Blending in is a special art, and the 2017 Nissan Altima seems to have perfected it. Despite a facelift last year, the Altima is largely innocuous—but that's not an insult, since many mainstream sedan buyers aren't after something flashy.
We rate it a 7 overall, adding in a point for a clean if bulgy shape and a harmonious interior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Altima was updated last year with a reshaped hood and front fenders, a lowered front fascia, and a more up-to-date Nissan look to its grille. At the rear, wider taillights joined a new fascia, trunk lid, and bumper. The overall effect is of a less spectacular Maxima. You won't, for instance, find a canopy-effect roofline at the Altima's C-pillar—here, it merely flows smoothly into the rear fender.
The SR model adds smoked headlight housings, fog lights, and a rear decklid spoiler outside, plus its own wheel designs, and blue stitching inside with black upholstery. It's basically in line with the Camry SE and Honda Accord Sport, at least in terms of standing out from its siblings.
The design-heavy exterior doesn't translate into a rather straightforward cabin layout. There are some nice undulations in the shape of the dashboard, but they're restrained and symmetrical. A center stack places controls where they're easy to access and use; beneath is a large cubby, and there's also a usefully large storage bin in a wide center console, where you'll also find the gear selector and cup holders.
Thoroughly inconspicuous, the Nissan Altima does little to stand out from the crowd.
Once upon a time, the Nissan Altima stood out for its genuinely sporty driving dynamics, but today this four-door aims more at delivering a plush and refined ride.
That's fine with us, since the mid-size sedan segment buyer doesn't generally skew toward the enthusiast; we gave it an extra point for its luxurious ride quality, bringing it up to a 6 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
There's plenty of slack to the steering, which is slow but fairly accurate, and the sedan's stiff structure combines with a unique understeer control system that brakes the inside front wheels in order to tighten cornering lines. The net effect is more about precision than performance, but the Altima never feels sloppy. The sedan's brakes bring things to a halt sufficiently and provide good communication through the pedal.
But let's talk more about the Altima's ride quality. Last year, Sachs shock absorbers were added to all models, while the then-new SR gained its own dampers and stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars. There's a big difference between the standard models and the SR, but that's not to say that the SR is punishingly stiff.
Most Altimas you'll find on a dealer lot utilize the automaker's 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which is perfectly adequate and sufficiently refined. It delivers stellar mpg, so Nissan's certainly doing something right, but it never feels quite as refined as the smooth 4-cylinder seen in the Honda Accord. The Altima's base engine is rated at 182 horsepower, while the optional V-6 ups that figure to 270 hp.
The V-6 model is the one to have if going fast is your thing, and although its engine note can be a little gruff at lower revs, it sings as the tachometer spins toward redline—perhaps a little too loudly given that this sedan is otherwise such a sedate cruiser.
The CVT that comes on all models is smooth and responsive, a massive improvement over Nissan's earliest iterations of this gearbox. It works so well in everyday usage that it goes unnoticed and many drivers may not even become aware that it is a continuously variable transmission. Nissan has been a leader in this technology for quite some time and it shows.
Last year, Nissan instituted a series of artificial "steps" that help the transmission behave more like a conventional automatic when drivers accelerate aggressively. Although it doesn't quite simulate a conventional automatic, these fake steps do please us more than the droning feel before when the transmission merely forced the engine to stay at high rpms in order to maximize power.
Though the V-6 is fast, no Altima is especially entertaining.
The Nissan Altima has a comfortable interior with better materials than many of its rivals.
Not only that, but there is 15.4 cubic feet of luggage room and decent stretch-out space in the rear seat, which helps the Altima score an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Changes to the Altima last year included the addition of acoustic glass and improved sound deadening, which make it a comfortable highway cruiser.
The shiny upholstery in the all-black interior in a recent SR looked almost cheap, but woven mats countered with an upscale look. At the other end of the spectrum, an SL we drove with a tan interior was soothing in its serenity and delivered an Infiniti-esque experience, albeit clearly at a more attainable price point.
The cabin feels spacious for four adults—five in a pinch. With 45 inches of leg room and 40 inches of head room, the front seat has more than adequate space for taller drivers. The rear seat looks cavernous, but even with a fairly steep rake head room drops to 37.1 inches—just enough to keep tall passengers from making contact with the headliner; rear leg room of 36.1 inches is about average for the class, but there isn't much room for feet under the front seats.
Nissan claims that the shape and compression of the automaker's vaunted "Zero Gravity" seats were inspired by NASA research, and we've found them to be comfortable on trips short and long (but not quite to the moon). The Altima's dash cuts into a little of the knee room, though most trim levels include a power driver's seat that allows for a high degree of adjustability.
The Altima's 15.4 cubic feet of trunk space is about average for the class. We're disappointed by some unfinished areas ahead of the hinges—exposed speakers and the like—although the Hyundai Sonata has also been a culprit. As a nice touch, Nissan has rear seat releases inside the cabin and in the trunk—they're made of lightweight fabric rather than plastic, and we admire the mix of ingenuity and cost-cutting.
The Altima's interior is capacious and high-grade models feel almost luxurious inside.
The Nissan Altima boasts an excellent safety structure and it offers no shortage of available features—but some require piling on the options, which pushes its score down to a 7 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Last year, the Altima expanded its suite of available safety features to include alerts for blind spots, and rear cross traffic, plus adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. The only problem is that, once again, those items are restricted to the Tech Package available only on the Altima SL—and even then, buyers must add the optional moonroof to get there.
That's a hefty walk, especially since some rivals like Subaru and Honda have made automatic emergency braking far more accessible.
It also receives a demerit for not including a rearview camera as standard on the base model, although at least all other trim levels come with one.
However, the Altima earns the Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS with top "Good" marks across the board in its various crash tests. It's also rated "Superior" for front crash protection, with that optional equipment included in the Tech Package on SLs.
And the NHTSA largely agrees, awarding the Altima five stars overall including four stars for rollover resistance.
The Altima aces its crash tests, but advanced safety tech requires opting for a high-zoot model.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(4/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Good|
|Roof Strength Test||Good|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Good|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Good|
Shop for a 2017 Nissan Altima and you can order up everything from a more fleet-oriented inline-4 to a decadent V-6.
There are a lot of packages available and the Altima even includes some surprising features as standard on lower trim levels, which helps it earn a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All models utilize a 4.0-inch LCD screen situated between their gauges, which depicts the car—in the correct color—in a 3-D effect along with a detailed trip computer.
All models include Bluetooth with audio streaming, and all but the base model that's primarily aimed at fleet users include a 5.0-inch LCD screen for the audio system. Opt for the available navigation system on SV and SL models and that screen grows to a 7.0-inch setup.
The Altima S adds a rearview camera, audio controls on its steering wheel, and a proximity key, but it rides on the same steel wheels with hubcaps as the base model—a glaring oversight that can only be rectified by opting for the pricier SR, SV, and SL.
The SR is the sporty Altima and it builds on the S with 18-inch alloy wheels, its own suspension settings, a power driver's seat, and a host of interior and exterior styling updates. It doesn't necessarily look any better, but it does look different, and it fits in line with similar offerings from most rival brands.
Optional on the SR trim level is a Midnight Edition appearance package that's rather pricey for what it provides.
The SV is intended to be the "premium plus" Altima, and it adds equipment to the S, not the SR. The SV includes alloy wheels, remote start, a power driver's seat, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts. Additionally, the SV can be further built up with a trio of nice packages. The Convenience Pack adds a moonroof, rear air conditioning vents, and LED indicators built into the exterior mirrors. The cold weather group adds heated cloth seats and a heated steering wheel, a real boon to cold weather drivers. And, finally, the navigation package adds exactly what you'd expect.
The SL is as fancy as an Altima gets, with leather trim, a power passenger's seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, and Bose speakers. It offers a moonroof as a stand-alone option, as well as the Technology Package that includes navigation and automatic emergency braking, as well as adaptive cruise control.
All models are available with the base 4-cylinder, while the V-6 is offered on the SR and SL only. For the most part, features between the 4-cylinder and V-6 models are identical, but the V-6 SR does include LED headlamps.
There are many ways to slice your Altima cake.
Credit is due to Nissan's engineers for eking out an extra mpg from this sedan's powertrain. All 4-cylinder models, except the SR with its slightly sportier tires, are rated at 27 mpg city, 39 highway, 31 combined.
That's enough for a solid 8 out of 10, and it's tops among mid-size sedans without any kind of complicated hybrid or regenerative braking tech. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
On the sporty SR model, however, those numbers drop to 26/37/30 mpg.
With the V-6 and continuously variable transmission (CVT), the Altima is rated at 22/32/26 mpg.
Nissan briefly offered an Altima Hybrid in the last generation model, but it was a slow seller that didn't offer much of an advantage over the standard powertrain. Given that the automaker can squeeze 39 mpg out of a standard model, the extra cost and complexity of a hybrid powertrain doesn't necessarily make much sense in the brand's showrooms.
For what it's worth, that short-lived Altima Hybrid did prove popular with New York City taxi drivers—and if it can hold up to that kind of severe duty, we hope to see an evolution of it return to the Altima someday.
Most Altimas are rated at an impressive 39 mpg highway.