By on June 25, 2020

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL AWD Fast Facts

2.5-liter four-cylinder (182 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 178 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm)

Continuously-variable automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

26 city / 36 highway / 30 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)

9.1 city, 6.5 highway, 7.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $31,590 (U.S) / $35,098 (Canada)

As Tested: $34,855 (U.S.) / $36,283 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,942 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

The Nissan Altima was once in the mix with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in the mid-size sedan conversation.

That’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been for some time.

Nissan is working hard to get back in that mix, and while the 2020 Altima takes the right strides forward, there’s still more work to be done.

The styling is a start – the new-for-2019 Altima has sharper looks than its predecessor, both literally and figuratively speaking. The creases are more angular and the car looks more aggressive.

It’s not that the previous car was ugly – it wasn’t, although it didn’t stand out – but this update is an improvement.

On-road, the Altima feels more dialed in and far less “soft” than the previous-gen car, although it’s still not as dialed in, from an enthusiast’s perspective, as much as an Accord, Mazda 6, or even the Camry. It’s not dull, and the steering gives appropriate feedback and feels well-weighted, but in terms of dynamics, it’s closer to mid-pack than the top of the class.

[Get a price quote for the Nissan Altima here!]

If you have Walter Mitty fantasies, shop elsewhere. If you just want to occasionally spice up a commute, the Altima will be just fine.

Fine – that’s the word I kept coming back to as I drove the car. It does everything fine. It rides well, not too soft or stiff. It’s quiet, but not a vault. The switchgear is functional, but the cabin, while more aesthetically pleasing than before, isn’t particularly pretty. It is roomy, however, and comfortable.

Acceleration from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder (182 horsepower/178 lb-ft of torque) is adequate if not thrilling, and the weight of the available all-wheel drive system likely has something to do with that. The top two trims are available with a turbo four, if you’re OK with front-drive only. At least the continuously-variable automatic transmission is mostly well-behaved.

Then there’s the ProPilot Assist system, which Nissan is proud of. The system is meant to keep you centered in the lane, and it can also keep you at a set speed. It can also help you keep the gap with the car in front of you, should that car slow down. It can even bring you to a complete stop.

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL AWD

When it works, that is. It was wonky during my time with the car, and it’s not the first time I’ve had issues getting it to work. A quick chat with Nissan confirmed to me that it needs clear lane lines on each side – and Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, where I tested it, has a lot of lines with faded or fading paint. You also need to make sure the system is both turned on and then set. That makes sense, but so doing is trickier than it seems. Finally, I was told that even with the intelligent cruise control working, the system can still cut out.

When the system worked, it was fine, but the inconsistency makes it easier to just leave it off. Even if it worked perfectly each time, it’s still an assist feature, not really meant to do much other than lend a driver an automated hand. It’s nowhere near autonomous driving – and to be fair, Nissan doesn’t claim it is. Personally, I find it easier to drive the old-fashioned way than use most of these systems, so this isn’t a shot only at Nissan. Some driver-assist features are useful, some are not, and this one, as presently constituted, really isn’t.

PPA’s inconsistent functionality may have been my biggest beef with the car, along with the tacked-on infotainment screen. Otherwise, the Altima is perfectly fine. There’s that word again.

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL AWD

Even the features list doesn’t scream standout. I drove an SL-trim car, which is the second-highest grade. Standard features included ProPilot Assist, keyless entry and starting, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, intelligent forward-collision warning, rear automatic braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, intelligent lane intervention, high-beam assist, rear-view monitor, power moonroof, premium audio, leather seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, rear sonar, satellite radio, Bluetooth, navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, multiple USB ports, traffic-sign recognition, hill-start assist, 17-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, chrome exhaust tips, and LED headlamps.

Options included splash guards, floor and trunk mats, ground lighting, interior accent lighting, a rear spoiler, kick-plate lighting, and impact sensors. The price was just shy of $35K.

A fine price, for an automobile that is just fine, if not fine. Our last Altima review suggested the car is good enough now to be thought of as more than just a decent choice on the Enterprise rental lot, and I don’t disagree. But I imagine the next time I choose to drive one, the words “I’ll pay a bit more for the Nissan” will be said to an overworked counter agent before I take the keys.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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21 Comments on “2020 Nissan Altima Review – Happy in the Middle...”

  • avatar

    the Altima has a reputation to live down

    the Altima may be OK like buying the supermarket brand but unless it’s had at a huge discount or sold to appliance buyers, just who is going to buy one – the people w/ terrible credit scores are the traditional Nissan target market

    maybe the rental car fleets will be needing restocking

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “overworked counter agent” = a thing of the past.

    As for the Altima, its looks go all the way back to 2002, and to me the changes from generation to generation are nearly indistinguishable.

    To Nissan’s credit, the ancient 2.5 has gained MPG improvements over the years, but it’s still the same thrashy 180-HP engine.

    • 0 avatar

      My beater is a 99 I got 10 years ago in return for hanging some drywall. I’ve put 80K on it without many complaints, but I can’t believe they are still using that motor. It is pretty brutal in the NVH area for sure.

    • 0 avatar

      True. Now they just stick ’em on the Emerald Aisle, hoping you don’t notice the wheelcovers and rental spec of the base model. I tried one when they finally bought some with a higher trim. Good highway mileage, but there’s no joy in driving it.

  • avatar

    “Fine – that’s the word I kept coming back to as I drove the car. It does everything fine.”

    And that’s “fine”. But i still struggle to see a selling point here. If you want a car with AWD and a CVT then Subaru has you covered. If you want a “normal” mid-size sedan then a Camry SE or Camry Hybrid has you covered. If you want a stick then get the Accord. If you want a turbo-4 then get the Accord or Mazda.

    I’m sure the Altima isn’t “bad” but is there any set of metrics where you’d put the Nissan as the #1 option? It seems doomed to compete only on the level of its rebates.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    “Then there’s the ProPilot Assist system, which Nissan is proud of…..Finally, I was told that even with the intelligent cruise control working, the system can still cut out.”

    So, Nissan is proud of its not-ready-for-prime-time driver assist suite. Great…..! Product liability and personal injury attorneys are sharpening their pencils already!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    ‘Looks’ being so subjective a measure as to be almost worthless.

    Do all those Honda Civic drivers think that their car looks like some school kids doodling?

    Edsel was vilified for its grille. How much did it differ from what Alfa offers? Or what BMW has used.

    Some of us like the fin and chrome 1950s cars.
    Some of us like the broughamed PLCs of the ‘malaise era’.
    Some even like the ‘jellybean’ look.

    How many vehicles are currently being produced that are universally recognized as ‘lookers’?

    And how many attractive vehicles have been consigned to the dustbin of history because they did not sell?

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that difference between hit and miss in the styling department can be pretty tough to quantify sometimes. Sales are a pretty good indicator at least when you look at a vehicle relative to its competition. You are also right that there are plenty of vehicles in automotive history, even some contemporary designs, that for one reason or another received critical success but just never sold. (I happen to like those types of vehicles because there are deals to be had lol)

      There is nothing I find offensive about this Altima, but, there is nothing that draws me to it either. It is nice to finally see AWD coming on your volume family sedans like this and Camry, but nothing else really stands out to my eye. Some of the big names in midsize cars have stepped up the design game for better or worse. The Camry, Accord, Sonata are all more polarizing than ever. In the end, its difficult to see this Altima as more than a bland offering. It needs something more. Not sure what that is.

    • 0 avatar

      “Some of us like the …….. look.”

      One thing I don’t like is the goofy anime-warrior-helmet style, with pointless creases and angles all over the place. Not many car makers have been able to steer clear of it.

      What I like is a clean, uncluttered shape, which at least for Japanese makes seemed to be at its best in the early to mid nineties. Lexus GS300/400, Nissan Maxima and 240SX, even the lowly Camry were elegant shapes I’d be happy to have in my driveway.

  • avatar

    Looks like a nice rental car.

    Interesting that the side profile (likely aided in large part by those wheels) screams prior gen Kia Optima, and frankly, the dash design looks reminiscent of 5 year old Kia/Hyundai designs as well, with the oval floating center stack controls in a void of dash below the display. Not BAD, but not contemporary, either.

  • avatar

    Wish we could see a head-to-head match-up with this and the Camry. The new Camry drives well enough, but feels chintzy and poorly-insulated inside, with an odd driving position and lumpy seat. I feel like this Altima deserves a bit more praise than it gets.

  • avatar

    I travel(ed) enough to know the best Nissan at the rental counter is always going to be the Maxima.

    And let’s not forget that there used to be an Altima SE-R and that it was awesome.

  • avatar

    Personally, I find NOTHING attractive about the “kick up” of the rear door, and the convergence of the lines from the roof inset, and door opening. Looks totally awkward to me, and would definitely influence a purchase!

  • avatar

    “Fine” is an especially apt word to describe the Altima, at least to me. I have driven a couple of 2020 Altimas from Enterprise, and that is about exactly how I would describe them. They’re “fine.” Ride is OK, visibility (a biggie for me) is passable, a wee bit of sportiness but less so than a Camry (a sentence I never thought I’d write 5 years ago) and way less than an Accord or a Mazda6. Best part of the car to me are the seats, which are excellent. Yes, It’s a “fine” car. Would I buy one? Probably not. As someone said, Nissan and the Altima lack a compelling reason why I would buy it over something else. Matter of fact, I still prefer my 2015 Sonata to a new Altima.

  • avatar

    US $35K? That’s a ludicrous $45K in Canada in equivalent money! I got the Mazda6 turbo with an interior twice as nice for C$34K list last summer. Well, less than that because of trade. Never even bothered looking at the Altima.

  • avatar

    This car was actually near the top of my list for the upcoming replacement of my Camry… the main thing that drew me in was being able to keep the midsize bodystyle but add AWD. But every single person I talked to with recent Nissan experience (car people or not) told me to avoid them. Then Toyota announced AWD for the 2020 Camry and any consideration I was giving to Nissan became a distant memory.

    • 0 avatar

      I was in the same boat. I was replacing an older Camry with many, many miles and wanted something new or close to new that will last me for a long while. I remember seeing this Altima on the road last year and being intrigued enough to actually take a look at the Nissan website. I too, had placed this car on the top of my list, but I decided to really take my time with the research and also talk to people who had real-world recent experience with Nissan. Not one person recommended them who I talked to. Scariest story was of a 2017 Rogue with about 20k on it at the beginning of 2019 that had it’s CVT completely fail on the highway. Another had some kind of major fuel system issues with a Juke, just to name a few. I ended up going with a prior gen Avalon with very low miles. Didn’t see any reason to gamble with Nissan in the end.

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