2020 Nissan Altima SV AWD — Likable but not lovable

By Jim Prueter

(September 7, 2019) It was just a few years ago that the mid-size Nissan Altima was sedan the fifth best-selling vehicle in the U.S. behind nameplates like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry sedans. But in the last couple of years sedans have mostly fallen out of favor with car shoppers who prefer SUVs, crossover utility vehicles and pickup trucks. And despite a vastly improved all-new sixth-generation Altima for 2019 with it’s significantly improved driving dynamics and sharp contemporary new styling sales have continued to fall and are down another 14 percent so far this year.

Still, not all new car buyers have jumped on the SUV craze with hundreds of thousands preferring the less expensive benefits of driving a midsized family sedan. Like many of its competitors who have remained dedicated to the family sedan, the new Altima is loaded with new features and improvements but are they enough to lead the pack of outstanding competitors in their segment?

For 2020 Nissan remains mainly unchanged from last year’s completely new Altima. Altima is offered in a choice of five different trim levels with each now offering all-wheel drive for the first time available for $1,350.

We tested the mid-level SV trim with all-wheel drive and powered by the revised 2.5-liter 182-horsepower 4-cylinder engine delivered through Nissans Xtronic continuous variable automatic transmission. Nissan tells us the all-wheel drive system is basically identical to their Rogue and other crossover utility vehicles.

The last generation Altima offered a V6 engine but that’s gone for this year and is replaced by a new 248-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine the same that’s used in the up market Infiniti QX-50 SUV. However the more powerful 2.0-liter is not available with the all-wheel drive option.

On the road we found our 2.5-liter powered Altima to be pleasantly responsive with quick acceleration reaching 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and ample power when passing other vehicles on the highway. While not a fan of CVT transmissions Nissan has done a credible job of mimicking a traditional multi-speed conventional automatic transmission. We recorded a respectable 31 mpg overall during our weeklong testing.

We found that handling isn’t particularly a strong feature for the Altima particularly in corners where body roll was exaggerated. The Altima clearly favors a smoother, more comfortable ride and handling than a sportier driving experience. Both the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have sharper steering and more responsive handling and engaging to drive.

Inside, the Altima’s interior is rather simple and unremarkable in design however it does seem well built with good fit and finish and a nice grade of materials.  Up front there’s ample room for even tall drivers with plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustments to find a comfortable position for drivers and occupants of almost any size. The rear seat has plenty of room for average size adults but those taller will wish for more headroom. We also found the doors to be on the small size making entering and exiting more involved than should be necessary.

We do heap praise for the Zero Gravity front seats that are the most comfortable and supportive in the class. Our test car came equipped with cloth upholstery that looked good and felt good along with an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat standard. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are standard along with dual zone air conditioning and heated outside mirrors.

There’s a brand-new infotainment interface operated via an 8-inch color display with multi-touch control that’s up from a 5-inch screen in the previous generation. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay which were previously optional are now standard. All operating controls are extremely user friendly and both intuitive and easy to use with redundant knobs for audio and temperature controls. Other standard features include a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, satellite radio, four USB ports, and voice recognition. Available features include navigation and a nine-speaker Bose audio system.

All trim levels come standard with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Our SV added blind spot warning, rear automatic braking, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, intelligent lane intervention, electronic parking brake with auto-hold feature, and Nissan’s Pro-PILOT Assist driver assistance technology.

The feature does an excellent job of keeping you centered in your lane and maintaining enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. You must however activate the vehicle’s cruise control to engage the Pro-PILOT feature.

With the new Altima’s edgy and attractive new exterior styling, it’s roomy interior, comfortable seats, user-friendly operating controls and advanced safety features it’s clearly an improvement than the previous generation but isn’t a standout among competitors like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata. Still, buyers do get a lot of value for their money, especially with the availability of all-wheel drive and the standard advanced safety equipment.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $30,225
Price as Tested: $32,495
Engine: 2.5-liter 182-hp 4-cylinder teamed with a CVT automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 26-mpg city – 36-mpg highway – 30-mpg combined
Seating: 5

Where Built: Smyrna, Tennessee

Crash Test Ratings: Top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the highest possible 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Malibu
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata
Kia optima
Volkswagen Passat

Fab Features
Roomy interior, comfortable seats
Loaded with standard safety and tech features
Easy to use operating controls and infotainment