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Nissan bestows Altima with dramatic styling refresh.

Summary: The costs involved in the development of a new car are tremendous and the process can take many years, so it's no wonder that most new car models are marketed for several years before being replaced by a newer generation.

BEIRUT: The costs involved in the development of a new car are tremendous and the process can take many years, so it's no wonder that most new car models are marketed for several years before being replaced by a newer generation. But cars, like pretty much anything else, lose that "fresh" vibe pretty quickly after that first unveiling, and the automotive industry's response to counter that waning interest is the midcycle refresh.

A few years after its launch, a car tends to get a makeover, which can range from a minor, barely perceptible facelift with a tuck here and a pinch there, to a radical redesign of the front and rear as well as interior restyling. The majority of the time, it's the former, but every once in a while the refresh produces a car so different that you can't tell it's based on the same model.

The refresh of the current Nissan Altima falls under the latter category, and it is quite the dramatic makeover. It was only this May when I test-drove and reviewed this car in its original garb, and I remember thinking at the time it was a shame that a car that drives so well should look so bland. It's not that the car itself wasn't attractive, but my style-meter had been colored by the stunning design of the new Maxima, its bigger sibling.

I also remember being miffed at the time because while the Altima's very stylish refreshed version was already rolling on streets in North America, here in Lebanon we were still being offered the model before its makeover. In fact, when RYMCO offered me this car for a test-drive a week ago, I dismissed it, saying I'd already reviewed it. So it came as quite the surprise to discover that what I was being offered was in fact the very svelte refresh.

The sedan mimics the curvaceous dramatic design language that makes its bigger brother the Maxima stand out from the crowd, and affords the Altima an upscale vibe.

The car now boasts a reshaped hood and wings, with a lower and more muscular front, and adopts Nissan's contemporary "V-motion" grille, which looks like one grille overhanging another. The "Energetic Flow" design language translates to the car's boomerang-shaped headlights and taillights in the rear which are complemented by a new trunk lid and bumper.

The sheet metal between the front and rear is unchanged, but the new design elements integrate seamlessly into those lines, as if they had all been sculpted at one go. The overall effect comes off as a less dramatic Maxima, without the "floating canopy" styling of the bigger car. But that's OK because the Altima's C-pillar flows smoothly into the rear deck and in my opinion will better weather the test of time.

The interior is a lot more sober, and while there are some restrained undulations in the dashboard design, for the most part it's symmetrical and reserved. Above a large cubby you have a center stack that houses controls where they're easily accessible. The wide center console houses the gear selector and couple of cup holders. It's all very straightforward with minimal fuss, using good finishes and soft-touch plastics.

Seating room is excellent both in front and the back with no need to negotiate for space, and the front cloth seats easily rank among the most comfortable I've ever sat on.

As attractive and comfortable as the refreshed Altima is, it's on the road where it truly shines. Don't expect the Maxima's 300-horsepower engine; the only option available is the Altima SV with the 2.5-liter 182-horsepower DOHC mill. That's not bad for a car weighing under 1,450 kilograms, and that engine is fully capable of powering the Altima without strain whether on the highway or uphill.

Still, that's not the main reason I like this car. The Altima, without any question, is one of the smoothest cars I've ever driven, even among other Nissans, and that's saying quite a bit. Acceleration is incredibly fluid and silent, with power coming in at a continuous pace, and if you need a sudden burst of speed to pass, say, a truck, just nudge the throttle and the truck will be in your rear-view in no time.

Handling is equally adequate, and the Altima can take bends in the road at speed without losing its composure. Steering feels well-weighed and tracks nicely, but while road feel is not completely absent, it has been dampened, more so than I would prefer.

One thing many people have concerns about is the belt-based CVT transmission. Just so you know there are two types: one that's horrible and whoever designed it should be shot, and then there's the one like the six-speed on the Altima, which works brilliantly and makes you wonder why they didn't produce it sooner. Changes are slick and imperceptible, with the ratios at a good distance from one another. Of course, for driving enthusiasts, nothing can take the place of actual gears, but this is meant to be a comfortable, quite family sedan, not a sports-slanted BMW.

One thing I have a problem with is equipment. While the Altima SV has all the essentials as standard, and perhaps more so than most, when I'm paying $34,900 for a car before registration, I'd like to know why the standard equipment list in Lebanon for most cars is much shorter than the one for buyers in the U.S. or Dubai, who not only pay less by a third but still get side and curtain air bags, among others. I don't know about you, but when it comes to road safety I don't believe we should have to compromise, even if car customs and taxes are high in Lebanon.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Sep 2, 2016
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