2019 Nissan Altima first drive review: More compelling than ever

Nissan pulls out all the stops for the sixth generation of its midsize sedan.

Emme Hall

Emme Hall

Editor / Cars

I love 2-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, 7-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.

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2019 Nissan Altima

2019 Nissan Altima


Read Roadshow's in-depth review of the 2019 Nissan Altima

We've seen five generations of the Nissan Altima come and go since the sedan launched in the US in 1992. The affordable, midsize sedan has seen continuous improvement generation over generation, while never really shaking up the formula too much. And while this sixth-gen, 2019 model doesn't stray from the Altima's tried and true form factor either, it's arguably the model's biggest step forward yet.

Optional AWD

For starters, the 2019 Altima is the first to offer optional all-wheel drive. Buyers can add AWD to any Altima equipped with the base, 2.5-liter engine for a $1,350 premium. Currently, the only other midsize sedans to offer all-wheel drive are the Subaru Legacy and Ford Fusion. Not every AWD buyer wants a crossover, after all.

Watch this: A new and very much improved 2019 Nissan Altima

Speaking of the 2.5, it may be the base engine, but it's been substantially reworked for the 2019 model year. Nissan says over 80 percent of the engine's parts are new, and both power and fuel efficiency are improved as a result. Engine output is rated at 188 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, and Nissan estimates a combined fuel economy rating of 32 miles per gallon (or 30 mpg with AWD).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sample the 2.5-liter Altima on my test drive near Santa Barbara, California. Managing Editor Steven Ewing had a go in a prototype earlier this year, however, and he had nice things to say about the Altima's base engine.

Turbo magic

Instead, I spent time with the Altima's range-topping engine: the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo I4 also found in the Infiniti QX50 crossover. The "VC" stands for "variable compression," a magical bit of engineering that can alter the reach of a piston with every stroke. The result is a compression ratio that extends from 8:1 for maximum performance to 14:1 for better efficiency.

The best part is, you don't feel any of it working -- the VC-Turbo engine behaves just like any other 2.0T powerplant. The compression changes are imperceptible, and the engine produces a healthy 248 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which fully comes alive at 1,600 rpm. With this much low-end grunt, it's easy to dart in and out of traffic on crowded city streets, and midrange punch is ample.

2019 Nissan Altima
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2019 Nissan Altima

Nissan will only offer 3,900 units of the Edition One trim line of the Altima.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Nissan estimates the VC-Turbo will help the Altima return 29 mpg combined. That's not a substantial penalty over the base 2.5-liter engine, and bests the combined fuel economy ratings of the 2.0-liter-equipped Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu, not to mention the 2.5-liter turbocharged Mazda6 and V6-powered Toyota Camry.

Unfortunately, you can only get the VC-Turbo engine as a $4,050 upgrade on the SR model, or as a $3,000 upgrade on the top-level Platinum. And again, all-wheel drive can't be had with VC-Turbo power. For now, anyway.

Regardless of engine choice, every Altima comes with a continuously variable transmission. Nissan's CVTs are some of the best, and that's no different in the new Altima. The transmission is great at mimicking the action of a traditional automatic gearbox, with simulated gear changes and none of that annoying, buzzy drone.

ProPilot tech

Nissan's ProPilot Assist semiautomated tech is standard on SV grades and above. This system combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping technology, activated all at once by pressing the blue button on the steering wheel. You have to keep your hands on the wheel at all times, but ProPilot essentially lets the car handle highway cruising for you, bringing the Altima to a complete stop in traffic jams and holding the car in place until the car in front of you starts to move.

Automatic rear braking, emergency braking with pedestrian detection and traffic sign recognition are new features, standard on higher-trim Altimas. Local speed limits can be displayed on the gauge cluster, but note that this tech does not yet adjust your cruise control settings to comply with changing limits. We're just now starting to see that kind of tech on higher-end luxury cars, but it's not quite ready for mainstream prime time just yet.

2019 Nissan Altima
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2019 Nissan Altima

Nissan's ProPilot semiautomated technology can take much of the stress out of highway driving.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

A driver alert system is standard on all trims, which monitors your steering inputs and, if it thinks you might be drowsy or distracted, will suggest that you take a break. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on all but the very base Altima, and midlevel models and above get standard lane departure warning.

Great standard infotainment

No matter which Altima you choose, you'll get an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included. Navigation is optional on higher trims, and features a point-of-interest search function that'll take you right to the nearest sandwich shop if you so desire. (Finally, a POI function for folks like me.)

Nissan doesn't offer a Wi-Fi hotspot in the new Altima, but two modern USB Type-C ports are on offer, as well as two normal USB Type-A connectors, for those of us who don't have super-newfangled cables.

What's cookin', good lookin'?

The 2019 Altima is lower, longer and wider than its predecessor, with two additional inches of length found in the wheelbase. Nissan says the design was heavily influenced by the company's VMotion 2.0 concept we saw at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. It's been toned down for production, of course, but the Altima's front fascia and LED lighting show a clear resemblance to this concept car.

2019 Nissan Altima: Sharper looks, turbo power and a lot more tech

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Inside, the longer wheelbase means there's room for passengers, and the cabin is open and airy. Nissan's "Zero Gravity" seats are found inside, and while they don't actually throw Newton's theories to the wind, they're easily some of the most comfortable and supportive in the segment.

The Altima's 15.4 cubic feet of trunk space is midpack, but still ample. It's a bigger boot than what you'll find in the Mazda6, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry, but the Altima's cargo-carrying capability is bested by the Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata.

Fiercely competitive

The 2019 Altima rolls into Nissan showrooms in October, priced from $23,750 for a base S, not including $895 for destination. A fully loaded VC-Turbo tester comes in at $34,780. And if you want one that looks like the car pictured here, one of the 3,900 Edition One models, that'll be about $36,000.

With its healthier offering of tech, and the benefit of available all-wheel drive, the Altima goes from simply competitive to being one of the more well-rounded offerings in the midsize sedan class.

Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.