2020 Nissan Altima Review - Happy in the Middle

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

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.

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.

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]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jun 26, 2020

    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.

  • Pveezy Pveezy on Jun 29, 2020

    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.

    • Guy922 Guy922 on Jul 12, 2020

      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.

  • VoGhost Fantastic work by Honda design. When I first saw the pictures, I thought "Is that a second gen Acura NSX?"
  • V16 2025 VW GLI...or 2025 Honda Civic SI? Same target audience, similar price points. Both are rays of sun in the gray world of SUV'S.
  • FreedMike Said this before and I'll say it again: I'm not that exercised about this whole "pay for a subscription" thing, as long as the deal's reasonable. And here's how you make it reasonable: offer it a monthly charge. Let's say that adaptive headlights are a $500 option on this vehicle, and the subscription is $15 a month, or $540 over a three year lease. So you try the feature for a month, and if you like it, you keep it; if you don't, then you discontinue it, like a Netflix subscription. In any case, you didn't get charged $500 up front the feature. That's not a bad deal.In my case, let's say VW offers an over the air chip reflash that gives me another 25 hp. The total price of the upgrade is $1,000 (which is what a reflash would cost you in the aftermarket). If they offered me a one time monthly subscription for $50 to try it out, I'd take it. In other words, maybe the news isn't all bad.
  • 2ACL A good car, but - at least in this configuration -not one that should command a premium. Its qualities just aren't as enduring as those of Honda's contemporary sports cars. For better or worse, this is a formula they remain able to replicate.
  • Jalop1991 I just read that Tesla's profits are WAY down "as the electric vehicle company has faced both more EV competition from established automakers and a slowing of overall EV sales growth." This Cadillac wouldn't help Tesla at all, but the slowing market of EV sales overall means this should be a halo/boutique car. Regardless, yes, they should make it.
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