The 2015 Nissan Altima doesn't diverge far from the success of the 2014 car, although Nissan continues to improve its bread-and-butter family sedan by offering more features as standard equipment while keeping the Altima's price extremely competitive. With its Maxima-like good looks, and unique features such as its NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats, the Altima really does give shoppers a viable alternative to the Camry and Accord.

To compete in this rather competitive segment, Nissan targeted maximum efficiency, producing the lightest car of this group and continuing the company's class-exclusive use of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to achieve an impressive 38 miles per gallon on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highway driving cycle for the 4-cylinder model. Those more impressed with performance can opt for a potent V6 -- a feature that's increasingly rare in the family sedan category.

What's New for 2014?

Changes for 2015 include the addition of NissanConnect navigation, blind spot warning and lane-departure warning to the 3.5 SV and 3.5 SL trims. The SV trims gains an 8-way power driver's seat, fog lights and -- on models with remote start -- intelligent climate control.

What We Like

Handsome styling; cushy seats; innovative CVT technology; easy-to-use and affordable navigation radio

What We Don't

Vague power steering; engine-induced torque steer; tight rear-seat headroom

How Much?

$23,110-$34,325

Fuel Economy

The Nissan Altima offers a choice between a frugal 4-cylinder engine and a potent V6. The 2.5 cars use a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, while the 3.5 models employ a 270-hp 3.5-liter V6. The 4-cylinder's EPA ratings are 27 mpg in the city/38 mpg on the highway, while the V6 scores 22 mpg city/32 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The 2015 Nissan Altima comes in four trims with two engine choices. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder cars come in base, S, SV and SL, while the V6 powered 3.5-liter comes in S, SV and SL.

The base 2.5 ($23,110) includes 16-inch steel wheels with covers, 6-way manual drivers seat, power windows, locks and mirrors, 4-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, Nissan Intelligent Key keyless entry and push-button start, remote trunk and front-window control via key fob, Bluetooth and steering-wheel audio controls.

The 2.5 S ($23,370) adds a 6-way power driver's seat, cruise control and a 6-speaker audio upgrade.

The 2.5 SV ($25,530) brings 16-in alloy wheels, 9-speaker Bose audio with color display, 8-way power driver's seat with 2-way power lumbar, fog lights, USB and iPod integration, SiriusXM satellite radio, a hands-free text-message assistant, NissanConnect Apps, rearview monitor, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat heat/cooling vents and remote start.

The 2.5 SL ($28,960) includes a heated steering wheel, fog lights, integrated mirror turn signals, leather seating, LED taillights, heated front seats, heated folding side mirrors and auto up/down front passenger window.

The 3.5 S ($27,260) has much of the 2.5 S equipment plus the V6 engine and 18-in wheels.

The 3.5 SV ($30,640) is similarly equipped as the 2.5 SV but adds a V6, a power moonroof, navigation, blind spot warning, moving-object detection, lane-departure warning and 18-in wheels.

The 3.5 SL ($32,760) includes all the 3.5 SV's features plus those of the 2.5 SL.

There are six option packages, varying by trim. Most notable is the Convenience Package on the 2.5 SV, which adds a power moonroof, rear A/C vents, integrated side-mirror turn signals, HomeLink and more. The Technology Package (2.5 SV, 2.5 SL) adds navigation radio with 7-in screen, blind spot warning, moving-obstacle detection, lane-departure warning and online search powered by Google. The remaining packages apply to the 2.5 S, which can be outfitted with a 5-in display audio radio, rearview monitor, satellite radio, smartphone integration, a power driver's seat, 16-in alloy wheels and remote start.

Safety

Nissan offers several new safety technologies to help Altima drivers avoid accidents, such as lane-departure, blind spot and moving-object warning systems. To supplement the usual new stability-control technologies, the Altima features active understeer control. This automatically brakes the inside front wheel when the car is going too quickly into a turn, reducing the understeer effect common in front-wheel-drive cars. Understeer is when a car doesn't turn as much as the driver intends because the front tires are sliding. The Easy-Fill Tire Alert system simplifies pumping up the tires by chirping the Altima's horn when you've put in enough air.

In crash tests, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2015 Altima an overall rating of five (its highest score), with five stars in the front- and side-impact tests and four stars in the roof-strength test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Altima a Top Safety Pick, giving it top marks in all but the small-overlap front-crash test, which was rated as Acceptable.

Behind the Wheel

The Altima's styling, comfort and efficiency all promise to make it an excellent contender against the top-selling family sedans. Unfortunately, the car's steering is a significant letdown, particularly in the V6 version. In turns, the steering provides no feel for the road, and steering effort remains exactly the same no matter how hard the car is turning or how much grip the tires find. This gives the Altima's steering a disconnected, artificial feeling.

Similarly, the Altima suffers from torque steer while accelerating. It isn't the seriously bad kind of torque steer, in which the engine wrenches the front wheels to the side and tries to change lanes when the driver intended to go straight. No, this is the more subtle sort, in which the car resists the driver's attempt to turn the steering wheel -- for instance, when unwinding the wheel while accelerating from a turn.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Malibu -- The Malibu is a smaller, tauter 4-cylinder-only car.

Ford Fusion -- The Fusion combines winning style with a huge variety of power sources, including a standard 4-cylinder, a turbo, a hybrid electric and a plug-in hybrid.

Honda Accord -- The old standby is still solid, efficient and responsive, though the styling has become stale.

Hyundai Sonata -- The exciting-looking Sonata isn't that exciting to drive, but it is a great car, delivering the combination of price, efficiency and quality that built the Toyota Camry's reputation.

AutoTrader's Advice

Loading the Altima with options quickly runs the price of the V6 version into the low $30,000s, which could scare away family drivers. At that price, Nissan's own Maxima might be the better choice. The responsible family shopper can choose the 2.5 SV trim level for around $25,500 and get goodies such as remote start, Pandora radio integration and hands-free text reading with 17-in aluminum wheels and a backup camera, all in a car rated at 38 mpg hwy.

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