2017 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL

16 nissan altima sl frontviewComfort, refinement, efficiency plus a tiny bit of sport

Like what you see? You’re looking at the nicely updated Altima, a car that took on a number of Nissan’s new brand-wide design enhancements last year for a mix between the subtle Sentra and sultry Maxima. I suppose it makes sense for any mid-size family sedan to find the middle ground with respect to styling, something the Altima also does with respect to performance.

The more wildly penned Maxima, Nissan’s self-proclaimed 4DSC (four-door sports car), is the Japanese brand’s performance sedan leader, and while a new Sentra with more get up and go has just hit the streets this Altima is more competitive within its mid-size family sedan segment.

The Altima sits third out of 11 mid-size sedan models, with sales of 282,617 units after just 11 months of 2016. Still, when the year ends in a few weeks it won’t likely match last year’s 333,398 sales or 2014’s 335,644, but even though car sales are generally slowing while SUV deliveries are growing calendar year 2016 should surpass sales from the previous decade when it never topped 300,000 units. This in mind the majority of mid-size sedan sales are down, only Chevy’s redesigned Malibu with more sales now than all of last year.

16 nissan altima sl rearview

On that note I don’t think you can really blame the new Altima for its slower sales. After all, it’s a good looking four-door, Nissan returning some much needed style to a model that was one of the best looking in the segment when the third generation was introduced way back in 2002. I was on that press launch and remember how it impressed, that sleek sedan endowed with a sizable 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine and a downright soul-seducing 240 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 in top-line trim, both engines standard with a sporty five-speed manual. The latter was increased to 246 horsepower a year later and 250 hp in 2005, while an even more potent 260 hp V6 could be had with a six-speed manual in SE-R trim the same year. That, Nissan, was a four-door sports car.

Last year’s redesigned Altima, which carries forward unchanged for 2017, is of course fully modernized and therefore more attractive to would-be buyers today, although I wouldn’t say it has class-leading style like that third-gen car did in its time. Still, I was hardly ashamed to be seen at the wheel, as long as I didn’t try to race anyone away from a stoplight. The thought actually entered my mind, but more out of curiosity than any machismo bragging rights. After all, I just happened to pull up to a stoplight beside a 2010 or so Altima SR 3.5, although by that point the six-speed manual was only available with the V6 in the now discontinued Altima Coupe; the 2009 Altima Sedan SE was last to get the sporty combo. You can buy the current 2017 Altima with an updated version of the same 3.5-liter V6, now good for 270 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, albeit like most fourth- and all fifth-generation models it’s harnessed to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and now there’s no performance-oriented SE or SR model with the V6, just the same SL luxury trim I’m reviewing here in 2.5-liter four-cylinder guise.

Anyway, try all I could the Altima SR 3.5 next to me nonchalantly sped away as if I was standing still, the Altima having long since relinquished its mojo to fuel economy regulators. Don’t get me wrong as the four-cylinder is now more capable than ever with 182 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, although a gain of seven horsepower and zero torque over 15 years is hardly much to get excited about, especially when base curb weight is up 181 lbs from 3,022 lbs to 3,203 lbs.

16 nissan altima sl overall dashboard

Really, despite nice controlled handling through corners even when pushed hard, this car is a lot more about comfort and economy than speed. Even in Sport mode it merely makes more noise or so it seems, the transmission hunting around for some sort of pseudo gear in a quest for higher engine revs. To add insult to injury the model’s sportiest SR trim is now available with this drivetrain, albeit with paddles behind the steering wheel spokes. At least you can get it with the V6 as well. Still, the Altima has fallen far from its once class dominating performance, and don’t even get me going about the Maxima.

Yes I know that such talk of performance is hardly why folks flock to the Altima by the hundreds of thousands, this car mostly about comfortable, relaxed, fuel-efficient transportation. To that end my 2.5 SL trimmed tester delivers excellent fuel economy at an EPA claimed 27 mpg in the city, 39 on the highway and 31 combined, has a sublime ride, and includes front seats with deep, cushy grandma’s couch memory-foam comfort yet good support in the lower back and even decent side bolstering. Really, if you want a very comfortable four-door sedan that delivers smooth, capable performance, this Altima SL is a good way to go.

Due to an acoustic laminated windshield, more sound insulation, new engine mounts and a bigger muffler its quieter than the already subdued outgoing model, while it pampers yet further with a soft-touch synthetic dash pad that goes right down to the bottom reaches of the center stack, plus near identical padded synthetic strips across the door uppers front and back. The door inserts are made from stitched, padded leatherette that melds seamlessly into comfortable armrests, while the center armrest appears more leather-like with a French-stitched, comfortably padded lid that conceals a large console bin. I wouldn’t call the SL luxurious, but the Altima is very nicely finished, near the top of the mid-size mainstream volume branded class.

16 nissan altima sl center stack of electronics

Other nice details include satin silver trim on the steering wheel spokes, the entirety of the steering wheel’s switchgear, tastefully applied to the door panels, and also subtly added around the center events and center stack’s infotainment and dual-zone auto HVAC interfaces, plus the shifter surround and cupholders on the lower console. Nissan includes a small piece of patterned black and gray glossy plastic trim ahead of the front passenger, with the same application blitzing up the lower console facing. It looks nice, with a pseudo wood appearance that’s purposely not fully wood-like. I like this a lot better than faux woodgrain, because it’s not trying to be something it’s not.

An attractive electroluminescent primary gauge cluster positions traditional analog dials to each side of a large high-resolution color multi-information display, the latter controlled with a pages toggle on the left steering wheel spoke. The rest of the steering wheel switchgear includes audio source, station, and volume controls, as well as buttons for Bluetooth phone, the adaptive cruise control, etc.

Yes, radar-based cruise control was new for 2016, as was forward-collision warning and emergency autonomous braking, both helping to improve the Altima’s safety status with an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating when equipped with optional front crash prevention technologies, while the previous year’s lane-departure warning and moving object detection is included as well.

Over on the center stack the standard 5.0-inch display audio system gets replaced by a fairly high-resolution color 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with my tester’s $2,190 Technology packaged upgrade, bookended by two sets of quick access buttons for the audio system, navigation and mapping system, camera settings, and app section with features such as SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link, My Apps for downloading personal applications, preloaded apps already including Facebook and Google search, Voice Commands, Settings, and NissanConnect Services, where you can also set up your phone, dim the screen, and perform the usual audio functions. Don’t try to connect your phone via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as they’re not yet part of the package, although iPhone users benefit from Siri Eyes-Free and you can also stream your music via Bluetooth audio and the usual wired USB and aux ports plus a 12-volt charger, all situated under the center stack in a separate bin that’s large enough for a big smartphone on its back or multiple phones side-by-side, but there’s no wireless charging system included.

16 nissan altima sl rearseat

The nine-speaker Bose audio system, standard with the SL, is especially good for dance tracks and other kinds of popular music thanks to deep, resonant bass tones, strong mids, and plenty of bright high sibilance, while it also worked well for talk radio.

A handy felt-lined sunglasses holder sits in the overhead console, but as usual with Nissan (and Infiniti) models its nosepiece is too large to fit a regular pair of sunglasses, while controls for the $800 optional powered glass moonroof and others for LED reading lights are also part of the package.

Lights in mind, when you open the driver’s door at night the powered lock button doesn’t light up so you can’t find it to let a passenger in via another door. This left me poking around in the dark pushing every possible button and hoping I’d find the right one, and then once you both finally get seated inside, close the door and turn on the ignition it lights up, which is absolutely useless. Now that I’m complaining, the heatable steering wheel only heats up from two to four o’clock and eight to ten, not the top or bottom of the wheel.

Items specific to top-tier SL trim include LED turn signal indicators within heated side mirror housings, a heatable steering wheel, heatable front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, nine-speaker Bose audio, a Homelink garage door opener, mood lighting, a four-way powered passenger seat, leather upholstery, premium interior trim, and more, while features pulled up from lesser trims include 17-inch alloys on 215/55VR17 all-seasons, active grille shutters, auto on/off headlight control, fog lamps, powered side mirrors, dual chrome exhaust, remote start, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a multi-info display, dual-zone auto HVAC, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar support, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks expanding on the 15.4 cubic-foot carpeted trunk, blindspot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, tire pressure monitoring with display, all the usual active and passive safety features, and more.

16 nissan altima sl engine

The LED headlights with signature LED DRLs, adaptive cruise control, active safety improvements plus the navigation-equipped 7.0-inch infotainment upgrade are all part of the Technology package noted earlier.

Last year’s Altima started at $23,325 plus freight and fees, but Nissan has actually dropped the base price of the 2017 model to $22,500, while the model’s trim lines are identical, starting with a base model that’s followed up by S, SV, SR and SL, the latter two available with four-cylinder and V6 power. The 2.5 SL tested is well priced at $28,570, while that sportier SR noted earlier can be had for just $24,470, and includes firmer dampers and thicker anti-roll bars front and back, plus larger 18-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, and some other styling enhancements.

Styling in mind, the new Altima incorporates Nissan’s trademark V-motion chromed grille and unique new boomerang headlight design to good effect, these updates joining a new sculpted hood and more muscular fenders up front, plus a new rear deck lid and reshaped LED boomerang taillights in back. Those active grille shutters combine with underbody panels for a drag coefficient of just 0.26, which really helps to minimize highway fuel consumption while reducing wind noise.

It’s quite apparent mid-size sedan buyers like what they see as well as the car’s overall value proposition, or at least it seems so based on those numbers mentioned earlier, and as long as you’re not trying to relive old six-speed manual 3.5 SE glory days you’ll likely be very satisfied with Nissan’s latest Altima.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press

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