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2019 Nissan Altima Test Drive Review
Shopping for a modern midsize sedan is tougher than you may think. Whether we're talking about the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6, or Hyundai Sonata, it seems like each year we conclude it can’t possibly get any better. Deciding among sedans is tough because nearly every player in the segment brings its absolute A game every year.
The Nissan Altima is all-new for 2019 and delivers a ton of improvements. But considering the competition, are those improvements enough to launch it from a middling entrant to a serious contender?
The previous Altima had some things going for it, like spacious seating and a powerful V6 (if you were willing to pay extra for it). And by the final year of its fifth generation, some driver-assistance features arrived as standard, but it never stood out in any particular area.
For decades, buyers didn’t expect sedans to be anything more than reliable, economical daily commuters. But the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Check out the competition: The Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, and Mazda6 are all near-premium cars, with the latest infotainment and safety technology, and they handle well, too. The new Altima has some of those things—let's see how it delivers on the rest.
Look and Feel
To take on its stiff competition, the new Altima has borrowed some design cues from its big brother, the full-size Maxima sedan. That includes the big, trapezoidal grille; the angry, sharply raked headlights; and the black stripe in the C-pillar. That last one is a trend that everyone wants in on but needs to stop yesterday. Regardless, all these Maxima-inspired cues are there to inject some visual excitement into the Altima.
Moving inside, the Altima looks like most other new cars on the market. The floating center stack and the vents and dials below it look similar to those in the Honda Accord and the Kia Forte. In fact, if you look at the Hyundai Veloster and forthcoming Toyota Corolla, you'll notice this interior layout is everywhere in the industry.
And that's a good thing. The industry as a whole has been struggling to reconcile evolving technology with each automaker’s need to have an interior that looks “different.” As a result, there was a mess of interiors through the 2000s in which the layouts were really no different than in previous decades, but the additional features, like Bluetooth and navigation, turned the dashboards into Space Shuttle control panels.
Then there was the advent of infotainment systems. Thankfully, Nissan has realized that no matter what features it bakes into the touchscreen (navigation, Bluetooth, etc.), every driver knows how to use volume, tuning, and climate-control knobs, so that's what you'll find in the 2019 Altima.
The Altima comes in S, SR, SV, SL, and range-topping Platinum trims. The base S comes with Nissan's impressive Zero Gravity seats, which are incredibly comfortable and will make any long trip feel shorter. Other standard features on the S include push-button start, an 8-way power driver’s seat, four USB ports, satellite radio, and an 8-inch touchscreen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Moving up to the flashy SR trim adds 19-inch alloy wheels that don’t become standard equipment again until you get up to the Platinum. Other exterior features on the SR include LED headlights, a rear spoiler, and the dark chrome V-motion grille design.
Inside, the SR includes a three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, cloth seats with leather inserts, and carbon grain door trim.
The SV trim is all about maximizing features for the money. It moves to 17-inch alloy wheels and adds fog lights, automatic high beams, and heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Inside, the SV adds a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and power lumbar adjustment to the driver's seat, a power moonroof, and automatic climate control with backseat climate vents. This trim also has adaptive cruise control and upgrades the remote start to include Intelligent Climate Control.
The SL is geared toward shoppers looking to get a touch of luxury without breaking the bank, so it adds leather seating, a 4-way power front-passenger seat, a 9-speaker Bose premium sound system, and navigation with live traffic updates.
The Platinum has pretty much everything from the other trims. It also upgrades the wheels back to 19 inches and adds 2-mode memory settings for the driver’s seat and a 360-degree surround-view monitor. It also features interior accent lighting. The lights are nestled under some of the dash surfaces and act like attractive recessed lighting for the climate-control vents. It’s a subtle but very classy touch.
These are all great features to find in the Platinum, but for our money, the SV probably includes the most content at the best price.
The 2019 Altima offers two engines. All trims, including our test car, come standard with the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, making 188 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. For reference, the outgoing Altima’s 4-cylinder engine made 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet. The new one offers a small but noticeable bump in power.
The SR and Platinum trims are available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which replaces the V6 of the previous year as the Altima's available high-feature engine. This new engine has some pretty interesting technology, which Nissan calls variable compression; the piston-arm assembly can change its length inside the engine, adjusting the distance the piston moves and thus the cylinder's compression with every stroke. The goal is to produce V6 levels of power while returning 4-cylinder levels of fuel economy.
Both engines pair with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which routes power to the front wheels or available all-wheel drive (AWD). This is actually the first AWD system Nissan has offered in a sedan. Consider the other automakers putting AWD in midsize sedans: The Dodge Charger and Kia Stinger are more sports-oriented, and the Ford Fusion will be discontinued within the next few years.
With freshly fallen snow on Boston’s often-shabby streets, the Altima was confident. We barely noticed the new AWD system in action, but in modern cars, the point is to provide these extra features without changing how you interact with the car.
Cornering is just fine. The Altima’s not athletic like the new Camry, and its steering feels lighter than a typical sedan’s. But the 2.5-liter engine has decent power for getting around town. The wide turning radius was discouraging, though. The car does not offer a ton of tight-space maneuverability when turning the wheel lock to lock. This is a symptom of all midsize sedans growing in wheelbase and length.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is expected to return fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 34 highway, 29 combined. The 2.5-liter base engine returns fuel economy of 28 city, 39 highway, 32 combined, although our car’s AWD drops those numbers to 25, 35, 29. In our time with the Altima, we observed fuel economy of 28.9 mpg in mixed driving conditions.
Form and Function
Okay, so we already discussed the interior layout, but before you even notice any button, dial, or touchscreen, you’re going to sink into the Altima's awesome seats. You might even let out an audible sigh.
The Altima has Nissan's extremely comfortable Zero Gravity seats. Despite their name, they were not designed by NASA nor with help from any space program. Instead, they were inspired by NASA astronauts living in low orbit, identifying the natural spinal position the human body assumes in microgravity. So while the seats feel lavish for short trips, they are really designed to reduce fatigue over long distances. When you finish a road trip in the Altima, you’ll feel less sore.
Like many modern cars, the Altima has plenty of cubbies and cupholders in the doors for all your gear. But given the AWD and transmission tunnel, the center console is not very deep. You can maybe keep a wallet, keys, and phone in there, but not much else.
You’ll be very comfortable commuting in this car, even if you sit in the back seat, which has enough space for tall adults. And the trunk offers 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Compare that to the Accord, which has 16.7 cubic feet, the Camry’s 15.1 cubic feet, or the Hyundai Sonata’s 16.3 cubic feet. The Altima is not the class leader, but its trunk space is competitive.
The 2019 Altima comes standard with NissanConnect, a pretty straightforward and contemporary infotainment system. Anyone shopping around current sedans has likely seen similar systems, but that familiarity is a good thing. Touchscreens need to be as straightforward as possible, and the Altima delivers with large, colorful icons and easy-to-read fonts. And you can rely on dials and hard buttons below the screen to jump easily around different menus.
The Altima also comes standard with seamless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. This is becoming a necessity among new cars, and it's good to see the Altima isn’t breaking from this trend.
Regardless of trim, drivers are treated to a 7-inch color Drive Assist display located between the tachometer and speedometer. This system features many menus, which drivers navigate via a steering-wheel-mounted directional pad. From here, you can monitor the drive system, fuel economy, and driver-assistance features.
Standard safety features include front- and side-impact airbags, traction control, vehicle dynamics control, and a reversing camera. Our Platinum test car also came with ProPilot Assist—essentially a suite of driver-assistance systems that offers some partially autonomous driving functions.
Press the blue button on the steering wheel, and ProPilot will not only match speed with surrounding traffic, but it will also provide small steering inputs to help the Altima stay in its lane. The driver has to keep a hand on the wheel, but the system is quite effective. Furthermore, this kind of functionality is only a taste of where this tech can take us. ProPilot Assist is standard on the SV, SL, and Platinum trims, but Nissan makes forward-collision warning and driver-alertness monitoring standard in every Altima.
Base MSRP for the 2019 Nissan Altima is $23,750 for a 2.5 S. The 2.5 SR and 2.5S AWD each start at $25,100, while the 2.5 SR AWD starts at $26,450. The 2.5 SV starts at $27,930, and an AWD version starts at $29,280.
The most affordable Altima that comes with the Variable Compression engine is the 2.0 SR, starting at $29,150. Our Platinum 2.5 AWD sedan starts at $33,130 and comes with everything discussed in this review—no additional option packages necessary. The range-topping trim is the 2.0 Edition ONE, which starts at $35,750, but it may be a one-year-only edition. That would leave the 2.0 Platinum as the range-topping sedan, clocking in at $34,780. Note how none of the 2.0 trims are available with AWD. You can get either Nissan’s groundbreaking engine or its groundbreaking AWD, but not both.
Nissan has convincingly leap-frogged from the back of the pack to among the segment leaders. It may not have the sportiness of the Mazda6 or Toyota Camry, or the near-luxury presence of the new Honda Accord, but the Altima’s starting to check the right boxes for infotainment and driver-assistance features, making it a far more relevant sedan than it has been in the past. And it doesn’t necessarily need those more specialized attributes, considering Nissan provides the Altima with features like Zero Gravity seats and ProPilot Assist. Nissan has been listening to how modern commuters interact with their cars, and it has responded with a contender.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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