By on February 19, 2021

2021 Nissan Altima SR FWD VC-Turbo

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (236hp @ 5,600 rpm, 267 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm)

Continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive

25 city / 34 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

Base Price: $31,575 US

As Tested: $32,905 US

Prices include $925 destination charge in the United States. 2.0 turbo engine not available in Canada.

Just then, they came in sight of thirty or forty sporty crossovers that rise from that plain. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.

Such is the life of the sports-sedan enthusiast these days, tilting at the hulking windmills as we pray for a low, lithe vehicle with handling and power aplenty – matched with a real trunk. We ask for these things from automakers who have proven that once upon a time, such mythical creatures did indeed exist and did indeed move from showroom floors in appreciable numbers.

I’d hoped beyond hope that the 2021 Nissan Altima SR on these pages might have rekindled the old four-door sportscar soul deep within Nissan. See those “SR” letters? They look awfully close to the “SE-R” trim that graced generations of sporty Sentras and even an Altima way back when. “VC-Turbo,” too, hints at performance potential. Can this turbocharged sedan meet the increasingly quixotic and depressingly small market for three-box motors with verve?

In short, no. The Altima VC-Turbo is not a sports sedan. It’s a credible midpriced family sedan with better than average power, but there is nothing sporty about this car. That’s OK, really – while I prefer some all-around performance with my sedan, many more people will be perfectly content with a touch of extra power on an otherwise-sedate cruiser. The Altima does the daily driving thing just fine, with good ride quality and quiet, calm road manners.

The engine is the star here – we’ve talked about the variable-compression turbocharged four, theoretically giving V6 performance with four-cylinder economy. It mostly succeeds – for a three-MPG-combined EPA penalty (29 combined for the VC-Turbo versus 32 combined for a front-drive 2.5-liter Altima) you get 48 additional horsepower and 87 lb-ft of torque. The torque figure is significant – this positively jumps off the line with gusto. Nissan persists with the CVT, however, which causes the engine to drone at frequently changing pitch while cruising on the interstate. Hopefully, now that the Pathfinder is reverting to a 9-speed automatic, the great CVT experiment will begin to wind down.

Styling is handsome, but by this point in the product cycle, rather familiar. It will neither turn heads nor offend. The interior, similarly, is mostly bland – brightened a bit by orange stitching on the console, dash, and steering wheel. The faux-carbon weave trim on places like the door panels is a bit garish, I’m afraid – but the seats are magical. Nissan has been putting some seriously great chairs in their mainstream products of late. I’d say this is one of the best places I’ve put my butt in a long time.

My biggest problem with this package? As usual, it’s the price. $30,700 plus destination fees gives a big engine in a midrange package – a matching SR trim with the lesser 2.5-liter four would be over four thousand dollars less expensive. The VC-Turbo engine is only available in this SR trim, with no real options to speak of save premium paint, floor mats, and a spoiler. This premium-priced sedan has mid-level trim – it doesn’t offer Nissan’s excellent ProPilot Assist (adaptive cruise control and steering assist), nor does it offer dual-zone climate control, both of which are standard on the 2.5SL at $29,990 plus D&D. Nor can the powerful engine be fitted to the excellent all-wheel-drive Altima – which is why you can’t get this in the AWD-only Canada market.

If we look beyond Nissan at other competitors, it’s hard to overlook the 252 horses available in the Honda Accord Sport 2.0T. Sadly, the Accord’s manual is no longer, but that car remains the genuine sports sedan I fell in love with a couple of years back. And if it’s power you want, Toyota still offers a V6 in the Camry – 301 horses worth! Both of the competitors have a real automatic transmission, rather than the fun-sapping CVT found in the Nissan.

Nissan, it seems, has a long tradition of letting their engineers pursue new solutions and bringing them to market. Witness the SuperHICAS four-wheel steering of the Eighties and the CVT craze of the past decade or so among many other flights of fancy best suited to CAD programs rather than the rigid Excel screens of the beancounters. The VC-Turbo engine is another interesting solution, but I’m not sure it’s the right solution here in the Altima. The additional power is nice, but not for what you have to give up to get that power. The Nissan Altima VC-Turbo really should be a much better sports sedan fighter than it is in the tilt against the ever-present crossover threat.

[Images: © 2021 Chris Tonn]

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21 Comments on “2021 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo Review — Seeking Extra Raciness...”

  • avatar

    I’d say this should be called “Rocinante,” but if you’re going to tilt CUV windmills, there are far better steeds out there.

  • avatar

    My credit isn’t perfect (thanks, Comcast, for reporting me to the bureaus as delinquent without ever sending me a bill after I disconnected my service!)… but it is easily good enough that I would have no reason to pick this over a Honda Accord 2.0T.

    • 0 avatar

      F*** Comcast, that’s just the sort of thing I expect from them.

    • 0 avatar

      Just out of curiosity, dal, did you sign up for the “report my utilities on my credit” thing?

      Normally utilities don’t show up on credit reports at all, which is a good thing, because Century Link f**ked up my account too. Cable and cell companies are real, real good at f**king up your bill.

      • 0 avatar

        They don’t report routine payments (on-time or late), but like any other creditor they can still report debts that get sent to collections, and that is what happened to me.

        I cancelled my crappy 100/10 service to get CenturyLink gigabit fiber in summer of 2018, paid what I thought was the final Comcast bill, and never heard a word from Comcast again. Then several months later I talked with my longtime mortgage broker about whether I should refinance, and he asked “what happened to your credit?” Turned out my FICO 8 score was suddenly 720, down from an expected 800ish. It’s since recovered to about 750, but I was not successful in trying to get the bureaus to remove the delinquency, the reported amount of which was just $156. I won’t have excellent credit again until 2026 and I’ll never patronize Comcast again unless there is no other option where I live.

        28, if an individual holds an asset, the individual tax rules are the rules that will apply. You need an organization to have tax-exempt status.

        • 0 avatar

          Thank you so much. There is a Protestant reverend in my region who also owns a lot of rentals in his/wife’s name, one of which happens to be beside to me and it had been empty since November. Was going to approach him to see if a deal could be made. Thanks again Dal.

          • 0 avatar


            You should ask the good rev if he’s heard of a 1031 exchange. If you buy/sell two like-kind properties (i.e., investment to investment) that gets you out of cap gains.

        • 0 avatar

          Ah, that makes more sense, dal. Non-medical collections will indeed put the hurt on your credit score. That sucks.

          Kind of surprised it’d be a 80 point hit, though. In any case, 720 credit should be fine to get bought for a mortgage, but pricing is another matter.

          • 0 avatar

            Long story short, I didn’t refi then, and the hit was indeed 80 points or so. Now I’m in the process of applying for a big construction loan (we are going to add a story to, and gut-remodel, our crappy old house), and my 750 score is right on the bubble for the best pricing. I’m paying credit cards off twice a month (reducing reported utilization) and avoiding any other credit inquiries to try to stay above the 750 threshold.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sorry to bother and understand if you decline, but I was curious could your clarify a generic tax question? Would an ordained minister be subject to capital gains tax on sale of real estate or a stock held in their name and not the church/organization? Thank you very much, I understand if a response cann be given.

  • avatar

    It appears that the ballyhooed variable compression setup really didn’t deliver all that much in terms of the economy/power tradeoff. Has anybody seen info on how reliable this has been in the Infinitis?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’m unhappy that this discredited engine has found its way into the Altima, even worse that it’s considered the upgrade.

      I can’t speak to its reliability, but Edmunds’ staff specifically went out of their way to avoid driving their long-term QX50 fitted with this awful drivetrain. Everyone there hated it, and their staff is usually pretty generous with their reports.

      To quote them:
      “The way the QX50 drives undermines the sophistication of its design. It feels cheap. The engine and transmission are both too slow to respond when you hit the gas pedal, and suddenly they react too quickly. The result is a car that’s hard to drive smoothly at low speeds.

      “The CVT [automatic] is painfully slow to adjust ratios on steep hills, like the one that leads to my house. I kept feeding in the gas pedal as the QX50 slowly trudged up, refusing to engage a lower gear ratio. It wasn’t until I was seemingly at three-quarter throttle that the ratio finally changed. Hard to think how this left the development stage.”

      “In February (2019), we tooled around close to home but still managed to add more than 1,100 miles to the QX50. That’s remarkable considering the near-universal disdain we have for this car now. The engine and transmission combination is just so bad that no one wants to drive it. Driving the QX50 is like making a batch of chocolate chip cookies with spoiled milk.”

  • avatar

    I’m not a fan of Nissans CVT transmissions but I just turned in a new rental Sentra SV and it was genuinely fun to drive. The transmission was incredibly responsive and kicked down almost instantaneously. A night and day improvement over the previous insufferable model. Whatever they did I hope they do it to other models.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay


    • 0 avatar

      Pretty much!

      I just suffered through a week-and-three-quarters with a 2021 Altima SV from Enterprise, my insurance’s captive rental agency, while my Accord was repaired.

      There is absolutely nothing whatsoever to recommend this car over Toyota or Honda! The engine is buzzy and the CVT probably wouldn’t make it to 75,000 miles without grenading! The safety nanny kit is incomplete compared to the standard fare on the aforementioned cars. I will say that the seats are comfortable, and the visibility to the rear-quarter is a little better than my Accord, though the mirrors are tiny. The flat-bottomed wheel is standard in all trims, and takes some adjustment!

      Unfortunately, leather seats and a few interior spiffs probably wouldn’t change my opinion of the basic vehicle, though the ProPilot system might be interesting to try, and the optional Bose stereo might help matters more. But this review seems to be like the rest of the reviews of the Nissans with this engine, in that the idea may be good, but falls flat in execution!

      If I had to have any vehicle in this (diminished) class that didn’t include Honda or Toyota, I’d seriously look at one of the HyundKia offerings before I’d pick this or the Subaru.

  • avatar

    Sport Sedan and CVT don’t go together.

  • avatar

    In the Summer of 2019 my wife and I drove a 2019 Altima rental on a 2500 road trip, and we though it was about the perfect car for our mid-country interstate outing. Even with 80-MPH speed limits half of the time we got just about 40mpg. The 2.5 liter engine provided plenty of power. It was comfortable, quiet. Nice size trunk, and all the modern electronic safety goodies like blind spot warning, smart cruise control, etc.

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