2016 Nissan Altima SR Review

PLYMOUTH, Michigan — Even as the compact crossover/utility vehicle has overtaken the midsize sedan as America’s favorite segment, competition among those trying to topple the Toyota Camry is fierce. Such contenders need the most expressive sheetmetal possible, interior materials and design that belie their humble roots, the latest infotainment connectivity, and a significant facelift halfway through a five-year product cycle.

Oh, and you need a “sport” model too.

Lay credit or blame for that latter item on Toyota, which sells about 40 percent of its Camrys with the “sporty” SE trim level that’s somewhere in the middle of that car’s price range. Actually, credit/blame may be traced back to the Honda Accord, which always has been considered a bit “sportier” than the Camry.
2016 Nissan Altima SR Rear End In Motion 04

Lately, the Nissan Altima has been challenging the Accord for second place on the midsize sedan sales chart, often beating it in some months. To up its game, Nissan has just applied a major mid-cycle refresh for the 2016 Nissan Altima, featuring a new, “sporty” Altima SR aimed directly at the Camry SE and Accord Sport.

While the 2016 Nissan Altima SR has its own performance-tuned shocks and springs, a bigger anti-roll bar that’s 75 percent stiffer, and comes with 18-inch wheels — spoiler alert — it’s an incremental dynamic improvement over the standard SL and SV models. Other exclusive SR features are a rear lip spoiler, unique interior trim, foglamps, 10-way power driver’s seat, dark chrome headlamps, and a CVT manual mode with paddle shifters. Still, if not for those 18-inch Michelin tires (17-inch Continentals on the SL and SV, and 16-inch Hankooks on the rental lot S model, which wasn’t even invited for Nissan’s first drive), we wonder whether there would be enough difference for the average test-drive customer to notice the difference.

2016 Nissan Altima Interior

This is a good thing; the standard, non-SR 2016 Nissan Altima is better composed and less floaty than the 2013-15 model. The mid-cycle refresh consists of a new hood, new front fenders and fascia, a new rear fascia with new four-piece taillamps, and a new trunklid. The redesigned nose employs what Nissan calls its Energetic Flow design language, with a “V-motion” grille and boomerang headlamp outline, which visually lowers the car, making it sleeker and less dowdy. The drag coefficient was lowered from 0.29 to 0.26.

Inside, Nissan has made some material upgrades, and there are new silver and satin black trim pieces, a “gliding wing” dashboard, and horizontal console shapes. There’s Apple Siri eyes-free telematics, and smartphone operated Nissan Connect Services powered by Sirius XM.

Safety upgrades consist of predictive forward collision warning that looks two cars ahead, optional intelligent adaptive cruise control, and radar blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert (standard on SV).

2016 Nissan Altima Front Three Quarter

The standard 182-hp, 2.5-liter I-4, which accounts for about 96 percent of Nissan Altima sales, (there were no test cars with the optional 3.5-liter V-6 for our drive) also has been upgraded. The compression ratio is up from 10.0:1 to 10.3:1, and there’s a new, anodized coating on the cylinder heads and a variable displacement oil pump. Together with an underbody aerodynamic cover and active grille shutters, the 2016 Nissan Altima’s EPA highway fuel economy is up by 1 mpg to a class-leading 39-mpg highway. The car’s new Gen 3 D-Step Xtronic is still a continuously variable transmission, with upshift “steps” added to make it feel like a multi-gear automatic.

We tried what most owners won’t do, except perhaps on the test drive, and used the paddles to upshift through the CVT’s steps. It was an unengaging diversion, so we quickly returned to driving it like an automatic.

2016 Nissan Altima SR Front End Turn

Being motoring journalists, we picked the SR for our test drive and found that improvements made to the electrically assisted power steering are more worthwhile. It offered pretty good feel and feedback through the steering wheel as we pushed through the esses of a rural road on the outskirts of Ann Arbor.

Beside providing better grip and filling the wheel wells, the 18-inch Michelins added some road noise despite the updated model’s new acoustic windshield and larger and denser dash insulator. There’s some sound boom in the rear seat too, although it’s generally a very comfortable place to be, with ample leg- and headroom and a cushy center armrest.

On paper, the 2013 Nissan Altima looked like it would be a contender to lead this very competitive segment; a segment in which the differences between the best cars and the lesser models are incremental. But next to the new Honda Accord that premiered in the same model year, the Altima seemed to suffer from Nissan cost cutting. Nissan has put all the savings and then some back into the thoroughly refreshed 2016 Nissan Altima, and the result is that it’s a contender, again.
2016 Nissan Altima SR Front Three Quarter

2016 Nissan Altima Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $23,325
Engines: 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/182 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 180 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm; 3.5L DOHC 16-valve V-6/270 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 251 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA Mileage: 22-27/32-39 mpg (city/hwy)
Suspension F/R: Struts, coil springs/multilink
Brakes F/R: Vented discs/discs
Tires F/R: 215/60R-16 (2.5 S); 215/55R-17 (2.5 SV, 2.5 SL); 235/45R-18 (2.5 SR, 3.5 SR, 3.5 SL)
L x W x H: 191.9 x 72.0 x 57.9 in
Wheelbase: 109.3 in
Headroom F/R: 40.0/37.1 in
Legroom F/R: 45.0/36.1 in
Shoulder Room F/R: 56.4/56.4 in
Cargo Room: 15.2 cu ft
Weight: 3,197-3,463 lb
Weight Dist. F/R: 60/40 (2.5); 62/58 (3.5)
0-60 MPH: N/A
1/4-Mile: N/A
Top Speed: N/A

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