How hotly contested the midsize sedan segment is evidenced in the number of "mid-cycle" refreshes that have gone on since Toyota gave one to the 2015 Camry less than two years ago. Since then, nearly all the major competitors in the segment including the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Kia Optima, have gotten similar treatment, soon to be joined by the Ford Fusion early next year. Right now, it's the Nissan Altima's turn, with an upgraded version bowing just three years after its last major makeover.

The 2016 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL has a much richer look inside and out thanks to the remake. While the platform underpinning the vehicle and the basic power package remains the same (2.5-liter 4-cyinder or 3.5-liter V6 backed by CVTs), the exterior has been worked over with new sheetmetal that carries over the swoopy looks of the similarly restyled Murano and Maxima. The prominent chrome "V-motion" front grille gives the car a more distinctive look, while flowing contours in the body panels with sharper character lines and additional chrome accents give the exterior a more upscale feel. The rear of the car features a new fascia with redesigned taillamps that are more horizontal carrying over the boomerang shape of the headlamps.

Dimensionally, the car is not much different than the one it replaces, but the upgrades give the 2016 Altima much more presence and keeps up stylistically with the other refreshed midsize rivals. Which is a good thing, because standing pat in this segment means you're in reality falling back.

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Richer looking inside, as well

The remake also lavished much needed attention on the interior, where the materials have a richer look, more soft touch surfaces and a redesigned center stack and console, which adopts the gliding wing look of the Maxima. The idea behind the new shape is to make the infotainment system more accessible and the Nissan Connect with Mobile Apps easier to use.  Featured in the optional SL tech package, the Nissan Connect system features Sirius/XM radio and traffic, voice recognition, intelligent cruise control, forward emergency braking and LED headlamps, all for $2,190.

The larger screen makes for a legible map and allows for several different displays that can incorporate both the map and audio system settings. However, there needs to be some work done to the voice recognition, you have to be very specific in your commands and it took several attempts to program an address into the system. On the other hand, the forward braking control provided a subtle warning, as did the various blind spot and cross traffic warnings, which raise awareness and not panic.

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Quiet, controlled ride

Beneath the skin improvements also include the use of more sound deadening material and laminated glass. The cabin is quiet and comfortable, especially the front buckets which feature Nissan's Zero Gravity design that provides support without being too hard on the backside. Other welcome features in our SL trim level included heated seats and steering wheel, power windows and door locks, 9-speaker Bose premium sound system and dual zone climate control.

The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine provides good power, producing 182 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque, adequate power for freeway on-ramp merging. Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission continues to get better and on the Altima includes seven ratio steps that mimic a conventional automatic transmission.  While outright performance is not this engine's strong suit, fuel economy is with an EPA rating of 27 mpg city/39 mpg highway. We saw in mixed use driving more than 28 mpg, which is quite good for a non-hybrid midsize sedan.

The handling of the car is on par with others in the class, although Nissan's electric-assist power steering feels a bit heavy in low speed maneuvering, but lightens up as speed builds, which some staffers found counterintuitive compared to other steering systems that are light at low speeds and weight up as vehicle velocity rises.

On balance, the changes to the 2016 Nissan Altima ups its game considerably keeping it right in the midst of a competitive key segment. Our well-equipped SL lists at $28,570 and with the aforementioned tech package and an $800 moonroof, $395 premium pearl white paint scheme and $210 worth of floor mats contribute to an out-the-door price of $32,990 including $825 destination. Better looks, a more upscale cabin and a quieter ride are proof positive that Nissan hit all the right notes with this update of the 2016 Altima.

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