Will Nissan’s sweeping 2016 update be enough to sustain Altima’s appeal for 2017?

2016 Nissan Altima

2016 Nissan Altima

What changes will make 2017 Nissan Altima different?

Few if any, following uncommonly bold updates for model-year 2016. Debuting as a 2013 model, today’s generation of this popular midsize sedan is on pace for a full redesign in model-year 2019. So the ’16 was tabbed for a “midcycle” freshening, which historically has meant only minor appearance tweaks. But the industry trend is toward more sweeping midcycle changes, as carmakers vie for attention with revamped sheetmetal and for tech credibility with the latest safety and connectivity gizmos. Indeed, the ’16 Altima got a major makeover that included addition of a sporty model and updated tech features.

Why should I wait for the 2017?

No compelling reason, really. It’ll be a virtual rerun of the ’16, though with nominally higher prices. The lineup will return front-wheel-drive 4-door sedans in at least seven, count ‘em, seven trim levels. Expect 4-cylinder versions to again be badged 2.5, 2.5 S, 2.5 SR, 2.5 SV, and 2.5 SL. V-6 editions should return as the 3.5 SR and 3.5 SL. Added for ’16, the SR versions of both include a handling-tuned suspension and represent Nissan’s strongest effort yet to inject real sportiness into this car. In the 3.5 line, the SR supplanted an entry-level S model and a luxury-leaning SL, so it’s possible the automaker could reinstate those choices for ’17. It could also shuffle some features between model grades, but it probably won’t introduce new ones, given the extensive 2016 expansion.

Check out our 2018 Nissan Altima Review for the latest information

Should I buy a 2016 model instead?

Yes, if this interesting take on family transportation fits your needs. Buying a ’16 gets you the styling, mechanicals, and basic features that’ll carry through to the model-year-’19 redesign, so it’ll have a longer shelf life than a ‘17. And you’ll avoid the inevitable model-year price inflation. Altima is Nissan’s best-selling vehicle and ranks third in the midsize-car class, behind the duller-but-more-refined Toyota Camry and category-benchmark Honda Accord. Altima is as roomy as either, but falls in between for road manners. It’s less polished than the Camry, and only the SR approaches the all-around driving satisfaction of the Accord. Nissan positions the Maxima as its truly extroverted midsize sedan. It was redesigned for 2016 and shares some of Altima’s underskin engineering but is more expensive, more upscale, more powerful, and more expressively styled.

Will the styling be different?

No. It’ll mirror the ‘16’s, which was updated with some of the edginess of the new Maxima and the redesigned-for-2015 Murano crossover. Over the same basic understructure went a new nose with the brand’s “V-motion” grille, a new hood and front fenders, and, optional for SR and SL, boomerang-shaped LED headlights. In back, taillamps, bumper, and trunklid were new. The SR is distinguished cosmetically by machine-finished alloy wheels, smoked headlights, and a small rear spoiler. Expect wheels to repeat with 16-inch steel wheels with wheelcovers on 2.5 and 2.5 S models, 17-inch alloys on 2.5 SV and SL, and 18-inch alloys on the 2.5 SR and both 3.5 models. The ’17 will also continue the ‘16’s interior improvements, which included more soft-touch materials, reshaped seats, and a new central dashboard and repositioned cupholders. Nissan could reconsider and make leather upholstery available on models other than the SLs, where it’s been standard.

Any mechanical changes?

Highly unlikely. Altima’s aged engines are a relative weak spot, though both continue to perform well enough, if without the smoothness of direct rivals. And both benefit from transmission improvements made for 2016. The 2.5 line uses a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 182 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. Top competitors have transitioned to smaller-displacement turbocharged 4-cylinders that match or beat this 2.5 for lively feel. The 3.5s use a 3.5-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. It’s faster than the 4-cylinder though it doesn’t provide a performance edge over upper-tier engines in most competitors. Every Altima will again use a continuously variable transmission. A CVT fulfills the duties of a conventional automatic transmission but without stepped gear ratios. The ’17 will benefit from 2016 updates that recalibrated this one to act more like a regular automatic, minimizing the elastic power delivery and droning acceleration typical of CVTs. In the process, all Altimas got steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, allowing the driver some manual-type control of the CVT.

Will fuel economy improve?

No mechanical change means a likely repeat of 2016 EPA ratings. That would sustain Altima among the more fuel-efficient, non-hybrid midsize cars of comparable power — a credit to Nissan engineering. Expect the 2.5 line to again rate 27/38/31 mpg city/highway/combined, with the 2.5 SR a shade behind at 27/37/31. Look for the 3.5 models to repeat at 22/32/26.

Will it have new features?

None likely — other than a marketing-driven tweak here or there in response to combinations that did or didn’t appeal to buyers of ’16 models. Carried over will be some of the additions that helped give the 2016 update its impact. These include Siri Eyes Free connectivity as standard on all but the rental-fleet-oriented, entry-level 2.5 model. Introduced for ’16 as an exclusive option for SL models was a package that added some of the industry’s latest safety features, including adaptive cruise control and frontal-collision-mitigating automatic braking. The package also included the automaker’s Predictive Forward Collision Warning, which is available as well on models from Nissan’s premium Infiniti division. It’s designed to detect and warn of potential danger caused by the behavior of vehicles one and two cars ahead. All but the entry-level 2.5 Altima should again come with a rearview backup camera. Same for NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, which can link you to smartphone-based navigation – as long as there’s a cell signal. An embedded navigation system should return as standard on the 3.5 SL and optional on the 2.5 SL and 2.5 SV. That useful aid includes smartphone integration for Android and iPhone operating systems and a 7-inch, rather than 5-inch, dashboard screen.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They’ll increase, though modestly and will remain in line with comparably equipped Accords and Camrys. Frequent factory incentives will keep ’17 Altima transaction prices very competitive with most others in the class, too. Estimated 2017 base prices for the 2.5 models: $23,700 for the entry-level 2.5, $24,000 for the S, $25,600 for the SR, and $29,700 for the SL. Expect the 3.5 line to again account for under 10 percent of Altima sales, with prices starting around $28,550 for the 3.5 SR and $33,250 for the 3.5 SL. (These estimated base prices include Nissan’s destination fee, which was $825 for the 2016 Altima.) The 2.5 SV is the most popular model and among its notable options, expect the Convenience Package to remain priced around $1,350 and again include such amenities as a power moonroof, rear climate-system vents, an automatic-dimming rearview mirror, mirror-mounted LED turn signals, a compass, and one-touch up and down front-passenger power window. Also of note will be the $500 Cold Weather package that heats the steering wheel, front seats, and outside mirrors.

When will it come out?

Expect a fall 2016 release.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat

What change would make it better?

Availability beyond just the SL models of safety features like adaptive cruise control, frontal-collision-mitigating automatic braking, and Predictive Forward Collision Warning. For ’16, those helpful aids were limited to the $1,180 3.5 SL Technology Package; the $1,700 2.5 SL Technology Package, which also included imbedded navigation; and the $2,190 2.5 SL Technology w/LED Package, which added LED low-beam headlights and daytime running lamps.

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com 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 HowStuffWorks.com, 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]