SANTA BARBARA, Calif.
ó Much has been made of the fact that many Americans now drive
some form of light truck. Sales of SUVs, crossovers and pickups are
closing in on 70 percent of U.S. new vehicle sales. Yes, we have
become a nation of truck drivers. But that doesnít mean that cars
no longer matter. They do, accounting for 6 million units a year in
sales in the United States, of which one-third are midsize cars.
(Thatís 2 million units a year for the math adverse.)
This is why Nissan
redesigned the Altima for 2019 with all-new platform and two new
engines with all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. Given that the
Subaru Legacy is the only other all-wheel drive midsize sedan,
Nissan has a huge selling advantage in Northern climes. The $1,350
AWD option is available on all models, which include S, SR, SV, SL
and Platinum trims. However, itís only offered with the base
engine, a direct injected 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 188
horsepower. Replacing the previous Altimaís 270-horsepower
3.5-liter V-6 engine on upper-level SR and Platinum models is the
VC-Turbo, the worldís first production variable compression
turbocharged engine. The 248-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged
engine has been under development for two decades. Itís trick? It
continuously raises or lowers the pistonsí reach, changing from
8:1 for high performance to 14:1 for high fuel efficiency. But
itís only offered with front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive.
Both engines mate to a continuously variable automatic transmission.
And itís safe,
thanks to standard Automatic Emergency Braking, Intelligent Forward
Collision Warning and Intelligent Driver Alertness. A Safety Shield
360 package is optional and adds Automatic Emergency Braking with
Pedestrian Detection, Rear Automatic Braking, Lane Departure
Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and High Beam
On my recent drive in
Santa Barbara, Calif., Nissan provided SR and Platinum models for
Certainly, the new
VC-T engine provides more thrills than its larger non-turbo sibling.
Power off the line is strong, and care is needed to avoid squealing
tires. The engine and transmission seem well matched, with the
transmission doing its best impersonation of a conventional
transmission under hard acceleration, and delivering a fun
experience. However, it requires premium fuel while returning the
lowest fuel economy of any Altima. In contrast, the base engine uses
regular unleaded gasoline and returns better fuel economy. But power
is merely adequate; itís not nearly as entertaining. If you live
in a hilly region, youíll find the 2.5-liter challenged by
inclines, especially with the added weight of all-wheel drive.
Nevertheless, the transmission feels more linear than before,
lacking the rubber banding typically found in CVTs. Regardless of
model, comfort and refinement are this carís hallmarks. Itís
agile and provides impressive grip, and a well-mannered chassis. But
itís no sports sedan.
The polished demeanor
can best be seen in the interior, where a large 8-inch infotainment
touchscreen anchors the sleek, contemporary instrument panel. Apple
CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and the chip set used
operates quickly. And techies take note: this might be the only car
to offer two USB and two USB-C ports. Cabin trim quality varies from
trim to trim, with some evidence that accountants have been at work,
but overall quality is satisfying for the price. The cabin itself is
roomy both front and rear thanks to a two-inch longer wheelbase, an
extra inch in width and overall length, although itís one inch
Itís wrapped in the
finest interpretation yet of Nissanís current design language.
While still aggressive, thereís a refinement to its appearance
that makes it perfect for midsize sedan duty, dancing on the edge of
mild and wild. Itís quite a sharp-looking ride.
But is it enough to
make a crossover shopper give up their ride for an Altima? Most
likely not; itís merely an improved version of what has come
before. Nevertheless, the 2019 Nissan Altima offers an impressively
upscale appearance and feature list at a popular price. That was
true of the first Altima in 1993, which looked much like a shrunken
Infiniti J30. Six generations on, the 2019 Altima is better in every
way. Itís clearly Nissanís ultimate Altima.
Perhaps it should
have been called the Altimate.
Vehicle type: Midsize
Double-overhead-cam 2.5-liter four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy
(city/highway): 25-28/35-39 mpg
Length: 192.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 15.4
Towing capacity: xx