2017 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL: An Engine Swap Can Make a Whole Lot of Difference

By Jason Saini

When we tested the Altima 2.5 SL last year, we found it boring and a bit ‘pedestrian’. But the value and efficiency led us to recommend choosing the cheaper 4-cylinder version. For 2017, there are no major changes for the Altima, so we decided to try out the 3.5-Liter 6-Cylinder version and compare them. What we found was that just changing the engine changed the whole car, and all of our specific complaints about the 2.5 version were basically addressed by adding some good-old-fashioned horsepower.

The 6-cylinder engine puts out 270hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, which is quite a lot of power for such a small sedan. And the old recipe is still valid – big engine in a small car equals big fun! The acceleration is very immediate, with no real lag from when you dip into the throttle to when the car scoots forward. One of our main complaints about the 2.5 version was the CVT transmission. Without much power, the 4-cylinder needed to rev way up to get the car going, leading to a feeling of a slipping transmission. All that is fixed here, with the immediate torque of the bigger engine quickly and crisply moving the car forward without adding any revs. This leads to a much more direct feeling between your foot and the car.

There’s even a manual ‘mode’ which uses the computer to basically hold the CVT at certain ratios until you tell it. That gives you the best of both worlds, with the efficiency of the automatic and the fun of the paddles. We found one of the few curvy roads in Chicago, and also found the larger 18” wheels and lower-profile tires added to the driving experience as well – with great steering, loads of grip and excellent chassis balance.

Overall, the car just gains a much more substantial and luxurious feeling with the bigger engine. It no longer feels as plasticy, despite having the exact same interior materials and finishes. The V6 is much smoother, which definitely leads to this feeling. While we have some of the same complaints about the dated feeling of the center display and infotainment systems, again – the power under our right foot made even that seem like less of a problem. Basically, if a car is fun to drive, we’re willing to overlook a few other issues. When it’s boring to drive, all those ancillary items better be perfect.

So what is the efficiency difference? Well, the frugal 4-cylinder model gets 27-city and 39-highway. Jumping to the V6 drops you to 22/32, which is still very impressive given the power and performance that this car has. Jumping to the V6 also gets you the moonroof standard, and the ability to order the technology package (not available on the 2.5 SL) that adds radar cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic braking and other active-safety features, along with navigation. All loaded up the 3.5 SL will cost you around $35k, which is quite a sum of money for a small sedan.

When driving the car, however, it feels worth it. The punchy acceleration, nimble handling and substantial feel all add up to a really enjoyable driving experience. And even though there’s nothing particularly new or innovative here, it’s kind of a throwback in a good way. With more and more manufacturers opting for small-displacement turbo engines, big torquey V6’s like this are getting more and more rare. And that kind of makes us sad, because this thing is a blast to drive. 

If you’re looking for cheap, efficient daily transportation, we still say go for the 4-cylinder. If you are an enthusiast, however, and enjoy a spirited drive every now and then (or every day, like us), don’t hesitate to check out the Altima 3.5 SL. In this case, just swapping the engine makes a whole lot of difference. 


Special thanks 

to The Autobarn Nissan of Evanston for providing the 2017 Nissan Altima 

for review. 

Looking for a new Altima? 

Find the best selection and pricing 

in Chicagoland at The Autobarn 


Nissan. Schedule your test drive today: (847) 386-2398