With the mid-sized sedan segment contracting over the last decade, the players left have had to employ every trick in the book to stay competitive. In the midst of the category stands the Nissan Altima. While never the most exciting entry (save for the early 2000s SE-R version), the Altima is usually seen as an also-ran against its main Japanese competition. Not as visible as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, but slightly better than the domestic brands. However, with the Americans retreating from the space in favor of crossovers and the remaining players going all out to cement their stakes, Nissan has decided to do the latter with their all new, redesigned Altima. Does it still have what it takes to stay relevant?
To be honest, the word that best describes the Altima is handsome. The front end is perhaps the best part. The styling is dramatic and handsome, employing the V-Motion grille that’s instantly recognizable as a current Nissan product. Drawing styling cues from the bigger Maxima, the Altima is quite handsome even borrowing the black swoosh at the C-pillar. Despite being a rental lot darling, the new Altima at least tries to avoid the wallflower look. It’s also leaner looking than its predecessor, which I often found had a bloated look. If you find the Toyota Camry too “in your face” and the new Hyundai Sonata TOO dramatic, the Altima might just be your ticket.
Inside, the Altima continues the inoffensive theme with a nicely detailed cockpit. Materials are good for being a base model and Nissan’s Zero Gravity seats are comfortable, yet supportive in all the right places. Controls are straightforward and easy to use, especially the 8″ touchscreen which sports actual knobs for volume and tuning! The screen was slow on the input/response time but the infotainment does come standard with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Strangely, the steering wheel has a flat bottom which, to my mind anyway, is an element from racing. The rear is spacious with good leg and head room and, while not offering rear A/C/ vents (go up a model for that), does come with dual USB charging ports. The gauges are legible and have an LCD screen in-between for viewing trip info, sound system settings and maintenance items.
Power comes from a 2.5-liter, direct-injected four cylinder with 188 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) routes power through the front wheels. All-wheel-drive is an option, though Nissan limits this to the 2.5-liter. The base engine has adequate power but the CVT, while excellent for fuel economy, sucks any life out of the driving experience. The CVT just doesn’t do it for me, BUT, Nissan has been stubbornly polishing this transmission for many years. They’ve mostly eliminated the constant droning of earlier variants and the transmission does as passable job of simulating “gear shifts”. Speaking of fuel economy, the base Altima is rates at 28-mpg city/39-mpg highway with a combined 32-mpg. In my brief three days, I was somewhere around the 29-mpg which isn’t bad for a mid-sized sedan these days.
The 2020 Nissan Altima also comes with a comprehensive suite of driver assistance and safety tech, of which, only forward collision with automatic emergency braking comes standard on the base S model. Step up to the SL and you’ll get access to Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, a self driving feature that uses adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist and warning. Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are also included in this suite. Also not on my base tester is Nissan’s slick 360 degree camera system, which allows multiple exterior views for driver awareness.
On the road, the 2020 Nissan Altima is comfortable and quiet. With the comfy seats, I could literally spend hours on a road trip without feeling too much fatigue. The weak part of the driving experience however, is the steering. Like other sedans, the Altima features electric power steering which, while having good assist, is vague and lacks feel. Want to know how far you’re pushing the limits of tire adhesion? Good luck, you’ll have to listen for tire squeal to find out.
Thrashing the Altima on some back roads, I really couldn’t tell what the front wheels were doing. It tries but the Altima doesn’t relish them. If you want a more exciting model, step up to the SR model with the new 2.0-liter turbo 4 cylinder. With 248 horsepower, the CVT pairs better. Besides, who says more horsepower doesn’t cure all? The problem here is that the Honda Accord and Mazda6 exist. Want a more engaging drive? Those two fit the bill with the Toyota Camry a close third. That said, the 90-odd percent of you looking for a comfortable family car (and maybe not a crossover) will find the Altima just fine for daily use.
There’s plenty to like here. That Nissan decided to stick with the Altima is admirable and shows there’s still a lot of market share left in the midsized segment. As much as the Altima doesn’t scratch my fun-to-drive itch, it is still a competent sedan. The 2020 Altima shows there’s still life in this segment and should be on the shopping list of anyone looking for a comfortable sedan.