Updated Jan. 14, 2016 to reflect IIHS crashworthiness results.
These certainly are heady days for Nissan, Japan’s second largest car manufacturer. The automaker is poised to overtake Honda in the US, the lone major market where its smaller competitor maintains a sales advantage.
To take Nissan to the next level, the manufacturer has been updating its product line at a stepped up pace by introducing such models as a new Murano crossover SUV in 2015 and the next generation Maxima sedan in 2016.
Mid Product Cycle Update
Just two years after replacing its most popular model, the midsize Altima sedan, Nissan has rolled out a substantial update, one that arrives ahead of schedule. Indeed, as far as product cycles go, this one achieves two important things:
1), It moves the customary fourth year mid product cycle update forward by one year. This effort keeps the Altima fresh as a new Chevrolet Malibu arrives on the market and as competing manufacturers make less substantial changes year after year, and
2), The update keeps the Nissan Altima on a trajectory to overtake the Honda Accord as the second best-selling midsize model in America. Through the first 10 months of 2015, Altima sales are up 1.0 percent, while the Accord’s sales are down by 3.1 percent. Although it doesn’t seem likely that Altima will close the current 11,500 unit gap between the two models before the year’s end, an updated model may do that in 2016. If so, only the Toyota Camry would remain in front of the Altima.
New for 2016: Altima SR Edition
Nissan entertained journalists in Michigan last week and another group in California this week to familiarize them with the refreshed model. I spent several hours driving a pair of models around the Michigan countryside — SL and SR editions, the latter bringing in the most significant changes to the model line.
And those changes go beyond the typical nip/tuck common to such updates. Notably, the 2016 Altima brings in exterior changes to align the sedan with the brand’s “energetic flow” design language, including the v-motion grille seen on other products such as the Rogue, Murano, and Pathfinder SUVs as well as on the Maxima sedan.
Other exterior refinements include LED projector headlamps, signature daytime running lights, changes to the front and rear fascia, a sculpted bumper, and both hood and front fender changes. The changes have helped in the coefficient of drag category as the new model measures 0.26 Cd, due largely to changes to the front and rear fascia, the windshield, and the inclusion of active grille shutters.
Interior Design Changes
Inside, the Altima gains what Nissan describes as an “information-centric” interior with a change to the layout of the center console. Specifically, Nissan applied its “gliding wing” design to the horizontal console and added a higher-end look with silver and satin black accents.
All editions except for the base grade are equipped with a 5-inch color display. It doubles as a rear view monitor and also integrates with NissanConnect telematics to its Mobile Apps system. A USB port with iPod connectivity is included, and new for 2016 is Siri Eyes Free Voice Recognition — allowing for hands-free voice connection to Siri commands.
Refined Transmission Introduced
The 2016 Altima continues with the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder and optional 3.5-liter, V-6 engines as before and pairs these with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Say “CVT” to some people and they’ll quickly head for the door. Such transmissions dispense with gears and use a pulley to move through an infinite number of gear ratios. While CVTs offer improved fuel economy and performance, the noise and feel contributed by such transmissions is simply unacceptable to some.
For 2016, Nissan rectified its nagging CVT issue, essentially eliminating the long stretch feel such transmissions give during wide open throttle. Step on the accelerator and the engine revs push up, but then pull back just when the stretching sensation usually appears.
Its a more natural feel and one that most CVTs don’t offer. Nissan engineered this feature in with the product update and also reduced the cabin noise by using new engine mounts and by adding noise mitigation materials such as an acoustic glass windshield and a high density mass barrier. That’s the area covering the floor pan and firewall, an important part in winning the NVH or noise, vibration, and harshness battle.
Another benefit of the powertrain improvement is a corresponding increase in fuel economy. The 2016 edition now makes a segment-leading 39 mpg, up one mpg over last year. Importantly, as Nissan has made refinements to the car over the past decade, performance has increased slightly from 175 horsepower to 182 horsepower, while fuel economy has surged dramatically, up from 29 mpg 10 years earlier.
Nissan Altima SR Grade
For 2016, the all-new SR edition brings in a number of chassis upgrades that lead to better overall performance.
To wit, the sedan receives its first-ever 18-inch wheel tire package on a 2.5 model. The uniquely styled wheels are shod within Dunlop tires, but they aren’t of the low rolling resistance variety — Nissan wanted to ensure excellent handling, something they’ve achieved with its latest Altima model.
The SR edition also brings in new shocks, springs and stabilizer bars, including much stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars. Nissan says that the Altima benefits from more lateral grip and improved vehicle response. The SR’s chassis has been optimized — I detected none of the torque steer such models typically present.
By the way, if you like the special blue finish seen in one of the pictures here, it is exclusive to the SR grade (edition). Nissan calls it Storm Blue and I think you might like it.
Keeping You Safe
Nissan also presented information about its latest safety technologies. Known as “safety shield technologies,” sensors detect the traffic in front of the car and maintain an even space between the vehicles. If you get too close, light braking is applied, warning beeps are emitted, and a notice appears on the dashboard. Nissan’s predictive forward collision can detect a possible collision up to two cars ahead. The system also includes rear cross traffic alert.
The changes to the Nissan Altima also mean it has received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top award — Top Safety Pick+. That’s the highest recognition given by the IIHS for safety.