By on September 28, 2018

2019 Nissan Altima

Midway through my drive in the 2019 Nissan Altima, I was ready to pronounce it a bit “meh” – decidedly improved over the previous-generation car, but lacking in verve. That’s been a Nissan hallmark of late – a conservatism has descended upon the brand, taking out of some of the sportier cachet it was once known for.

Instead, we’ve been getting good-looking vehicles that cruise the highway just fine but lack a little bit of charm and character. This, from the brand that once called a large sedan a four-door sports car with a straight face?

My outlook changed a bit after we left lunch behind. Pulling out of the parking lot of one of California’s myriad beaches, I punched it to get up to speed. The acceleration from the 2.0-liter variable-compression turbocharged four-cylinder wasn’t life-changing or anything of the sort – we’re talking about a mid-size sedan, here, remember – but it was enough to make me remember, for the umpteenth time, that power cures a lot of ills.

Full disclosure: Nissan flew me to Santa Barbara, California and housed me in an upscale hotel and fed me excellent meals and booze. They left drink coasters and snacks in the room.

Nissan offers two engines in the new Altima – a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that is mostly carryover, and the aforementioned 2.0-liter, which replaces the 3.5-liter V6 and uses the variable-compression technology also found in the Infiniti QX50. For the uninformed, this VCT technology is essentially the use of mechanical parts to vary the compression ratio as needed. The system raises and lowers the reach of the piston to accomplish this. Higher compression ratios offer more efficiency at a greater risk of engine knock, while lower compression ratios conjure up more power and torque without the risk of premature combustion.

The other big news for this model year is the addition of available all-wheel drive, but oddly, you can’t have AWD if you want the VCT – Nissan claims it’s not a problem to fit the AWD system in VCT cars, but it’s waiting to see how buyers react to the availability of AWD with the 2.5 before offering it with the more powerful engine. I can already hear the screams of Snow Belt dealers, pining for all-wheel drive.

2019 Nissan Altima

The previous paragraph applies only to ‘Muricans like me – you hosers up north get AWD standard and no VCT at all.

If you pick the VCT, you get 248 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. You also get a nice exhaust snarl when you punch it. The compression ratio varies from 8:1 to 14:1, for those curious about the numbers.

Meanwhile, the 2.5 gets a slight power boost – a mere nine ponies. That brings horsepower up from 179 to 188, and the engine has been resituated in the bay to give the car a lower and wider look.

Fuel economy on the 2.5 with front-drive is up a tick – one mpg each city and highway to 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway, though it’s one mpg down on the combined measurement (from 32 to 31). Opt to equip your 2.5 with all-wheel drive and the numbers read 26/36/30. The front-drive-only VCT checks in at 25/34/29.

As per usual, Nissan has saddled the Altima with a continuously-variable automatic transmission, one that’s programmed to shift with the feel of a standard automatic. You can feel it “upshift”, but it’s still a CVT.

Punch it in the 2.5 and the acceleration you get is fine for most passing maneuvers, but it’s decidedly mediocre in comparison to the VCT – unsurprisingly, considering it’s down 100 lb-ft of torque compared to the turbocharged engine. A lighter curb weight (exact weights vary by trim) for a front-drive 2.5 compared to a 2.0 VCT isn’t enough to help. At least the engine sounds almost as good as the turbo mill when you reach the upper rev range.

Like almost all automakers at almost all product launches, Nissan told the media that the new Altima has sharper handling than the previous-generation car. In this case, it’s true, but that’s partly because the previous car was quite soft and dull. Low bars aren’t hard to clear.

That said, the Altima displays competence when the road gets curvy. The steering is unfortunately light, but it’s accurate with little play. There’s some body roll, but it’s mostly controlled, thanks to increased lateral and roll stiffness (increased by 10 percent over the last gen). The fun-to-drive factor falls well short of the Mazda 6 or Honda Accord, but there’s enough good here that you won’t skip the Altima in the Enterprise lot, even if you plan on driving on roads that snake a bit.

The freeway cruise experience is pretty calm and smooth, but one expects that from California roads; I’m curious how the Altima deals with potholed roads in less pleasant parts of the country. Speaking of freeway cruising, the Altima’s seats are comfy for long hauls, and rear-seat space is plentiful for the long-legged. The car is mostly quiet at interstate speed, but wind noise does intrude a bit at the upper ranges of the speed limit.

Both cars I drove were the “sporty” SR trim, which has spring rates 10 percent stiffer than the base S. The SR also has 19-inch wheels as opposed to 16-inch, as well as different steering tuning. I had no chance to drive an all-wheel-drive car or a non-SR trim, so I can’t compare the SR to the rest of the line.

I also didn’t get a chance to see if the ProPilot Assist system on the Altima worked better than it did when I tested it in an Infiniti earlier this year – neither car I drove was equipped with it.

2019 Nissan Altima

All Altimas now have a rack electric-power steering system and decreased lateral stiffness in a bid to reduce shock from impacts (seems to have worked, but again, there are few impacts on California roads).

Had I driven an all-wheel-drive Altima, I’d have piloted a car with a system that’s split 50/50 from rest, 0/100 under cruise for fuel-economy purposes, and 30/70 during cornering.

Not only was the last Altima forgettable to drive, it was forgettable to look at, too. That’s not a problem anymore, as the newly angular Altima is pleasing to the eyes. The downside is that it’s derivative of the big-brother Maxima, but if the shared resemblance cures the boredom, it’s a fair trade to make.

Inside, the materials mostly look good – a large and flat dashboard won’t work for everyone – but fit and finish on the pre-production models we drove was disappointingly flimsy in places. Looks are one thing, but materials have to feel expensive if a mid-size sedan wants to go after Camry and Accord. Again, those we drove were pre-pro models. Factory builds may be better.

The loathed-by-me tacked-on infotainment screen is here, and it is customizable. With it comes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, on all trims. Controls are laid out simplistically and logically – no fuss, no muss. It’s a clean, if plain, look.

2019 Nissan Altima

Trims – there are six of those. Base S, “sporty” SR, SV, SL, top-line Platinum, and for a short time, Launch Edition One (turbo and FWD only). All trims except the Launch Edition One are available with all-wheel drive (unless you go turbo, of course), but the VCT is only available on the SR, Platinum, and Launch Edition One.

Base price: $23,750. SR runs $25,100 ($29,150 with VCT), SV $27,930, SL $29,840, and Platinum $31,870 ($34,780 with the VCT). Delivery fees check in at $895 and AWD adds $1,350.

Among the safety features list is rear-door alert, a driver-alert system that can warn inattentive drivers to pay attention, a rear automatic braking system that can detect objects and apply the brakes if the driver is about back into something. Cars with nav can recognize traffic signs to keep lead-footed drivers abreast of speed limits, and there’s also the usual driver-aid suspects: Lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert, rear-cross traffic alert, high-beam assist, and automatic emergency braking.

Other available features include Bluetooth, navigation, remote start, satellite radio, USB ports (4), and a rear-view camera.

Nissan’s cooked up a car that’s worlds better than what it replaces, but that wasn’t a hard job to do. The harder part is stealing sales from the stalwarts – Accord and Camry – and/or offering up something as fun to drive as the Accord, the 6, the soon-to-be-dead Ford Fusion, or even the Kia Optima SX.

Nissan falls a bit short in both departments. If I’m benchmarking here, the Altima is right about on par with the Hyundai Sonata. Both are comfortable cruisers. Neither are for enthusiasts with a mid-size need, but neither are terrible to drive – there’s just enough verve to keep you engaged.

There’s missed opportunity here, too. While I believe AWD is not always needed in the Snow Belt, many consumers do, and not offering AWD with the VCT seems a silly marketing decision. It would also be nice if Nissan offered the VCT on more trims. It doesn’t because the VCT is meant to replace the V6, so its available on the same “sporty” and top-line trims that engine was.

Instead of offering the best range of options possible, Nissan acted conservative and risk-adverse, and that’s a shame. It’s one thing if the car isn’t quite on par with the best in class. It’s another to start with one hand tied behind your back because of corporate aversion to risk.

Last time around, the Altima was forgettable. This one isn’t, thanks to its Maxima-inspired looks, and it’s better on-road than its predecessor. That’s probably not enough to fight for class supremacy, but it may be enough for many buyers. Especially those that test drive the turbo.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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57 Comments on “2019 Nissan Altima First Drive – Take the Turbo...”


  • avatar
    redapple

    Good looking. Tough market tho.

    My 3 Hondas were Excellent in quality.

    My Sentra SE-R was a quality POS. My last Chevrolet was much better.

    So, when i see the engine in the Altima is a first ever, turbo with a moving crankshaft, i think I ll pass and look at the Accord or Camry.

  • avatar
    don1967

    “Factory builds may be better”

    Does that ever happen?

  • avatar
    ajla

    “The front-drive-only VCT checks in at 25/34/29.”

    Seems like a lot of whiz-bang technology to help a 248hp car get 3 MPG better than a Camry V6.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      The 34 mpg hwy smokes the Mazda6 2.5t.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        That assumes the estimate is accurate in the real world. I rented a Buick Encore a while back, which is rated at 32 mpg highway. In real life – a long highway trip down I-70 at the prevailing traffic speed (85) – the thing struggled to get 25.

        • 0 avatar
          ACCvsBig10

          Pretty sure the ratings are for 70mph, it would be nice if they would test up to 80mph but then that would skew all the fuel economy readings. Even maybe cause bigger engines to comback if they do better at higher speeds

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      “Seems like a lot of whiz-bang technology to help a 248hp car get 3 MPG better than a Camry V6.”

      My thoughts as related to turbocharged ordinary mass market cars in general. I view turbos as power-adders for performance applications…but for commuters, don’t bother….keep it simple.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I’d rather read an honest rental review of a current Altima than this wined-and-dined piece. I recently had a 40k mile Altima that I drove over a variety of twisty rural roads that were in the middle of being stripped for repaving, then drove over a mix of good and bad pavement on Rt79 through NY, I-81, and through to NYC. I even drove it up a wet grassy slope at my parents’ hobby farm to see how far it’d make it. I’d gladly write up a piece about that if there is interest.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I like the rental reviews as well – it’s hard to really review a car on a test drive, or at one of these events. That’s not really the writer’s fault, as there’s only so much you can do with that kind of venue. When you live with a car for an extended period, you get to know it quite well.

      But, yeah, if you have rental reviews, I don’t think I’d be the only one who’d be interested in them.

    • 0 avatar
      Gardiner Westbound

      Rental car reviews better approximate a typical purchasers experience a year or so into ownership, minus the dealer service hassles.

      It wouldn’t take a very hard hit to the Altima’s front end to ring up several thousand dollars in repairs.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        +1 on rental reviews…

        At least one or two YouTube reviewers that I follow voiced their preference for higher mileage press cars just so they can get a better idea of what the car will feel like after a longer term of ownership and just fresh of the dealer’s lot.

    • 0 avatar
      duncanator

      I think all Altima reviews are rental car reviews. Every time I see one, I automatically assume it’s owned by Budget or Enterprise.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        My “TL;DR” Altima review:

        From a renter’s perspective: easy car to hop and and drive without a bunch of tech and screens to navigate complicating things. I personally like the simple dash layout. Very good mpg (40 driving to NYC with 3 people and luggage), I think the CVT handles hills better than most traditional automatics. All other aspects of the car (handling, steering, brakes, seat comfort, NVH control, acceleration, interior quality) are in line with the midsize class in general, nothing egregiously bad. But it does nothing better than anything else in the class, maybe just a sliver worse on the whole. It did a great job of handling some ham-fisted driving on twisty roads with very bad pavement, the car just shrugged it off, as would all current midsizers. Everything just drives really well in that regard. Visibility is better than many, especially out the back, a non trivial factor to me.

        Owner’s perspective: one of the easiest cars to get a deal on whether new or used. Likely to be dead-reliable until 150-180k miles when the CVT craps out and the $4k repair will send it to the junkyard, basically a disposable car in that regard. I’d say if you’re hunting for the best value in the class, the Koreans (Optima/Sonata) do everything the Altima does, slightly better. Pick your poison: Koreans have DI motors, Altima has a CVT.

        This particular 40k mile example had a bumper respray and the trunk latch alignment was screwed up, and the car had obviously been smoked in. But nothing detectably worse for the wear as far as interior trim, rattles or suspension noise or brake performance.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Likely to be dead-reliable until 150-180k miles when the CVT craps out and the $4k repair will send it to the junkyard, basically a disposable car in that regard.

          I’m starting to feel like much of the new car fleet is best as “buy new, pay off loan, trade in.”

        • 0 avatar
          bullnuke

          GTEM – Thanks. I was just going to ask for your review and you came through with it.

        • 0 avatar
          HaveNissanWillTravel

          I disagree with the junk it opinion when the CVT blows… our 2011 Quest was in need of a CVT replacement at 160k. The overall condition of our van, despite years of baby formula and soccer game use was actually very good. We decided to invest 3.5k in a new CVT with a 2 year factory warranty then to buy a new Quest at 40k.

          We are now at 200k.

          Now, I know the Altima is worth thousands less than a Quest would be of similar age and that could be enough difference to make it a “junk it” candidate but sometimes keeping what you have and fixing it makes more sense.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            “Now, I know the Altima is worth thousands less than a Quest would be of similar age and that could be enough difference to make it a “junk it” candidate but sometimes keeping what you have and fixing it makes more sense.”

            A 180k mile Altima will likely be worth right around 4k-ish (assuming the rest of it is decent) in 7 years or so. My sister in law had this exact scenario with her ’10 Rogue that suddenly had a catastrophic CVT failure at 186k miles. In her case my brother swapped in a reman unit from Nissan, I think it was about $2k after an $800 core, he did the swap himself and it was quite involved. Any other person would have junked it.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Oh yeah, as far as climbing that grassy slope, the car did surprisingly well on the initial upward climb, I tried to get momentum initially on a more level, drier patch of grass and then prevent wheelspin as best as I could (I left TC on). The way the property is laid out is that the mowed path goes directly up hill and then turns 90 degrees at which point the rest of the path to the cabin is at a canted angle (with a potential to slide into a retention pond). So I had successfully eased it up the hill, but once I cut across I hit a deceptively muddy section where the car started to sink in, with a risk of sliding sideways, I called it good. Gingerly backed up and rolled downhill from whence I came. I had some mud and grass to wash out of the wheel wells and off the sides of the car when I got back. My dad’s little stick shift Honda Fit is generally the wet-grassy hillclimb champ (among FWD entries), I usually just shift my 4Runner into 4WD when I visit them, I could power it up in RWD on my all terrains but not without tearing their path up.

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        LOL I was waiting for someone to say this

    • 0 avatar

      I already did a rental review of the current Altima, just back in June!

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Had I driven an all-wheel-drive Altima, I’d have piloted a car with a system that’s split 50/50 from rest, 0/100 under cruise for fuel-economy purposes, and 30/70 during cornering.”

    AFAIK, this isn’t a RWD-biased system. So I think it’d be more accurate to call it a “100/0” and “70/30” split.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I do like that the Kia Stinger’s system (whether the turbo 4 or twin-turbo 6) is RWD biased and seems to be able to let you slide the rear end if you push it hard enough.

      It is a sad world we live in when 99% of AWD systems are designed to be FWD unless you REALLY REALLY REALLY need it.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I doubt it’s RWD biased, but the spec sheet read that way. I can clarify with Nissan — my guess is FWD bias and an awkward listing in the spec materials.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    ” For the uninformed, this VCT technology is essentially the use of mechanical parts to vary the compression ratio as needed. The system raises and lowers the reach of the piston to accomplish this. Higher compression ratios offer more efficiency at a greater risk of engine knock, while lower compression ratios conjure up more power and torque without the risk of premature combustion.”

    Wow this site has really fallen off. Either explain it for real or don’t bother. This didn’t used to be Motorweek.

    • 0 avatar
      chrishs2000

      Yeah this site is a shell of what it used to be. And that statement isn’t even entirely accurate. In theory, it is high compression that offers greater power. The issue is properly controlling combustion with high compression and high piston speed.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Hey don’t sully Motorweek’s name like that, John Davis is a BOSS.

      Wearing a windbreaker and some comfy pants while standing in front of the 1990s finest is truly living the good life.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This one might be worth checking out. I like the looks. I wonder about the durability of all that cutting-edge engine tech, though.

  • avatar
    Dan R

    I thought that we were trying to get away from these front grilles? This is the worst yet. The technology doesn’t seem to deliver much that wasn’t already available.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Missed opportunity. I think the car is well styled but underwhelming in the power/performance department.

    The CVT and horsepower deficit will eliminate its appeal to enthusiast drivers and those who have good credit will probably upgrade to a Camry or Accord. So the primary market here will be as it was for the previous car – subprime buyers who can’t afford or qualify for one of those cars and Uber drivers who care primarily about mileage and price.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I still don’t see much of a reason to pick this over the Camry or Accord, for my own purposes, other than available AWD. Are your power-split figures—which are 50/50, 0/100, and 30/70—measuring front/rear, or rear/front? If it’s the former, I’m impressed that Nissan would send more power to the rear in a transverse-FWD-based sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      With AWD – “No Subaru Dealer Nearby? Come on down to see your friendly Nissan dealer!”

      Actually if they added AWD to the turbo version they could try to attract those who are upset that there is no turbo Legacy anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        These will sell well in down-and-out parts of NY and PA, where anything cheap/affordable and AWD is well liked (Outlander Sports, Rogues, Patriots, Subies, Suzuki). Altimas are likewise popular (cheap+Japanese), adding AWD will make for a potent combo I think.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      It’s probably FWD split, but it was listed as 0/100 in the press materials. So I am going to clarify with Nissan.

  • avatar

    Nissan will get the 300,000+ customers they need for this car. Like most Japanese sedans it reliability will probably be bullet-proof. The Altima is no better or worse than the top selling Camry. I find it amusing that the Mazda 6 get the best reviews in this class, yet it is the slowest selling mid-sized sedan. Even the Chrysler 200 outsold it by nearly a 2 to 1 margin. I don’t believe the Mazda 6 has ever broken the annual 100,000 sales mark.

  • avatar
    Wunsch

    When you describe the AWD as 0/100 on cruising and 30/70 on cornering, are you talking R/F? So it shifts more power to the already-busy front wheels when you go around a corner?

  • avatar
    volvo

    Rental review

    2200 miles on recent midwest road trip in rental 2018 Altima SV with 16K on odometer.

    Briefly the car was quite competent for mixed freeway (70 mph) and city driving. Learned to like the decent rear camera and blind spot alert. Got to experience the automatic power/braking when I approached a stopped vehicle faster than the car (or my wife) thought proper.

    Car computer gave 39.7 mpg over the entire trip. I was astounded by the excellent mileage and chalked it up to the CVT. First CVT I had driven and absence of shift points actually was good for a long road trip.

    Seats were comfortable for me, ergonomics of the controls OK and HVAC satisfactory. Cruise control took some getting used to since it is not on the stalk and different layout from steering wheel based ones I have used.

  • avatar
    Mackie

    Nissan is positioned as a value brand. The Altima is a more affordable alternative to the Camry and Accord and, for many people, it’s still far more than adequate. Auto journalists are typically more picky than the average driver so the Accord will always be their favourite all-rounder mid-size sedan, this is as certain as death and taxes. Nissan plays the value game to differentiate itself and formula seems to work well for them.

    When it comes to styling, I think the new Altima is far better looking than the frumpy Accord and the non-cohesive Camry. The Mazda 6 is still the best looking of the bunch.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Wow that dash and Infotainment arrangement look C-H-E-A-P.

  • avatar

    Exterior styling much improved.
    Not convinced on the center stack and screen area – the panel joins look bad.
    Silly to offer AWD (always an uplevel drivetrain option) on only the lower engine choice.

    That’s like Audi offering an A8 FWD with the 4.2, and Quattro with 2.0T.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    From the rear it looks just like a Lexus. Having said that, Nissan’s design is improving, like someone went down to the studio and threatened to fire the lot of them. I have a 2003 Maxima that I really like, but no CVT Nissan for me, ever.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      The beginning of the Renault collaboration yielded some truly horrible design inside and out, to say nothing of quality. ’03 Maxima is the last of the good ones as far as I’m concerned.

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    Have the Infinity versions of this motor tech been pretty solid?

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      A solid Infiniti? You’re kidding, right?

      My last company owned two Nissan dealers and on Infinti dealer. I’ll never own a Nissan product. Too much time in the shop.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re right, North American Nissan models are the same as Infiniti, across the board. They’re even made in the same countries.

        [I’ll take false statements for $500, Alex.]

      • 0 avatar
        cimarron typeR

        Late reply here, but my Infiniti g37S MT sedan ownership experience was nothing but smiles.Not a single problem from new. In fact, I’d buy another one with the exact same platform if a manual were still offered.

  • avatar
    BrentinWA

    Here it is…. your future rental car disappointment.

  • avatar

    Yet another updated mid-sized car that has surpassed the Fusion.

    Ford – what a disgrace.

  • avatar
    Coolcar2

    I would like to throw out a theory for you all to ponder. There are quite a few mentions in this article that the current Altima’s styling is boring and forgettable. Is it really or are we so used to seeing them on the road because of their rental car popularity that we have become numb to the styling?! Honestly it is not a bad looking car and actually it has some visual interest that the Sonata or previous gen Camry and Accord lacked. If any car becomes popular and hundreds of thousands are on the road annually we start to become exhausted with the looks and anything cutting-edge about the styling becomes wallpaper.

    Case in point, Lexus. The RX or IS or ES all are starting to look “normal” in my eyes even though when brand new the front ends were very controversial. Now i don’t think i will ever get used to the GX or LX front ends but that is because they are just ugly. Thoughts?


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