flow at speeds generally 5 to 10 miles an hour above the posted 65-mph speed limit, I actually recorded 39.3 mpg. Around town, I recorded fuel mileage in the mid to high 20s. That nearly matches the 27mpg city/39 highway numbers supplied by the EPA.

Now, I am not saying that fuel economy alone is the reason to purchase a family car, especially in this time of lower gasoline prices. But, 39 miles per gallon from a conventional gasoline-powered engine puts it in the neighborhood of diesel engines and even some gasoline/electric hybrid powerplants.

I have had a lot of experience in a diesel-powered 5-series BMW that normally returns 42 mpg on the open road and I have driven hybrid Lexus models that returned about 40 mpg.

The Nissan formula for bragging rights teams a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine that produces 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. The 2016 engine has an upgraded engine compression ratio, from 10.0:1 to 10.3:1; reduced friction; and a more efficient oil pump.

Nissan also says the 1 mpg increase in the highway rating over the 2015 model is also helped by exterior design changes that result in a 10 percent improvement in the Altima’s aerodynamics.

Those exterior changes, which Nissan calls its “Energetic Flow” design language, consist mainly of revised front fascia, a “V-motion” grille and redesigned headlights and taillights.

And let’s not forget the continuously variable transmission. While I have never been a fan of continuously variable transmissions, I know they contribute to a vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

As I mentioned before, the Altima has one of the best. It almost feels as if it is shifting among actual gears when driven with moderate input to the accelerator. Press the go-pedal to the floor, however, and you’ll hear the drone of the engine while the transmission sorts through its infinite supply of gear ratios until it settles on the just right one. I must confess that I got so used to it I almost had forgotten about it by the end of a week.

Finally, to demonstrate how much the Altima’s fuel efficiency has improved over the years, the Japanese manufacturer noted that the EPA estimate of 27 mpg in the city equals the highway mileage back in 2002 and, in the last 10 years, highway mileage has increased from 29 mpg to 39 mpg.

So, if you are looking for a family sedan that has satisfactory driving dynamics and best-in-class fuel efficiency, the Altima should be on your shopping list. To get a more comprehensive look at the sedan, click here to read my previous article on the 2016 Nissan Altima SL.