Nissan’s popular mid-size sedan, the Nissan Altima, has been completely redesigned for the 2019 model year. Now in its sixth generation, the Altima has been in continuous production since 1992, and there are two huge, standout changes for the new model line: available all-wheel drive, and an optional turbocharged variable-compression engine.

It’s hard to overstate just how significant Nissan’s new variable-compression turbo (VC-Turbo) engine is. First appearing in the 2019 Infiniti QX50, it’s the first production variable-compression piston engine available to the masses, at last realizing a dream that automakers have had for decades. It’s capable of swinging from a high ratio of 14:1 for economical driving, the turbocharger providing minimal boost, to a low ratio of 8:1 with maximum turbocharger boost pressure, for high power output and brisk acceleration.

Unfortunately, that new VC-Turbo engine can’t be had with all-wheel drive; it’s available on select front-wheel-drive models only. Conversely, all-wheel drive is available all across the model range, and it gives the Altima a leg up over some of its non-luxury mid-size competitors – cars like the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry.

Stylistically, the sixth-generation Nissan Altima represents a dramatic departure from its predecessor, adopting a sharp, angled, sporty appearance that manages not to be overwrought. Previous iterations of the Altima were ho-hum by comparison.

In the U.S., the Nissan Altima is built at the automaker’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant alongside the Leaf, Maxima, Pathfinder, and Rogue; and at its Canton, Mississippi assembly plant, along with the Frontier, Murano, NV, and Titan.

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Nissan Altima Fuel Economy

For a mid-size car with no hybrid powertrain option, the 2020 Nissan Altima achieves superb fuel economy in its class, the EPA rating it at up to 32 miles per gallon on the combined cycle – 28 city, and 39 highway. That’s for a front-wheel-drive sedan in S, SV, or SL trim, powered by Nissan’s 2.5L four-cylinder engine. Opt for a front-wheel-drive SR or Platinum model and fuel economy dips by 1 mpg in the city and 2 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 31 mpg.

Surprisingly, adding all-wheel drive doesn’t constitute much of an efficiency penalty, with a combined fuel economy rating of 30 mpg for S, SV, and SL; and of 29 mpg for SR and Platinum. The available VC-Turbo 2.0L engine, available only with front-wheel drive, and only on the SR and Platinum trim levels, is EPA-rated at 29 mpg combined in the Altima. Thus, it fails to deliver any fuel economy savings over the standard 2.5L four-cylinder, but bear in mind that it packs 248 horsepower to the 2.5’s 188 hp, and a staggering 280 lb-ft of torque.

Nissan Altima Safety Rating

At Nissan, safety is crucial, and the 2020 Nissan Altima has managed to earn “Top Safety Pick” status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It’s received top ratings in every IIHS crashworthiness category, including the difficult small overlap frontal crash tests on both the driver’s and passenger’s side. Moreover, its standard frontal crash prevention system has been given a Superior rating, and it’s been given top marks for its LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) child safety seat attachment system.

About the only area in which the Nissan Altima is impeachable is its headlights; three different headlight options are available, depending on trim, with ratings ranging from Marginal to Acceptable.

Nissan Altima Features

Like most every entrant in the mid-size sedan segment, the latest Nissan Altima is a feature-rich vehicle, making standard active safety features like forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking from even the base trim level. All-wheel drive can be had on every trim, too, and an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, push-button ignition with remote start, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included across the model line.

At higher trims, features like rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, and Nissan’s ProPilot Assist start to enter the picture. ProPilot Assist effectively couples automatic lane centering with distance-pacing cruise control to form a semi-autonomous cruising system for highway commutes, which is usable so long as lane markers are clearly visible and the driver keeps at least one hand on the steering wheel.

The top two trim levels get standard leather seating upholstery, premium Bose audio, a power adjustable front passenger’s seat, traffic sign recognition, and satellite navigation. A 360-degree camera and driver’s seat/side mirror memory settings don’t come standard until the top-most Platinum trim. Heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, rear sonar sensors, and a power sliding moonroof are all available, depending on trim.

Nissan Altima Pricing

Pricing for the 2020 Nissan Altima skews toward the high end in the segment, with a starting MSRP in the U.S. of $24,100 before destination, but that’s within spitting distance of the base MSRPs of its primary competitors. Adding all-wheel drive to any of the Altima’s trim levels will set you back $1,350, while the 2.0L VC-Turbo engine is a $3,000 option on the Altima Platinum FWD, and a $4,050 option on the SR FWD. The extra expense of adding the engine to a base Altima SR can be attributed to some extra equipment included with the engine: a moonroof, heated outside mirrors with LED indicators, heated front seats, and power lumbar adjustment on the driver’s seat.

At the top end of the model line, the 2020 Nissan Altima Platinum has a base MSRP of $32,180 before destination – or $33,530 for an AWD example, and $35,180 for a FWD example powered by Nissan’s punchy VC-Turbo engine. Loading up on every available tack-on extra can elevate the price of the VC-Turbo Platinum to $39,200 and some change, before destination, but then you’re looking at a car with exterior ground lighting, an illuminated ash cup, Nissan-branded valve stem caps, and all sorts of other kit that no one really needs.

Nissan Altima Competitors

Nissan Altima vs Honda Accord

The Altima’s primary competitors include the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, and Volkswagen Passat – other affordable, non-luxury mid-size sedans from established mass-market brands. Competition among mid-size sedans is especially fierce right now, with automakers across the board throwing some of their latest and best active safety tech and creature comforts at the segment. Additionally, many of the Altima’s primary competitors have undergone their own complete redesigns in recent years – cars like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry – or are about to undergo the scalpel very soon; brand new versions of the Hyundai Sonata and Volkswagen Passat are launching for the 2020 model year.

On top of that, the Nissan Altima is one of the Japanese brand’s highest-volume nameplates in the U.S., and as of the second quarter of 2019, it was the third-best-selling mid-size car in the market, behind the Camry and Accord. Unfortunately, unlike those cars, the Altima does not offer a hybrid powertrain option. But with available all-wheel drive at every trim level, competitive feature content, outstanding gas-engine-only fuel economy, and a punchy, novel new VC-Turbo engine option, the sixth-generation Nissan Altima is perhaps the most competitive it’s ever been.

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2019 Nissan Altima Review

By Craig Cole | Sep 28, 2018

According to certain pundits and prognosticators, the sedan is dead. Modern drivers only want pickup trucks and crossovers. Or do they?

In spite of these assertions, millions upon millions of four-doors are still sold in North America every year, meaning there’s still plenty of money to be made competing in the traditional car market. This is why Nissan continues to offer four different sizes of sedans, from the subcompact Versa to their sporty Maxima.

But the heart and soul of this Japanese automaker’s car range is unquestionably the Altima, which has the mantle of contending with models like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Chevy Malibu. And compete it does.

Dealerships moved more than a quarter million of them last year, making it by far Nissan’s most popular car and the brand’s second-best seller, tucking neatly into the Rogue crossover’s slipstream, which blew the doors off in 2017 with sales eclipsing 400,000 units.

All-New for 2019

The current Altima is a competent if uninspiring four-door that’s gotten rather long in the tooth at this point in its lifecycle, a fact that’s become all the more apparent after two of its biggest rivals were completely overhauled last year. New versions of the Camry and Accord have been duking it out for supremacy in the midsize market for a full turn of the calendar.

‘J-Factor’ Key to Nissan Design

Addressing this nameplate’s weaknesses, it’s been completely overhauled for 2019, from platform to powertrains, headlamps to tail lights. The result of this feverish work is a stylish and spacious sedan that’s no longer a straggler in the segment.

The most noticeable thing about this new Altima is the exterior design. It’s dominated by an unmistakable grille that plunges downwards into the front bumper, almost like something from Ingolstadt. It’s certainly bold, but the car manages to be both in your face and tasteful at the same time, a difficult thing to achieve.

The sixth-generation model’s bones are stiffer and sturdier than ever, providing a solid foundation for a fine midsize sedan. The new architecture has allowed the Altima to grow slightly, lower, longer and wider, all by about an inch (2.54 cm), though the wheelbase has been stretched by nearly two inches (4.8 cm), giving it a more planted feel and spacious interior.

Highlighting the totality of this redesign, two brand-new engines are also on the menu. There’s a base, naturally aspirated four-cylinder in addition to an optional turbocharged unit.

Just like in the outgoing Altima, this car’s entry-level powerplant displaces 2.5-liters, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. For 2019 it’s been comprehensively reworked and is about 80 percent new, boasting of features like direct fuel injection, mirror bore cylinder coating, a variable-displacement oil pump and more. This redesign focused on improving output and smoothness while reducing fuel consumption. Accordingly, this engine is rated at 188 horses and 180 pound-feet of torque.

Unlike most rivals in the midsize segment (only the Subaru Legacy and Ford Fusion come to mind) you can get the new Altima with all-wheel drive, a disconnecting system that provides added grip when needed and enhanced economy when cruising fair-weather roads. In normal conditions, 100 percent of engine torque is routed to just the front wheels, but as required, up to 50 percent of that twisting force can be sent to the back axle. Curiously, all-wheel drive is only offered with the base engine, supposedly to keep it at a more affordable price point.

But for drivers that want more, Nissan also offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that replaces the optional 3.5-liter V6. It boasts of a groundbreaking technology that varies its compression ratio, anywhere between 8-to-1 and 14-to-1, something that delivers the best performance and efficiency. With both direct and port fuel injection it’s rated at 248 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of twist, when you fill the tank with premium fuel, that is.

Canadian customers have to make do with the base engine only; the brilliant turbocharged unit is not offered, at least at this time. All-wheel drive is standard equipment north of the border as well.

No matter the engine you choose, both are matched to an Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission. Sadly, a manual gearbox is unavailable, something that’s par for the midsize-sedan course these days, though the Accord still stirs our souls with a six-speed stick.

But the one advantage of CVTs is their ability to stretch every drop of gasoline, and the 2019 Altima is certainly efficient. With the turbocharged engine, expect it to sticker at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highway drives. Combined, it’s rated at 29 mpg, giving it an advantage over a 2.0-liter-equipped Honda Accord or V6-powered Toyota Camry.

Naturally, the base engine is even more economical, delivering 28 around town and 39 on long hauls; in mixed use they should average 32 mpg. Opt for all-wheel drive and those figures drop by two, three and two miles per gallon, respectively. In Canada, the car is estimated to burn 9.3 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers if driven in the city and 6.7 on highway trips, figures that result in a combined consumption score of 8.1.

Features Galore

In addition to all this, the new Altima offers loads of amenities. Convenience features like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, remote start, and a driver-alertness monitor are standard on all of its five trim levels.

In addition to this, Nissan Safety Shield 360 is included on midrange SV models and above. This suite of cutting-edge driver aids bundles things like rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and more into one package for ‘round-vehicle protection.

ProPILOT Assist is also available on those higher-end models. It’s Nissan’s latest adaptive cruise-control system with lane centering. It takes the stress out of long-distance driving by seamlessly adjusting vehicle speed to match traffic conditions and effortlessly keeping the car within its lane of travel, minimizing driver effort. It can even bring the Altima to a complete stop and restart driving again when the vehicle ahead starts moving. Think of it as a poor-man’s version of Cadillac Super Cruise.

Every 2019 Altima is equipped with NissanConnect, which includes an eight-inch multi-touch display as well as support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As infotainment systems go, this one is relatively easy to figure out and speedy, though pinch-to-zoom on the optional navigation system is disappointingly sluggish.

A Bit Disappointing

Matching its exterior design, the interior of this car is elegantly laid out and refreshingly simple, with strong horizontal cues and straightforward ergonomics. Thanks to a lowered hood, which was enabled by repositioned powertrains, forward visibility is improved.

With the 2019 Altima, designers were shooting for a segment above, but unfortunately, they fell a little short. Some of the materials aren’t quite as nice as what you get inside a Mazda6 or the Honda Accord. But more disappointing than this, a number of components feel quite flimsy, especially the unsupported headliner around the sunroof or the tops of the rear door panels.

But there’s still plenty to praise inside. The Zero Gravity front buckets are extremely comfortable, and the back seat has plenty of sprawlin’ room. Additionally, the trunk is both broad and deep, a rival to anything in the segment.

The Drive

The new Altima feels light on its feet and agile, with a nice amount of heft to the steering system, which is electrically assisted and of the dual-pinion variety for enhanced feel and reduced noise. Body motions are well-controlled thanks to monotube rear shock absorbers and a reinforced chassis. Intelligent Ride Control also helps smooth things out. It uses the rear brakes to prevent exaggerated body movements when driving over larger road imperfections.

This car’s CVT is agreeable, extracting maximum performance out of the turbocharged engine while delivering enhanced economy. D-step shifting simulates traditional gearchanges under heavy acceleration to prevent the engine from droning annoyingly.

Not that the variable-compression turbo would make uncouth noises. Louder than expected and surprisingly rorty, this four-banger provides plenty of thrills, pulling with absolute authority from about 3,500 on the tachometer upward beyond five-grand. It makes the new Altima properly fast, with it surging ahead like an Olympic sprinter when you bury the accelerator, every one of those 280 pound-feet being felt in the seat of your pants.

2019 Nissan Altima

Side benefits of variable-compression technology include enhanced efficiency and smoothness. The physical componentry that enables this feature reduces the angularity of the connecting rod as it moves up and down, which reduces side thrust and ultimately friction. Beyond this, the system provides better internal balance and less vibration than if the engine were equipped with an NVH-quelling balancer shaft, a win-win.

The Verdict: 2019 Nissan Altima Review

Base price for this stylish new midsizer is $24,645, including $895 for delivery. All-wheel drive adds $1,350 to that figure. As tested, the top-tier Platinum model tested here checked out for just shy of 36 grand. Canadian drivers can scoot away in a 2019 Altima for as little as $29,793 including $1,795 for delivery.

Nissan’s latest midsize sedan is enjoyable to drive even if it’s not quite as dialed in as the Mazda6 or Honda Accord. Still, it’s more than a match for the ever-popular Toyota Camry and likely superior to Hyundai’s Sonata or rivals from Detroit. Once again Nissan’s family four-door finds itself in the thick of the midsize-melee, an excellent place to be, a segment that’s far from dead.

Detailed Specs

Engine / 2.5L 4-cyl / 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl
Horsepower / 188 / 248
Torque / 180 lb-ft / 280 lb-ft
Transmission / CVT automatic
Drivetrain / Front-wheel drive / All-wheel drive

Our Final Verdict

That the Nissan Altima no longer offers a hybrid powertrain option is a tragedy, but that’s not the reason it’s not the top dog in the North American mid-size sedan segment. That has more to do with the reputation for quality and durability that the Accord and Camry have cultivated over the past few decades – which is not to say that the Altima lacks those qualities.

Still, third-best-selling in a packed and hotly contested segment is no small feat, and the Nissan Altima earns its keep with bold styling, unique powertrain options, and a thoughtful mix of features. The standard 2.5L engine’s 188 horsepower is plenty enough for most consumers, if we’re honest, but we’re ecstatic to see the 2.0L VC-Turbo join the lineup, although it’s vexing – and a bit puzzling – that it can’t be had with all-wheel drive.

All things considered, Nissan’s latest iteration of the Altima mid-size sedan is more competitive in its segment than ever before.