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2020 Nissan Altima Road Test and Review

Now into its second model year after a complete redesign for 2019, the 2020 Nissan Altima is the brand’s best-selling sedan. It features a low, wide stance, short overhangs, a deep-set V-Motion grille flanked by boomerang-shaped headlamps, and a Maxima-inspired floating roofline. And it’s one of the few mainstream-brand mid-size sedans available with all-wheel drive. For 2020, the Altima expands the availability of its Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of driver-assistive technologies to all trims. The Altima’s competitors include the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat, and Mazda6. Including the $895 destination charge, the 2020 Altima lineup includes the base $24,995 Altima S, the sporty $26,595 Altima SR, midgrade $28,775 Altima SV, well-equipped $31,135 Altima SL, and loaded $33,075 Altima Platinum. All-wheel drive is a $1,350 upcharge.

  1. Standard Engine
  2. Variable-Compression Turbo
  3. Cushy Cabin
  4. 'Zero Gravity' Seats
  5. Staying Connected
  6. Honing Your ProPiloting Skills
  7. Back Seat Moves
  8. Safety Shield 360
  9. Altima Dynamics
  10. Solid Value
Standard Engine

Standard Engine

The Altima's base engine is a direct-injected 188-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 180 lb-ft of torque. On AWD models, these specs drop to 182 hp and 178 lb-ft. All 2020 Altimas use the latest iteration of Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, on SR trims only, bring a measure of manual shift control. The 2.5-liter burns regular unleaded fuel and is reasonably peppy around town. However, buyers who drive at higher altitudes or in hilly terrain might want to consider the more powerful optional 2.0-liter VC-Turbo engine with its superior acceleration for freeway merging and two-lane passing confidence. Nissan’s Intelligent All-Wheel Drive, available solely with the 2.5-liter engine, adds snow-country capability.  EPA fuel economy estimates for this engine range from 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway/32 mpg combined for front-wheel drive S, SV, or SL models with the 16 or 17-inch wheels to 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway/29 mpg combined for all-wheel drive SR and Platinum versions with 19-inch wheels. Testing an SV model with AWD, I averaged 38.1 mpg on an 1,800-mile round trip from Tucson, Arizona to Park City, Utah. That’s pretty impressive considering the roominess and comfort of Nissan’s stylish mid-size sedan.

Variable-Compression Turbo

Variable-Compression Turbo

To get a V6-powered Nissan sedan, you’ll have to switch to a Maxima, but Nissan does offer a lively four-cylinder turbo for the Altima. Despite a recommended diet of more expensive premium unleaded fuel, the 2.0-liter VC-Turbo four-cylinder is the engine you’ll want for brisk performance, confident merging from freeway onramps, and easy overtaking on two-lane rural roads. It’s the world’s first production variable-compression inline turbo four-cylinder, rated at a V6-worthy 248 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, available in front-drive versions of the Altima SR and Platinum trims. The VC-Turbo’s enthusiastic exhaust note adds some driving fun. Unfortunately, two years into the current generation car, AWD is still not available in Altimas equipped with the turbo engine even though the mechanically similar VC-Turbo-powered Infiniti QX50 SUV can be had with AWD. This puts the Altima at a disadvantage compared to the Subaru Legacy, which is available with a peppy turbo engine and comes standard with all-wheel drive. EPA estimates for this lively engine are 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combined.

Cushy Cabin

Cushy Cabin

Roomy and spacious, the Altima’s cabin beckons with upgraded materials, a modern-looking low and wide instrument panel design, and a generous roster of comfort and convenience features. Standard amenities include push-button start, nicely padded armrests, a grippy flat-bottom steering wheel, and plenty of storage in the console bin, glovebox, doors, and a handy tray ahead of the shifter. There are four illuminated USB ports, one each Type A and Type C in both front and back seat areas. Also standard is remote engine start, with SV and higher models adding an added intelligent climate control feature. SV and higher trims also bring a standard moonroof, auto up/down front windows, and dual-zone automatic climate control. New for 2020 are piano black interior accents in the SV, SL, and Platinum grades. Areas that could use improvement include the back window, which suffers some veiling glare in bright sunlight; reduced rearward visibility due to the center high mounted stop lamp on the rear package shelf; and hard plastic on the sides of the console and door armrests that press against your knees in turns.

'Zero Gravity' Seats

'Zero Gravity' Seats

Who knew our NASA space programs would someday lead to better car seats? The front chairs in the 2020 Altima, Nissan claims, have a NASA-inspired "Zero Gravity" seat design with multi-density foam support. While the seats don’t induce weightlessness, they tend to support the spine and lower torso, which makes them comfortable, supportive, and hotspot-free perches for longer treks — such as my 1,800-mile loop. Cloth upholstery covers the seats on S and SV trims, with a sporty cloth and faux-leather mix on the SR and leather standard on the SL and Platinum. SV and higher trims come with a heated steering wheel, heated and power-adjustable-lumbar front seats, and rear-seat heating/cooling vents. A power front passenger seat cheers the SL and Platinum. There are no ventilated or massaging seats available.

Staying Connected

Staying Connected

A handsome landscape-format 8-inch color infotainment touchscreen is standard on all models, so there’s no need to suffer with a smaller screen if you don’t opt for one of the top trims as in some competing models. Aside from generously sized touchscreen tiles, there are quick-key hard buttons along the screen’s bottom edge (including a day/night brightness control and a dedicated back button, yay!), analog volume and tuning knobs for quick adjustments without the need to scroll through menus, and handy steering wheel audio controls. It features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay cellphone connectivity, Bluetooth audio streaming, and hands-free voice recognition. The six-speaker AM/FM/MP3 stereo on the S, SR, and SV trims upgrades to a nine-speaker Bose premium audio system with HD radio on SL and Platinum grades. SiriusXM satellite radio, a hands-free text-messaging assistant plus Siri Eyes Free, and Google Assistant voice command are standard across the board. An embedded navigation system is standard in the SL and Platinum and adds SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link services. The only downside is the angle of the screen makes it susceptible to glare in bright or hazy sunlight.

Honing Your ProPiloting Skills

Honing Your ProPiloting Skills

Nissan's ProPilot Assist is standard on the Altima's SV, SL, and Platinum trims. This system is designed to help relieve some of the drudgery of the daily urban freeway commute. Using front-mounted radar and camera units plus various sensors, it’s a hands-on system that adds lane centering and minor steering corrective assist to the usual acceleration and braking features of an adaptive cruise control system with a full-speed range and stop-and-go capability. Leave your hands off the steering wheel for more than a few moments and the system will yell at you. Nissan notes that the system is intended for use only on well-marked limited-access highways and may not work on wet or snowy roads. It’s not very useful on curvy roads and will shut off if it can’t see well-defined lanes marking the lanes.

Back Seat Moves

Back Seat Moves

Back seat patrons get a fair shake in the Altima. It’s one of the roomier four-door sedans, with decent legroom and headroom for adults. Handy release levers just inside the upper edge of the trunk opening fold down the standard 60/40 split rear seatbacks for carrying longer items such as a step ladder inside the vehicle with the trunk lid closed. The trunk is a roomy 15.4 cubic feet with a generously sized opening. There is no fancy hands-free opening feature to pop open the trunk with a foot wave under the rear bumper, though.

Safety Shield 360

Safety Shield 360

All Altimas but the base 2.5 S model now come standard with Nissan Safety Shield 360, which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, high-beam assist, a lane-departure warning, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alerts. It’s an extraordinary value. These features are also optional in a Driver Assistance Package for the base 2.5 S. Other standard safety features include Intelligent Forward Collision Warning and Intelligent Driver Alertness. Automatic high beams work only with the light switch in “auto” mode. Intelligent Lane Intervention is added for SV and higher trims, and a traffic sign recognition system comes onboard for SL and Platinum models. The Platinum model also brings a standard around-view monitor, which displays an overhead view of the Altima and its immediate surroundings in real-time, stitched together from cameras in the front, rear and side mirrors of the vehicle.

Altima Dynamics

Altima Dynamics

While the Altima certainly looks sporty, its main focus is that of a family car. Improvements over the previous-generation Altima include reinforced structure and improved suspension geometry for crisper handling. A dual-pinion electric steering gear provides variable effort that lightens up the steering weight at low speeds for easy maneuverability and firms up at highway speeds to aid straight-line tracking. Ride motions are well-damped with no noticeable impact harshness over ruts and bumps. The base S model rolls on 215/60R16 all-season rubber, with 215/55R17 on the SV and SL. The SR trim brings a sportier tune to the suspension and, along with the Platinum, fits wider, grippier 235/40R19 rubber. Tall gearing makes the Altima is a quiet and relaxed cruiser on the highway, which also saves gas. At 35 mph, the engine lugs down to 1,100 rpm under light throttle. You’ll want the VC-Turbo for V6-like performance, but the impressive fuel economy of the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder and AWD availability make that latter engine a compelling choice for folks in Northern climes. The AWD system can automatically and infinitely distribute drive torque from 100 percent to the front wheels to 50 percent front/50 percent rear, depending on available traction and road conditions.

Solid Value

Solid Value

The 2020 Nissan Altima is a solid choice for buyers looking for a handsome mid-size sedan with coupe-like styling cues and a roomy interior. Its long list of standard infotainment tech and driver-assistive safety features make it a good value. And now, for the first time among Nissan sedans, it’s available with all-wheel drive. So if the main reason you were thinking of switching to an SUV was all-wheel drive traction, think again: The Altima’s got it.