Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Nissan Altima

1. What’s new for 2015?

Upgraded safety and convenience features and better mileage improve this popular midsize sedan for 2015. Engineering improvements for its available V-6 engine increase fuel-economy ratings 1 mpg in highway and in combined city/highway driving. V-6 SV and SL trim levels add standard equipment, including Nissan’s Blind Spot Warning, Moving Object Detection and Lane Departure Warning systems and the NissanConnect infotainment system. The four-cylinder SV and V-6 SV models add an eight-way power driver’s seat, with the former also adding fog lights. The SL trim level gets a four-way power passenger seat, while the SV and SL versions now include automatic climate control when fitted with a remote engine starter. In the crowded midsize car market, Altima ranks a strong No. 3 behind the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord and just ahead of the Ford Fusion. It’s among the sportier-handling entries and offers a broad range of models and an array of high-tech features that include most of the latest accident avoidance systems. Its so-called “zero gravity” front seats, developed with input from NASA, are among the most comfortable in the industry.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

The base price range runs from $23,125 to $33,175 (including Nissan’s $825 destination charge), which is average in its class. According to Kelley Blue Book, supply currently outstrips demand for the Altima, and that tends to favor the buyer in any price negotiations. KBB says expect to pay around $22,100, perhaps even less (including destination) for a base 2.5 edition having an MSRP of $23,125. Better deals can be had on costlier models, with a fair price anticipated to be about $30,835 or less on a top-of-the-line 3.5 SL with an MSRP at $33,175.

3. When will the next big change be?

The Nissan Altima should undergo a freshening for the 2016 model year. Hardly a full redesign, such midcycle product updates typically include nominal exterior styling revisions, particularly at the front and rear of the vehicle, with a modestly updated interior treatment and a few new features added to the mix. We might also see a few options become standard in select trim levels, and wider availability of some features currently restricted to top models. The car’s basic size and profile should, however, remain the same. We might see a few revisions made to the car’s four-cylinder and V-6 engines and its CVT automatic transmission for the sake of refinement, performance and/or fuel economy, but the basic choices in this regard are not likely to change. The midsize sedan was last redesigned for the 2013 model year, and while the previous generation had an extended life cycle, we would expect Nissan would come out with a fully recast version for 2018 or 2019 at the latest.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Whether you prefer a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine or a quicker and smoother V-6, the mid-level 2.5 SV ($25,545) and 3.5 SV ($30,655) models pack many of the most-wanted features without becoming too extravagant in the process. In addition to the basics, both versions include amenities like automatic climate control, push-button keyless entry/start with a remote engine starter function, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power seats, satellite radio, automatic headlamps, aluminum wheels, and the NissanConnect infotainment system with smartphone interface. Key options available on many models (all of which are included on the top 3.5 SL trim level) include a GPS navigation system, a universal programmable garage door opener, power glass moonroof, and lane departure, moving object detection, and blind spot warning safety systems.

5. What engine do you recommend?

The Altima remains one of a dwindling number of models in its class that continue to offer a choice of four-cylinder and V-6 engines. Many of its competitors, including the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima now eschew a six-cylinder option in favor of a turbocharged four that generates similar power, but with improved fuel economy. At that, most buyers would likely be satisfied with the Altima’s standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder that affords sufficient pep with 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. The available 3.5-liter V-6 generates a quicker and smoother 270 horsepower with 251 pound-feet of torque, not only suffers in terms of fuel economy, but adds substantially to the vehicle’s cost (3.5 models are priced around $5,000 more than their corresponding 2.5 versions). As is the case with many Nissan models, the only available transmission is a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) automatic that swaps conventional gears for belt and set of pulleys to help maximize both fuel economy and acceleration. Unfortunately, Nissan’s CVTs in particular tend to sound and feel harsh at moderate-to-full throttle, and some drivers feel unnerved by the transmission’s inherent lack of shift points.

6. How does the Altima handle?

Riding on a four-wheel independent suspension, the Altima is traditionally one of the more entertaining rides in the midsize class, with handling characteristics that tread the fine line between being easygoing and sporty. A few models, like the Mazda Mazda6 and top versions of the Volkswagen Passat may beat it through the turns, but the Altima is effortless to drive around town without feeling overly heavy in the process. At that it holds its own through winding roads and tightly curved highway on/off ramps – SV and SL models have a slightly quicker turning radius – and remains stable at cruising speeds. It delivers an acceptably smooth ride over most road surfaces, with the largest (18-inch) wheels and tires on the top 3.5 SL model introducing some harshness over pavement imperfections.

7. How is the fuel economy?

The Nissan Altima is EPA rated at an impressive 27/38/31 mpg city/highway/combined with the base four-cylinder engine, which is on a par with most compact cars. The added horsepower takes a toll with the available V-6, which is rated at a still respectable 22/32/26 mpg. By comparison, the Mazda Mazda6 with its base engine is rated at 28/40/32 mpg. The turbodiesel version of the Volkswagen Passat leads all comers among midsize non-hybrids with an EPA rating of 30/44/35, but it’s a costly powertrain upgrade. Unlike a few of its competitors (including the segment-leading Honda Accord and Toyota Camry), the Altima does not offer a higher-mileage gas/electric hybrid-powered version for 2015.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

The Altima’s dashboard ergonomics are straightforward and easily operated. SV and above trim levels come with a touchscreen display for the audio and (if so equipped) navigation systems, but leave conventional analog dials and buttons for many other functions. As with most cars in its class, cruise control and select other features can be operated via steering wheel-mounted buttons. Of note, the optional NissanConnect smartphone connectivity system includes a Hands-Free Text Messaging Assistant that can help minimize distractions by reading text messages aloud in a synthesized voice and enabling users to respond, either by voice command or via a steering wheel-mounted button that sends preset text like “driving, can’t text,” “on my way” or “running late.”

9. Is it comfortable?

While not as roomy as class leaders like the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat that afford more generous rear seat room, the Altima is nonetheless sufficiently able to transport four adults in comfort, though back seat legroom can become tight with the front seats adjusted all the way back. Speaking of which, the Altima’s “zero gravity” front seats deliver class-leading comfort. With a design based on posture research from NASA, the seats utilize a unique articulated shape with continuous support from the pelvis to the chest and are said to help reduce muscular and spinal loads, and improve blood flow, thus reducing fatigue.

10. What about safety?

The 2015 Nissan Altima receives a perfect five out of five stars for occupant protection in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). What’s more, the Altima receives top (“good”) marks in frontal, side impact, roof crush, and head protection crash tests conducted by the insurance-industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Still, it receives just an “acceptable” rating in the Institute’s stricter “small overlap test,” which is designed to imitate what happens when a car’s left-front corner strikes a pole or other obstruction.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

The Altima receives an “above average” four out of five “power circles” in the latest long-term reliability survey (of model-year 2011 owners) conducted by the influential market research firm J.D. Power. It receives an “average” three-circle rating from JDP in both initial quality and design/performance surveys among new-model owners. In terns of resale value, the Altima receives an industry average three-star (out of five) rating from the automotive valuation statisticians at ALG. The Honda Accord, Mazda Mazda6, and Toyota Camry fare better in that regard with “above average” four-star ALG ratings.

12. Is it better than the competition?

The midsize sedan segment is packed with worthy contenders, though the top two entries arguably remain the sales-leading Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Altima remains a solid choice for its entertaining handling, comfortable front seats, long list of available high-tech features, and choice of fuel-efficient four-cylinder and V6 engines. Those seeking a sportier driving experience may want to consider the Mazda Mazda6, and those wanting added back seat room should look at the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]