By on September 24, 2018

2019 Nissan Altima

It’s the third high-profile midsize sedan launch in a year, and Nissan’s pretty confident that this — THIS — is the one that’s really going to turn the declining segment around. Or so U.S. chairman Denis Le Vot claims. In our first drive review of the all-new 2019 Altima, scheduled for Friday morning, we’ll ponder if this revamped sedan and its revolutionary new engine makes for a worthy challenger to Toyota’s segment-leading Camry and the somewhat lagging Honda Accord.

Meanwhile, north of the border, Nissan Canada is busy preparing its own launch. We’ve discussed some of the similarities and glaring discrepancies between the two vehicle markets before, but for the 2019 Altima, the gap between the U.S. vehicle and Canadian one is vast. Maybe it has something to do with optimism vs. realism.

The big news in the U.S. is twofold: not only will the 2019 Altima offer available all-wheel drive for the first time, it also arrives with an uplevel variable-compression turbocharged four-cylinder as a replacement for the previous generation’s 3.5-liter V6. Dubbed the VC-Turbo, this engine adjusts the pistons’ reach, and thus the engine’s compression ratio, on the fly, allowing it to operate at peak efficiency at a variety of engine loads.

Drinking premium fuel, the engine should generate 248 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque.

And that’s just what it will do. But only in the United States. Nissan Canada, however, has made the decision not only to not offer the VC-Turbo in the 2019 Altima, but also to make AWD standard on all Altimas, regardless of trim. Blame a buying public that clearly has had enough of most sedans.

Jenn McCarthy, Nissan Canada’s manager of product communications, said the decision to go this direction with the Altima came after deliberation that went through the company “from top to bottom.” At the car’s launch at the New York City Auto Show in late March, company brass still hadn’t pulled the trigger on a product plan. It was only after speaking with the public did Nissan Canada decide a “premium engine” wasn’t the way to go.

2019 Nissan Altima

Camry and Accord remain top rivals, sure, but going the AWD route also positions the Altima as a Subaru fighter. Combine standard AWD (with up to a 50:50 fore/aft torque split) with Nissan’s long-established reputation for value, and it’s easy to see the potential draw here. The strategy soon coalesced, McCarthy said. Not only would offering the sedan with a simplified trim range (S, SV, and Platinum) and a sole engine (a 2.5-liter inline-four, now with direct injection), satisfy the need to be different and price-conscious, it would help distance the Altima from the slightly larger, V6-powered Maxima in the brand’s lineup.

Still, some of the deliberation centered on the possibility of Altima V6 buyers being turned off by the lack of VC-Turbo. Eventually it was decided that the sedan stood to gain more buyers than it would lose.

“That was a huge consideration,” McCarthy said. “[But it was decided that] we can’t blend into the crowd with this this. The segment is shrinking. If we’re going to do something, we have to do something different.”

The take rate for the previous-gen V6 model was already small in Canada, and slipping fast. “It was growing increasingly difficult to sell them,” she said of the uplevel Altimas. “Customers were gravitating to the Maxima. Sales stats showed we didn’t need it.”

Besides all-wheel drive, all 2019 Altimas sold north of the border will contain a 182 hp, 178 lb-ft 2.5-liter mated to a continuously variable automatic, with the cabin boasting an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, Hands-free Text Messaging Assistant, and Siri Eyes Free/Google Assistant Voice Recognition. Standard safety features on all trims include Emergency Braking, Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, and Intelligent Driver Alertness. The new Altimas should hit dealers in the Great White North around the same time the snow starts to fly. Which is to say, at the end of November or beginning of December.

While the Altima retains a large slice of the brand’s volume in the U.S., that isn’t the case in Canada. Soon, McCarthy predicts the top five Nissan vehicles by volume will be utility vehicles. Though the Nissan brand’s sales rose 1.9 percent in Canada over the first eight months of the year, Altima sales slumped 13 percent. In terms of volume, the Sentra outsells the Altima by a ratio of 2:1. The top-selling Rogue crossover outsells it 7:1. In the U.S., that ratio is closer to 2:1.

Nissan Canada can’t do anything about the vehicle’s ride height, but perhaps the all-wheel traction so loved by Canucks will add some extra wind to the Altima’s sails.

[Images: Nissan]

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27 Comments on “Two Countries Prepare to Launch Two Very Different Nissan Altimas...”

  • avatar

    What exactly are Nissan trying to accomplish with variable compression? I’ve tried understanding, but can’t wrap my head around it.

    • 0 avatar

      “What exactly are Nissan trying to accomplish with variable compression?”

      to spend the most money getting competitive power and fuel economy?

    • 0 avatar

      same thing as everyone else- build a turbo four that “feels” like a V6.

      they’re trying to get good power off-boost (low RPM when the turbo isn’t helping much) without grenade-ing the engine on-boost (high-compression and forced induction together tend to cause pre-ignition). this is achieved by “adjusting” the compression to suit the current boost level.

      my gut feeling- this sounds neato on paper, is a historic milestone to reach production but may fall short of expectations in the real world.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Canadian car sales are about 11% of USA car sales. It has always been a curiosity of mine that so many concessions to Canadian tastes are made when the market is so much smaller.

    • 0 avatar

      their market is in proportion to us population. so

    • 0 avatar

      Not really a concession to offer fewer models. But for perspective, bmw sells more 3series and Mercedes more c class than the Altima. And you can get a used Altima for less than a same age corolla – it’s just an unloved car.

    • 0 avatar

      “Concessions” meaning less choice, usually. Even things like paint and interior trim colors offer fewer choices here.

      Nissan needed to try something since it seems all they sell up here are Rogues and the strangely-named Qasquai (Rogue Sport in the US). If the Sentra is outselling the Altima 2:1 then a big chunk of that must be to rental car companies.

  • avatar

    Doing what the people want and need up there in Canada. Good decision Nissan management. Practicing practicality and entering into another segment of the car buying public. Not so sure about the US offering. Sounds like a complicated engine that wouldn’t be good to own after warrenty.

  • avatar

    Canada is a much smaller market. It’s a good idea to keep the selection smaller to simplify the buying experience. Most Canadian new near luxury car buyers expect AWD and it’s differentiates from the usual Camry, Mazda6, and Accord.

  • avatar

    I actually like the looks of this car. It’s certainly better than the cartoonish Toyota and the overwrought Honda.

  • avatar

    When, oh when…will the age of the gaping maw vanish from our roads???

  • avatar

    Leaving aside the unnecessarily complex variable compression design, who exactly is Nissan expecting will pay 60c more per gallon to fill a 4 cylinder mainstream sedan with premium gas?

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll wait while you check the number of turbo-4 sedans that recommend or require premium fuel…

      Now check the CUVs that use the same engine as their sedan platform counterparts…

      I’m not saying it is “right” but obviously it isn’t just Nissan that expects that.

      • 0 avatar

        That is enlightening and legitimately surprising. Now I’m wondering how many owners actually spend the extra on premium.

        • 0 avatar

          A premium fuel requirement in this class of car would be a total dealbreaker in the preowned market.

        • 0 avatar

          Anecdotally my father-in-law bought a 2.0 turbo Terrain (250 hp, 295 lb. ft with premium fuel and AWD). I never thought he would keep putting premium in it but apparently it was such a “dog” (his words) on regular gas and he loves the “kick” of the turbo that he has been putting premium in it all but one tank over the 7000 plus miles he has owned it so far.

    • 0 avatar

      And Canadians are also know for being particularly thrifty, which of course has already been reflected in the statement that they were having a hard time moving the V6 models.

  • avatar

    I think they chose well for the Canadian market. If you’re going to try and keep someone from defaulting to a CUV, you have to offer AWD (or make it standard). With AWD across the board, there’s just no margin left for a fancy engine, but in this class, not a big deal. I think the last couple Nissan styling trends are finally starting to gel and this car looks pretty good.

  • avatar

    Premium gas for a mid-size sedan for the middle class is a non-starter in Canada, where gas is already more expensive than the USA. Premium is about 20 cents a litre more than regular.

  • avatar

    I can see the “AWD on all trims” thing paying off as far as differentiating themselves in the midsize sedan marketplace. Then again Legacy sales have never been more than a blip on the radar whilst regular FWD Altimas have sold like hotcakes (owing to easy financing).

  • avatar

    1x High-strung, mechanically-weird, turbo 4-cylinder
    Premium Fuel Requirements
    Owner who can barely make their monthly payments much less premium fuel
    Sucks for whoever buys a third-hand 65k-mile Altima SE.

  • avatar

    Effectively, Altima becomes another Legacy trim in Canada
    2.5L – check
    AWD – check
    CVT – check

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