2020 Nissan Altima AWD Review - The 'Not a Rental' Review

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SR AWD

2.5-liter twincam four (182 hp @ 6000 rpm, 178 lb/ft. @ 3600 rpm)
Continuously-variable transmission, all-wheel drive
25 city / 35 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
32.9 (observed mileage, MPG)
9.3 city / 6.7 highway / 8.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $27,945 US / $33,540 CAN
As Tested: $30,720 US / $35,172 CAN
Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1942 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2020 nissan altima awd review the not a rental review

A few years ago, the family and I rented a car and drove to a national park, just like thousands of others do every year. After a few hours of hiking and sightseeing, we found a restaurant in the park for lunch. Our rental that day? A silver Nissan Altima. Here’s the weird part: there were eight more silver Altimas parked side-by-side, all with minor trim differences and stickers from different rental agencies.

It was genuinely weird.

TTAC has a long history of reviewing cars from rental agencies – initially as a ward against potential influence from the automakers, and occasionally to review cars we don’t normally see in media fleets. This isn’t one of those. This 2020 Nissan Altima AWD is a marked improvement from the rental counter – it’s no longer the ubiquitous scourge of indifferent travelers.

Oh, and it has all-wheel drive.

[Get new and used Nissan Altima pricing here!]

Putting all-wheel drive in a family sedan seems like a simple task. After all, nearly every brand offers a compact or midsized crossover based upon a once-mighty midsized platform. And there are still thousands of buyers every year who buck the trend and buy something with a real trunk.

Despite this, until this year there was but one automaker offering four driven wheels on a budget-priced family sedan. Subaru has had the market basically to itself for years. Of course, there is yet another new entrant in the all-wheel drive sedan field – but the Nissan got there first. Well, second.

One frequent complaint about optional AWD is the cost; some automakers charge thousands of extra dollars to power all four wheels. The Altima is different. Across the board, the all-wheel option adds just $1,350 to the bottom line. As Autoblog reports, close to a quarter of all new Altima buyers are choosing AWD – and in northern states, unsurprisingly, nearly half plunk down the extra cash.

While Ohio is indeed in the north, we’ve been the unwitting beneficiary of climate change this winter, as we really haven’t had enough snowfall to warrant even shoveling the sidewalk. Thus, I can’t legitimately tell you that the Altima AWD will climb ice-covered mountains with ease. Driving it feels much like any front-drive car. It’s predictable and quiet, with muted levels of road noise. My SR-trimmed tester wore 19-inch alloy wheels, however, which do give a bit of harshness to pothole impacts.

I’d like more sidewall, please.

Nissan has made its bread-and-butter sedan a looker. It’s genuinely attractive, though the sloping rear glass and accompanying “floating” roof treatment does produce a C-pillar that affects views over the shoulder. The extra cost ($395) Sunset Drift Chromaflair orange paint reminds me of the LeMans Sunset on the 2002 350Z that I so love. If you aren’t into the orange but want something beyond the usual silver, gray, black, or red, there is a lovely Deep Blue Pearl that is a no-cost option.

The seating here is comfortable for long days in the saddle, front and rear. Leg room in this midsizer is better than any of the full-sized sedans I was shuttled in as a kid. The touch-screen audio system is easy to use, though the screen seems a bit busy at first glance. Controls for HVAC are clearly marked and easy to manipulate. The faux-carbon trim surrounding the cupholder and other surfaces remind me of the NOPI catalog circa 2002, however.

Can we talk a moment about the flat-bottomed steering wheel phenomenon? Automakers have apparently noticed that some high-performance cars have non-round rims, and seemingly hope this thirteen-or-so-inch ring will be some sort of showroom halo for an entire brand.

Stop it.

It’s absurd.

Flat-bottom wheels come from motorsports, where cockpits are tight, often leaving little room for essentials such as legs. For racers who rarely take their hands from 9 and 3, removing some of the round wheel makes sense. When I was a hundred pounds heavier, the Sparco flat-bottom wheel I fitted to my early Miata made sense – it’s cheaper than liposuction and easier than a diet. But for a family sedan with a tilting column and no legitimate sporting aspiration? No.

Power from the familiar 2.5-liter four is adequate. Those of you who read Tim’s first drive coverage will recall that the more powerful variable-compression turbocharged four is not offered with all-wheel drive – a shame, as the combo of power and grip could potentially yield a sleeper sports sedan. As it is, however, the 182 hp engine is let down a bit by the CVT Nissan is determined to inflict upon each of their mainstream cars.

The CVT – Nissan calls it Xtronic CVT – is getting better. In another life a decade or so ago, I had a CVT-equipped Sentra as a company car that was so incredibly miserable to drive that I dreaded merging on the interstate to call on my clients, as the engine would thrash towards redline with no discernible impact on acceleration. The modern CVT as fitted to this Altima and other Nissans has improved greatly, though getting off of the line isn’t as brisk as I’d like.

The payoff comes at the pump. This Altima, despite having all-wheel drive like most crossovers, gets better fuel economy. I averaged 32.9mpg over my mostly-city driving – measurably better than the 29 mpg EPA combined figure. Car and Driver says they managed 41 mpg with the Altima AWD – that’s incredible, but believable.

With available, affordable all-wheel drive, the 2020 Nissan Altima is a legitimate alternative to a crossover for those who need the security of additional traction. It’s certainly a contender in the waning but still-important midsized sedan market.

Most importantly, it’s no longer a penalty when you’re upgraded from a compact at the rental counter.

[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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2 of 37 comments
  • Old_WRX Old_WRX on Mar 14, 2020

    Call me a global warmingist disbeliever, but one warm winter does not climate change make.

  • Thornmark Thornmark on Mar 17, 2020

    that Altima may not be a rental car but close to everyone will think it is a rental it will take decades if not forever for Nissan to lose its krap reputation

  • Poltergeist Make sure you order the optional Dungdai fire suppression system.
  • Prabirmehta I charge my EV at home 100% of the time. The EV is used for in-town driving and the gas guzzling SUV is used for out of town trips. This results in a huge cost saving and rare trips to the gas station.
  • Conundrum Three cylinder Ford Escapes, Chevy whatever it is that competes, and now the Rogue. Great, ain't it? Toyota'll be next with a de-tuned GR Corolla/Yaris powerplant. It's your life getting better and better, yes indeed. A piston costs money, you know.The Rogue and Altima used to have the zero graviy foam front seats. Comfy, but the new Rogue dumps that advance. Costs money. And that color-co-ordinated gray interior, my, ain't it luvverly? Ten years after they perfected it in the first Versa to appeal to the terminally depressed, it graduates to the Rogue.There's nothing decent to buy on the market for normal money. Not a damn thing interests me at all.
  • Inside Looking Out It looks good and is popular in SF Bay Area.
  • Inside Looking Out Ford F150 IMHO. It is a true sports car on our freeways.