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2016 Nissan Altima First Drive

Detroit, Michigan – Lookin' good! Well, that was my first thought when introduced to the 2016 Nissan Altima. While not an “all-new” model, it's changed enough to warrant a press introduction in the Motor City. Looks like the more expensive Nissan Maxima, in fact, or maybe it's the other way around.

Officially called a “mid-cycle refresh,” the Altima's update is comprehensive enough that buyers will acquire a vehicle that does a good job of aging the 2013-15 models. Six trim levels are offered, starting with the base 2.5 model and proceeding to  2.5 S, 2.5 SV (optional Moonroof Navi package), 2.5 SR and 2.5 SL Tech, through to the top-of-the-line 3.5 SL Tech.

Changes to the exterior start with the grille, where Nissan seems to have finally found a design that's both distinctive and appealing. First seen on the latest Nissan Maxima sedan and Murano crossover as part of the new Nissan design language the company calls, “Energetic Flow,” this V-shaped grille is smaller and better integrated into the Altima's front fascia. It's simple but effective, identifying the brand and acting as a starting point from which the rest of the vehicle flows.

But to flow smoothly the Altima needs redesigned headlights, reworked fenders, and a more aerodynamic hood, all of which are present. The effect is a crisper, sharper, more purposeful front end for the Altima. 

The changes you see as the new Altima approaches are complemented by its appearance when leaving. The taillights now echo the “boomerang” design of the daytime running lights, and the decklid and bumper are revised. From the side it's the new 17” and 18” wheels that give the 2016 model away. Otherwise, the exterior dimensions, doors and body panels behind the windshield remain unchanged. 

Inside, the 2016 Nissan Altima receives minor updating. The seats are reworked, as is the centre stack and centre console. The steering wheel is redesigned, although the major gauges, panels and most of the trim remains unchanged save for some piano black and aluminum-look flourishes. 

Nissan and its luxury brand Infiniti have been leaders in developing and offering electronic safety technologies which are now making their way throughout the model line-up. Blind Spot Warning and Cross Traffic Alert systems, for example, are standard on the SV and SL Tech models, and the SL adds a radar-based Nissan Predictive Forward Collision Warning system that will scan two vehicles ahead for driving anomalies, rather than focusing only on the vehicle directly in front. A rear camera is now standard across the model line, but not on the 2.5. For 2016, Intelligent Cruise Control becomes available, along with Forward Emergency Braking. 

There's little change under the hood, however. The same two engines are offered, both mated to a continuously variable transmission (no manual is available). The 2.5L inline 4-cylinder engine makes 182 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, and returns 8.7/6.0/7.5 L/100km, city/highway/combined (better than last year's Altima). The 3.5L V6, meanwhile, generates 270 hp and 251 lb-ft torque (fuel consumption has yet to be announced). Both engines use regular grade fuel, and a big 71.9L tank should keep you going for a long time!

Handling is improved as a result of suspension modifications that include new rear springs and bushings, along with new shock absorbers. The electronic power steering has also been tuned for a quicker response and the CVT transmission is recalibrated for smoother operation. The sportier SR version has a beefier suspension which reduces body roll by 20%. The SR can only be ordered with the 4-cylinder engine in Canada, however.

My first impressions of the new Altima are that the company has done a good job with the exterior design. The car looks sleeker and more aerodynamic, and from the front the brand is easily identified. The interior of both the cloth and leather upholstered models is comfortable and spacious. The carry-over white-on-black gauges are easy to read and give the impression of high quality. Controls on the centre stack are simple and logically arranged. There's no difficulty figuring out how to access the navigation system, adjust the climate control or tune the radio, for instance. 

Siri Hands Free is also available for those with iPhones (although not the full Apple Car Play or the comparable Android system). 

Nissan's been busy isolating the 2016 Altima's cabin from noise and vibration on the road by using more insulation, underbody panels and acoustic laminated glass). Once underway the work pays off with a virtually silent interior after the car finds its cruising speed. Pretty much all you can hear is some mild wind at the A-pillars and occasional tire noise (which mostly is determined by the type of aggregate in the road surface). 

There is, however, a mild vibration felt in the centre armrest and seats from the drivetrain as the engine speed decreases after acceleration, likely a function of the CVT transmission. The CVT also tends to “moan” as you accelerate, as if it's doing so reluctantly. Frankly, I doubt that most consumers will notice, but this type of transmission is typically a hard sell for auto writers. 

Handling is significantly improved over the previous generation Altima and even the “pre-facelift” current generation models. Nissan put us on a short handling course and the difference was most notable when comparing body lean in corners and stability in side-to-side manoeuvres. The steering is notably sharper, too. On the highway, cruising is a pleasure due to the smooth ride and exceptionally quiet cabin.

Nissan claims a 10% improvement in braking performance (shorter stopping distances) for the Altima based mainly on the choice of tires upon which the 2016 models will ride. 

Overall, the latest Altima neither dazzles nor disappoints. It is roomy and comfortable, has a large trunk, looks good, and doesn't use a lot of fuel. It's also available with a range of active safety features that consumers in this segment are requesting. 

Obviously, competition is fierce. Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Elantra, Chrysler 200, the list could go on and on. However, if you'd like to wait for the new Altima, it goes on sale in January – the doldrums for car dealers and therefore a great time to buy a car. Pricing will be announced in December.

The Nissan Altima is built in Canton, Mississippi. 

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2016 Nissan Altima