2016 Nissan Altima front 3/4
  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus / AOL
2016 Nissan Altima rear 3/4
  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus / AOL
2016 Nissan Altima lookin' good in blue
  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus / AOL
2016 Nissan Altima looks nice from the rear
  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus / AOL
2016 Nissan Altima profile shot
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2016 Nissan Altima dead front
  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus / AOL
2016 Nissan Altima dead rear
  • Image Credit: Brandon Turkus / AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  • Image Credit: AOL
  •   Engine
    2.4L I4
  •   Power
    182 HP / 180 LB-FT
  •   Transmission
    CVT
  •   0-60 Time
    7.0 Seconds
  •   Drivetrain
    Front-Wheel Drive
  •   Engine Placement
    Front
  •   Curb Weight
    3,258 LBS
  •   Seating
    2+3
  •   Cargo
    15.4 CU-FT
  •   MPG
    27 City / 39 HWY
  •   Base Price
    $23,325
  •   As Tested Price
    $25,295
  •   Best Deal Price
    $17,964
  •  
Here's a theory: the midsize sedan is no longer a family car. Oh sure, it can still easily be pressed into service for child-hauling duty, and it still excels in this regard, but its main duties have largely been taken over by the increasingly popular crossover.

So while some midsize sedans stick to their roots, offering relatively innocuous designs and traditional V6 engines, other vehicles have taken on more fashion-forward designs that occasionally sacrifice versatility in favor of good looks. The Toyota Camry still plays in the former, stalwart category, but look at the Mazda6, Ford Fusion, or Chrysler 200 – they're pretty cars, focused less on mainstream appeal. Combined with class-above options and more advanced engines and transmissions, those sexier vehicles represent the new midsize sedan, which sort of serves as a more humble, grounded lifestyle vehicle.

For 2016, the Nissan Altima is trying to evolve. After a brief spin around metro Detroit in the facelifted model, it's clear the transition is underway but won't be complete until an all-new Altima arrives.

2016 Nissan Altima
2016 Nissan Altima2016 Nissan Altima

The V-Motion grille is narrower and more aggressive, and the headlights will feel familiar to anyone who likes the new Maxima.

The most obvious change for this facelift is the rather dramatic adoption of Nissan's Energetic Flow design language. Unlike the facelifted Volkswagen Passat we tested a couple weeks back, you'll have no trouble telling the difference between 2015 and 2016 Altimas. The V-Motion grille is narrower and more aggressive, and the headlights will feel familiar to anyone who likes the new Maxima. Like its big brother, the Altima's new headlights integrate both the turn signals and LED running lamps, which draw further attention to the grille. Nissan also added a more sculpted, domed hood for 2016.

Nissan brought a clean-sheet design to the back of the Altima. The new taillights are strikingly similar to other Nissan sedans – Maxima and Sentra – and look sharp. The rear bumper is also new, and looks best in the SR trim seen here.

Opting for the SR will score you 18-inch wheels, dark chrome headlights, a rear spoiler, and front foglights. The interior gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, although more functional changes, like more heavily bolstered seats, are absent. The Altima SR slots in between the S and SV model with the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but it can be had with a more powerful, 3.5-liter V6.

2016 Nissan Altima2016 Nissan Altima
2016 Nissan Altima2016 Nissan Altima

At 39 mpg, the Altima boasts best-in-class highway fuel economy.

The 2.5-liter Altima SR will only account for about 20 percent of sales, says Nissan. The four-cylinder engine has been tweaked ever so slightly, seeing a small increase in its compression ratio, from 10 to 10.3. There's also a new anodized coating on the piston heads, which, when taken with some impressive aerodynamic aids – active grille shutters, a more aerodynamic underbody cover, and the actual body tweaks – blesses this particular Nissan with best-in-class highway fuel economy, at 39 miles per gallon. The 2.5 is tied with the CVT-equipped Honda Accord for best-in-class city mpg, with both cars netting 27 mpg. Power output remains fixed at last year's levels, with 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

Not surprisingly, this engine feels similar to the 2015 Altima's powertrain on the road. The four-cylinder remains a very agreeable driving partner, with suitable power both low and high in the rev range. It's smooth, refined, and overall, quite pleasant – that's what impresses us the most. Even if the tachometer is launched high into the rev range, there's none of typical four-cylinder thrashiness that you might expect in a budget four-cylinder sedan.

Nissan made a number of changes for 2016 that specifically address NVH issues. There's an acoustic windshield and larger, thicker dash insulation. Nissan also fitted new engine mount dampers under the hood and a larger center muffler. Adding to the pleasant experience is the Xtronc CVT, which keeps the rev low, so there's not a lot of engine drone to be heard.

2016 Nissan Altima2016 Nissan Altima
2016 Nissan Altima2016 Nissan Altima

The entire Altima range range gets new front and rear shocks, as well as new rear springs and bushings.

Nissan continues to demonstrate its mastery of the continuously variable transmission with the 2016 Altima. When we first tested the redesigned Altima back in 2012, we remarked that most owners would be hard pressed to even recognize that their car was a CVT. The 2016 will be no different. The CVT has been fitted with "Gen 3 D-Step," which is a fancy way of saying that it actually simulates gearshifts, making it feel even more like a traditional automatic. Nissan first showed this tech on the latest Maxima, and it feels just as natural here as it did there. Which is to say it's kind of in the uncanny valley of transmissions. It "shifts" and feels like an automatic transmission, but you're constantly aware that it just... isn't. That's not a bad thing, though.

The entire Altima range range gets new front and rear shocks, as well as new rear springs and bushings, but the SR gets unique shocks, springs, and sway bars. While Nissan wouldn't offer specifics on the SR shocks/springs, we can confirm that the front sway bar is 51.4 percent stiffer while the rear bar is – and this is not a typo – 258.4 percent stiffer than the base car. Nissan claims you'll enjoy more lateral grip and a more neutral handling character, which is dandy when read in a brochure.

That said, the Altima SR simply doesn't feel particularly sporty. Sure, it doesn't roll quite as much and it feels a bit sharper through the bends – two of the main goals for the SR, according to Nissan – but ultimately, it's not a very engaging car. Drive an Accord Sport or a Mazda6, and you sense this kind of naughty charm that makes you want to drive them hard. That's absent in the Altima.

2016 Nissan Altima

It's clear with the facelifted Altima that Nissan is setting up its midsize sedan for something far greater in the coming years.

This is partially down to the steering. Nissan says it's geared to offer more feedback than the 2015 Altima, but we still find it to be light on the chatter. On top of that, it's oddly weighted. The overall steering feel is very light on center, and like the Maxima, it's very heavy at slow, parking-lot speeds. Mid-corner, though, it feels a bit more natural.

Pricing for the 2016 Altima starts at $23,325. To get into our 2.5-liter SR, you'll need at least $25,295, which is pretty agreeable, considering the Accord Sport CVT starts at $25,800. The only optional extra is a $600 LED Appearance Package, so your real challenge will simply be choosing interior and exterior colors.

It's clear with the facelifted Altima that Nissan is setting up its midsize sedan for something far greater in the coming years. We expect the brand to double-down on its Energetic Flow design language for an even more expressive sedan that will follow the example of the Mazda6, Chrysler 200, and Ford Fusion. What does that mean for the 2016 Altima? For now, it sort of means the best of both worlds. The Altima's interior measurements remain identical while its looks are more assertive and its driving character is slightly improved. If you're unsure about fully committing to one of those nouveau lifestyle sedans, the fence-straddling 2016 Altima is indeed worth a look.

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