The cars I love are easy for me to write about. The cars I hate are even easier. It’s the ones in the middle that cause me to tear my hair out and gnash my teeth. The 2020 Nissan Altima is one of those in-between cars. I spent a week with an Altima 2.5 SR AWD recently, and I’ve been struggling to put my impressions into words ever since.
Altima entered its sixth generation of production last year. It has been sold in the U.S. since the 1993 model year, and is now a mid-size four-door sedan that slots in the Nissan lineup between the compact Sentra and slightly larger Maxima.
My SR trim-level test car wore a coat of premium paint ($395) called “Sunset Drift Chromaflair,” which suited the car nicely, contrasting with the dark chrome Vmotion grille in the front and 19-inch alloy wheels. Like the Maxima, Altima has rather long overhangs front and rear, riding on a 111.2-inch wheelbase with a 192.9-inch overall length. Unlike the assertive Maxima, though, Altima’s exterior is rather sedate. Standard LED lighting is a welcome flourish. Comparing Altima to Maxima is like a before-and-after from a workout video. Altima is the before – the kind of scrawny guy; and Maxima is the after – the musclebound fitness model. Guess which one is more attractive and exciting.
Inside, Altima’s dash is fine – uncluttered and intelligently laid out, with an eight-inch touchscreen display at the top (where it belongs) and an instrument panel shrouded beneath a cowl. The passenger’s view is rather ordinary and lacking detail, and the center console seems overly thick and a little clunky. Nothing horrible here – just nothing great.
Under the hood, a new (last year) naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine cranks out 182 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque. Nissan’s Xtronic CVT (continuously variable automatic transmission) sends the power to the ground – in the case of my all-wheel drive test car, that means to all four wheels, but with a front-wheel drive bias and capable of sending up to 50 percent of the power to the rear when required. Four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear) handles the bumps and potholes. The EPA estimates that Altima can achieve 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway/29 mpg combined, very respectable numbers for an all-wheel drive sedan.
Why am I so wishy-washy about the Altima? Partly because I used to be so excited about it. Altima debuted as a 1992 model, and entered its sixth generation of production in 2019. My favorite all-time Altima was the exciting two-door Altima coupe variant of 2008 – 2013. Altima was stylish, sexy and carried some of the swashbuckling character of the Z into the realm of the mid-size commuter car.
I’m less excited about the current Altima – it has the feel of a fleet rental car, at least in SR trim like my test car, which carried a $27,050 base price ($30,720 as tested). It has to compete in a very competitive segment with excellent cars like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. The availability of all-wheel drive is an advantage for Altima, in a class where everybody else uses front-wheel drive. But that’s one of Altima’s few decisive wins.
I know that we’ve all heard that sedans are on their way out, but in reality, we’re probably at the extreme reach of a pendulum swing from sedans to SUVs and trucks. I don’t think the 2020 Nissan Altima is the sedan that will get the pendulum swinging back in the direction of sedans.