The death of the family sedan has been greatly exaggerated.
Though crossovers have become the flavor of the day, competition remains fierce in the sedan segments — sufficiently fierce that Nissan felt moved to update its midsize Altima just three years following a full makeover.
Altima ($23,339, including destination) gets a significant facelift. A sporty new SR trim ($25,305) debuts and the top-level SL trim ($29,405), acquires a slate of optional driver-assist technologies. Chassis-level tweaks improve the driving experience.
Over the past few months, Nissan has rolled out its new “energetic flow” design language, first on the Murano crossover, then on the full-size Maxima sedan. This year, Altima embraces the look, which focuses on Nissan’s new “V-motion” grille and includes a new bumper, new headlights and taillights and associated sheet-metal revisions.
The new look carries more muscle, especially the front fascia, with its brawny air dam and embedded fog lights. The hood and fenders are crisper, more tailored. Nissan’s signature boomerang-shaped LED lighting package — headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights — become available for the first time on Altima.
There are similar updates out back. A new bumper and fascia accommodate four-piece boomerang taillights, which are set lower and wider than before. The new SR trim adds an integrated decklid spoiler.
These revisions are about more than fashion. Each is calculated to enhance airflow and improve efficiency. Less obvious updates include active grille shutters (they cut wind resistance by opening and closing in response to vehicle speed); wind-cheating underbody add-ons; and a slippery new windshield design.
Together, these measures reduce Altima’s coefficient of drag — wind resistance — from 0.29 Cd to 0.26 Cd.
The effort pays off in efficiency. Two engines are available — a 2.5-liter four and a 3.5-liter six. The 183-horsepower four returns an EPA-estimated 31 mpg combined (27 city/39 highway), the 270-hp V-6 is rated at 26 mpg combined (22 city/32 highway). Both engines are paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that routes the power to the front wheels.
The 2.5 SR trim, which we tested, is a mid-level player powered by the smaller engine. It inherits automatic headlights, cruise control, keyless ignition and entry and more from the 2.5 S trim ($23,735) and adds a sport-tuned suspension (thicker anti-roll bars, unique shock-damper settings), sport seats, foglights, a rear spoiler, shift paddles, 18-inch alloy wheels and more.
Nissan says the suspension tweaks reduce body roll by 21 percent and bolster the performance of Altima’s torque-vectoring traction-control system. During quick cornering it applies braking force to the inside front wheel, minimizing understeer and helping the car to pivot.
These upgrades produce a safer and more responsive ride but fail to elevate the Altima to sport-sedan standing. Nissan’s CVTs are among the best in the business but the technology dulls the driving experience.
I fondly remember Nissans of old, sans CVTs and with true performance potential (and let us not forget that the company still builds the estimable 370Z). On today’s family sedan battleground, though, other priorities — efficiency, comfort, cabin tech — hold sway.
In that world, the Altima provides ample evidence that the family sedan is thriving.
2016 Nissan Altima SV
Vehicle base price: $22,500
Trim level base price: $25,460
As tested: $28,425
Options included moonroof; rear passenger console; LED turn signals; HomeLink universal transceiver; 7-inch color audio display; touchscreen; voice-activated navigation and audio; Sirius XM Traffic; Sirius XM Travel Link; floor mats.
EPA ratings: 31 combined/27 city/39 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified