2016 Nissan Altima: Hushed Ride

By Frank A. Aukofer, December 5th, 2015

The most noticeable thing about the 2016 Nissan Altima is what you don't notice: engine noise. It's muffled by what looks like a buffalo robe, but is actually a heavy insulation blanket in the firewall that separates the engine well from the passenger compartment.

On a smooth road, this redesigned midsize sedan is as hushed as a Plains Indian's teepee at midnight. Even on rough surfaces, there's very little intrusion of mechanical, wind, or road noise.

Nissan's engineers concentrated on minimizing what the industry refers to as NVH: noise, vibration, and harshness. They added extra sound insulation, acoustic glass windshield, new engine mounts, a bigger muffler, and quieter tires.

The result is a popularly priced sedan starting at $22,500 that rides as silently as some expensive luxury cars. But the engineers did not stop there. They also modified the steering feel, suspension system and shock absorbers, and improved the operation of the Altima's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Nissan has been a pioneer in the development and widespread installation of CVTs, which use a system of belts and pulleys to multiply the engine's power and generally deliver better fuel economy than a typical automatic transmission.

In standard form, CVTs have no shift points. Acceleration is smooth and progressive, analogous to Buick's agonizingly slow old Dynaflow automatic transmission from the 1940s and 1950s, which was a pure torque converter.

The complaint about some modern CVTs is that, as the engine revolutions rise under hard acceleration, they feel and sound as if the transmission is slipping. Then the car seems to catch up to the engine.

Nissan partially eliminated that characteristic with its so-called D Step shift logic, which uses computer software to insert artificial shift points. The new Altima's transmission carries the system a step further to mimic a seven-speed's shift-points, either in fully automatic or manual mode. Shifts are so rapid they're barely noticeable and the sensation of slippage is mostly gone.

Though the 2016 Altima still can be ordered with a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, the emphasis at the introduction was on the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which delivers 182 hp and 180 lb.-ft. of torque. With the new CVT, the government rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 27/39/32 mpg. That's economy car territory. Yet the 2.5-liter accelerates strongly and does not feel challenged when passing on two-lane roads.

There are five Altima versions, including a new mid-level SR with sway bars, a stiffer suspension, and shock absorber modifications to impart a sportier feel. The setup is not particularly radical and results in slightly sharper handling and a bit less ride quality.

Other trim levels are base 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SV, and 2.5 SL. The focus of this review is on the SV, which has a starting price of $26,285. With options that included a motorized sunroof as well as navigation and audio with voice recognition and a seven-inch touch screen, the test car had a sticker price of $28,425.

Standard SV equipment includes automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, 17-inch alloy wheels, and remote engine starting. A suite of other safety equipment is available, including adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, and predictive forward collision warning.

Employing radar that looks forward, the system monitors the rate of speed for two vehicles ahead (something a competent driver should do anyway), and provides advance warning of rapid braking by the vehicle immediately ahead.

The SR version starts at $25,295 -- $990 less than the SV -- but with less standard equipment. It comes with paddle shifters, 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, and fog lights. But a $26,115 example at the Altima introduction lacked the SV's automatic climate control, satellite radio, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert.

The tested SV displayed an inviting interior with stylish black fabric upholstery and supportive, well-bolstered front seats. Outboard back seats were nearly as comfortable with generous head and knee room. However, as usual in most cars, the center rear position was compromised by a prominent floor hump and a high, hard cushion that nearly eliminated headroom.

Out back is a roomy, nicely finished trunk. The rear seatbacks, which feature a center armrest with cup holders, fold to improve cargo space.

The Altima is the third best-selling midsize sedan in the U.S., behind the second-place Honda Accord and the leading Toyota Camry. It has been creeping up on the Accord, which is a fine car as well, but the new Altima is looking to pass.

Specifications

Base price $26,285 (as tested: $28,425)
Curb weight 3,233 lbs.
Displacement 2.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve 4-cyl. w/SMPFI
Epa mileage rating 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 18.0 gal.
Horsepower (net) 182 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 191.9 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 180 at 4000 rpm
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger midsize FWD sedan
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