By on March 9, 2020

2020 Nissan Altima front quarter

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.

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.

2020 Nissan Altima profile

Oh, and it has all-wheel drive.

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.

2020 Nissan Altima front

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.

2020 Nissan Altima front seats

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.

2020 Nissan Altima rear seats

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.

2020 Nissan Altima interior

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.

2020 Nissan Altima dashboard

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.

2020 Nissan Altima rear quarter

[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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37 Comments on “2020 Nissan Altima AWD Review – The ‘Not a Rental’ Review...”


  • avatar

    The big three never figured out how to build a sedan at this level of quality. You could make the argument that a high end Altima is as good as the CT4, which cost a lot more.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Lol. Nissans and Cadillacs are both bottom-feeder cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Nissan’s are at least somewhat reliable. Cadillac is a bottom feeder when it comes to reliability. GM cancelled the one good Cadillac the CT6-v. Now all that remains are under-powered sedans and vaporware electric vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          …Nissan’s are at least somewhat reliable…

          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
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          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
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          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

          OMG. I have to catch my breath.

          OMG.

          Let me read that again…

          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
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          BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

          • 0 avatar
            C5 is Alive

            Per Consumer Reports’ 2019 Reliability Rankings (of vehicles sold from 2017-2019):

            Nissan: 11th, just ahead of Honda

            Cadillac: 30th, out of 30

            Take CR’s methodology with a healthy pinch of salt, though it’s worth noting both brands have remained at generally the same rankings since CR’s 2017 survey, with Cadillac languishing within 2-3 spots of the very bottom of the pile. One might view that as a trend.

          • 0 avatar
            NeilM

            akear: “…Nissan’s are at least somewhat reliable…”

            APaGttH: “BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
            BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

            Oh c’mon, the apostrophe wasn’t that funny.

          • 0 avatar
            thegamper

            I have bought or leased 13 new vehicles in the past 20 years or so for my wife and I. Said vehicles were from Mazda, Nissan, Honda, VW, Ford, GM and even a Land Rover.

            Every one of them was basically bulletproof for the time I purchased until they time I got rid of them except for a Honda Odyssey.

            Though none of those vehicles was held much past 100k miles, its pretty laughable whenever I see people claim that a brand as a whole is crap based on some anecdotal experiences or something they saw on the interwebs or because, as on this site, its cool to hate on certain manufacturers.

            We put 15k miles or more on each of our vehicles per year. That’s 7 different brands making a combined 24 trips around the Earth with not a single mechanical breakdown that left us stranded (including 2 Nissans!).

            BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
            BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

        • 0 avatar
          brn

          The company I worked for owned three Nissan dealerships. In working with the Service Managers, I would NOT consider Nissan to be reliable.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            And from former colleagues who own Nissan dealerships I learned that Nissan, the company, does not support its dealers well, is slow in paying billed warranty claims, and is not concerned about customer relations (Nissan views CR as a dealer’s responsibility.)

            But some disgruntled customers are getting their last laugh on social media.

          • 0 avatar

            It was a joke don’t you see that?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            It was no joke to the people that owned those dealerships. They retired and let it be someone else’s worry.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “They retired and let it be someone else’s worry.”

            Boomers gonna Boomer.

          • 0 avatar
            Flipper35

            We have a Nissan. It was given to us and I am still not sure that we didn’t pay too much. It is reliable but it is crap. It has had rattles since new, the materials are in worse shape than our 200k mile truck. For what it is the seats are horrible, radio is horrible, mileage is horrible. For a CUV it doesn’t have a lot of room.

            One thing it doesn’t have that this car has is that stupid tablet on the dash. In the Altima they could have formed the dash around the tablet and not lost any sightline to the road since the screen is low on the dash anyway.

            And no, those few inches make no difference when driving. We had a GPS on the dash and Uconnect screen below it and it made virtually no difference when viewing one over the other.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            JimZ, that’s what my brothers did as well, Boomers doing what Boomers do best — they cashed out, sold all six dealerships and retired.

            And the money that changes hands during these sales or M&As is mind-boggling!

            The only ones that were hurt were the long-time employees who were “let go” in the following year when the buyer brought in their own staff and management.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I see they’re still using what look like Mike n’ Ikes for the BSM indicators, instead of putting the indicators in the mirror glass.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Can confirm on the fuel economy. In my hands, both this generation of Altima and the last one get fuel economy several MPG better than any of their competitors. Yet they feel far less hateful than a Sentra. It’s one reason I like getting them as rental cars.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Can’t comment on AWD, but the Altima absolutely sips gas.

      • 0 avatar
        stuckonthetrain

        +1 – I don’t know how they do it, but my rental Altimas have often gotten almost identical MPG to what I get with rental Sentras.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I’m not sure why you would expect any significant difference between the two cars on the highway. The Sentra isn’t that much smaller or lighter, and being shorter is probably aerodynamically worse. The motor is only slightly smaller and likely is slightly lower tech to save cost.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I think that for the longest time, automakers were reluctant to put AWD in family sedans because they would much rather the buyer opt for a higher profit margin Crossover.

    Now that there is seemingly nothing that can stop the crossover train, automakers are willing to equip their family sedans with AWD simply just to keep them viable with a few more sales and justify their continued existence. Keep sedan customers coming back, pick up a few domestic sedan orphans who have been left high and dry.

    Its a smart move to keep sedans around, at least for the foreseeable future and this is a good way to ensure the model gets a next generation.

  • avatar
    redapple

    I like it. I need to rent one.
    Rented a new CAMRY and have multiple gripes.
    Accord is brilliant, but for me the roof is low and the seat is high. Long torso ed redapple has to do a jack knife move to get in/out.

    I ll go NISSAN next time.
    PS- Yes, the worse Japan Mid sizer is better than GM FORDS last offerings.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    “Of course, there is yet another new entrant in the all-wheel drive sedan field – but the Nissan got there first. Well, second (after Subaru).”

    The AWD Fusion would like to talk to you.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    It is made by modern Nissan and it has that CVT. That is all you need to know – testing the product was a complete waste of time.

  • avatar
    Robotdawn

    Comparing this to a rear drive Cadillac is ridiculous, but I will give Nissan credit. Both the Altima and the new Sentra are decent vehicles. I don’t look in them and think cheap immediately, like I had for the last 20 years of Nissan.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Small correction: LeMans Sunset was on the 2003 Z and it was less red-orange then this to my eyes.

    The floating roof thing has to die, especially in this application. And what’s up with the chrome below and black above trim situation? It ties in well with the grill but seems like they couldn’t decide which was better chrome or black… and so we get both. Hyundai uses this look too, but have been doing it longer and it looks better on their cars I think.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Give it the V6 or remove the CVT.

    Or both.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I’ve had several of the prior gen Altimas and generally don’t mind them. Somewhat gruff sounding motor, that’s about the only real negative I can think of… well the long term CVT longevity still would be a concern as a buyer. Really simple and straightforward controls, as a renter you just hop in and go.

  • avatar
    deanst

    ” its pretty laughable whenever I see people claim that a brand as a whole is crap based on some anecdotal experiences or something they saw on the interwebs or because, as on this site, its cool to hate on certain manufacturers.”

    And he then goes on to make (or at least suggest) some conclusions based on his anecdotal experience.

    Why is common sense so uncommon?

  • avatar
    stuckonthetrain

    A little more driving impression detail would have been nice.

    IMO, compared to my rental Fusions and Passats, the new Altima feels more composed over choppy highways and has modestly stiffer steering. And unlike the Korean sedans, the steering didn’t feel too electric, with that whirry/rubbery feel in a parking lot. Although larger than the Fusion, it felt easier to place in the lane most of the time. The active safety – esp, the braking – was unusually intrusive and inconsistent. And similar to the Passat (at the least the “R-line” configurations we’ve rented), the seating had an unusually-low hip point. My wife and I are both athletic, but the irritating ingress/egress alone would be enough to cross them off our list.

    The higher mileage Altimas seemed to wear better as rentals than the Sonatas and Fusions (we haven’t had a Passat over 10k miles yet), but I’m not sure if that’s because those particular Budgets took better care of their Altimas than the Thriftys and Enterprises did of the latter. But I have yet to see a 40k mi Sonata whose buttons aren’t worn and whose interior fabric isn’t starting to wear badly.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Can’t agreed more about the flat bottom steering wheel. We have one on our new Rogue and it’s…vexing….

  • avatar
    Old_WRX

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

  • avatar
    thornmark

    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

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