2019 Nissan Altima First Review
- Two new engines add power, sportiness
- New Altima is longer, lower and wider
- All-wheel drive is available for the first time
- Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard
- Pricing starts at $24,645 (including destination charges)
This is a great time to buy a midsize sedan. While manufacturers have shifted their focus to ever-expanding portfolios of crossover SUVs, midsize sedans have become roomier, more fuel efficient and, in many cases, sportier. Following the introductions of the all-new Honda Accord and Toyota Camry last year comes the all-new 2019 Nissan Altima. The new Nissan offers two new engines, including an innovative turbocharged 4-cylinder that replaces the previous model’s V6. Its sportier attitude makes the new Altima a blast to drive, and the addition of an all-wheel-drive option gives the Nissan midsize sedan newfound all-season appeal.
Just like putting up a new building, an all-new car’s strengths start at the foundation. In the case of the Nissan Altima, that foundation enjoys less weight than past models, credited to the use of more high-strength steel. Nissan also made the Altima’s platform lower, longer and wider, bringing down the center of gravity and making the car more planted on the road. When the engineers worked on the chassis, they prioritized how sharp and accurate the Altima feels. They worked on how the rack-mounted electric power steering responds to driver input. They updated the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which is available with paddle shifters on the SR model. They added Intelligent Ride Control to smooth the ride over bumps, and Intelligent Trace Control that can apply brakes to keep the car going in the right direction when cornering.
The other major part of the equation is under the hood, where the Altima is available with two new engines, both of which are 4-cylinder units. The first is the Altima’s flagship engine, a 2.0-liter variable-compression turbocharger (VC-T) that replaces the previous model’s V6. While the new engine has less horsepower than the V6 did, torque is higher (up 29 lb-ft to 280), and both horsepower and torque peak at lower rpm, making it easier to make the best use of both. It’s called a variable-compression turbo because the engine’s compression ratio changes frequently as the situation calls for it. It can range from 8:1, which prioritizes performance, to 14:1, for better fuel efficiency. As you’re accelerating to get on the freeway, for example, the ratio would be closer to 8:1, but once you’re cruising at freeway speed, the ratio would adjust to be closer to 14:1. This technology lets you experience the power of a V6 without the fuel economy penalty of a 6-cylinder engine. Nissan estimates the fuel economy improvement of the 2.0 VC-T over the previous V6 is three combined mpg, up from 26 to 29. The second 4-cylinder is similar to the standard engine in the previous Altima -- it’s a 2.5-liter inline-4, but the new engine has 80 percent new parts, now uses direct injection, and puts out more horsepower, while being quieter and more fuel efficient. Both engines use a continuously variable transmission.
On the road
How does all of this new technology work on the road? We started with the SR trim level, which has different suspension tuning, paddle shifters, and 19-inch wheels, and uses the VC-T engine. Power comes on quickly and with ease, and response from a stop is excellent. As a side note, a version of this engine also powers the Infiniti QX50 SUV. The Altima’s version has 20 fewer horsepower than in the QX50. The VC-T’s engine sounds a bit unrefined, and while that may not be a perfect fit for a luxury vehicle, it complements the Altima’s newfound sporty attitude. The CVT’s paddle shifters encourage the driver to get more involved in the process, but if you don’t put the Altima in Sport mode – check out the little button on the bottom front of the transmission shifter for that – it’ll go back to Drive within a few seconds. The ride is tuned slightly firmer in the SR, and handling is quite good. It isn’t as good as the segment-best Mazda6, but the SR’s handling makes the Altima confident and competent on twisty roads. We spent time in the Altima Platinum Edition One, the only Altima to come standard with the VC-T engine, and found the ride comfortable on an extended drive down the California coast. The ride does feel firmer than in other midsize sedans. Also noteworthy are the Altima’s seats. Nissan already had excellent seats, but these have added bolstering compared to those in the prior Altima. They are comfortable and supportive, there were no feelings of fatigue or achiness after several hours behind the wheel. These are arguably the best seats you can get in a midsize sedan.
We also drove the Altima with the base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. We anticipate this will be the volume seller. The new 2.5-liter is an engine that will satisfy most drivers. It has 188 horsepower, up nine horses from last year, and highway fuel economy as good as 39 mpg, a touch higher than last year. This engine offers decent power in nearly every situation, but you can feel it work harder on grades and when passing other cars on the freeway. It’s also much quieter than the previous base engine.
New looks, new interior
If an Altima is on your shopping list, it’ll be fairly easy to tell the 2019 from the previous model. It has a lower, hunkered-down stance, plus new chiseled lines and a smoother, sharper nose. The biggest styling difference: a new angular C-pillar design that’s reminiscent the big-brother Maxima.
Inside, the materials quality and design are huge improvements over the prior Altima. Features are easy to use, too: The center stack puts the navigation touch screen, climate controls, and audio knobs within easy reach. The Altima has a new infotainment system, and Apple CarPlay is standard. There are USB and USB-C ports available in both rows. Also offered for 2nd-row passengers are their own vents. One of our past Altima nitpicks was the “rental car beige” interior color. That’s gone for 2019: The beige has been replaced by a light gray that makes the interior look more upscale. There’s also a black interior color choice, and a sport interior with contrast stitching. The interior has plenty of room, but interestingly, the longer wheelbase and overall vehicle length that the new platform provides don’t translate into more passenger room. While front headroom is slightly better, rear headroom and front and rear legroom are down slightly. That added length doesn’t show up in the trunk, either: While the trunk is spacious, its 15.4-cubic-foot volume remains unchanged compared to last year. What the new Altima does have is more shoulder room in both rows.
The Altima comes with a wide array of safety features, many of which are included in Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 suite. Many safety features are standard, including 10 airbags, automatic emergency braking, and intelligent forward-collision warning. Move up to the SR, and you receive rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning. SV and higher trims add pedestrian detection to the auto emergency braking, plus rear auto braking, lane-departure warning, and ProPILOT Assist, a driver assistance system that uses adaptive cruise control and cameras to keep the Altima centered in the lane and a safe distance from the car ahead. It’s an effective system, and the braking and the lane-centering system worked quite well. If we had one wish, it would be the ability to adjust how quickly the Altima accelerates to return to freeway speed after a stop. It’s a tough balance to find, especially in traffic, but if you have too much space ahead of you on a busy freeway in a big city, someone will inevitably dive into that spot. ProPILOT Assist is the only way you can get adaptive cruise control on the new Altima.
The other big news on the Altima safety front is the availability of all-wheel drive. Nissan makes this available on any Altima that’s equipped with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, making this an easy-to-attain option, not something that’s reserved for the top-of-the-line models. For an extra $1,350 you get a system that adjusts torque distribution as the situation calls for it. It offers a 50:50 front/rear power-divide ratio on initial acceleration, a 100:0 ratio for better fuel economy, and a 30:70 ratio when cornering. It also comes with hill-start assist.
Models and Features
The 2019 Nissan Altima comes to market in October 2018 facing a few big challenges. First, sedan sales, while still healthy, are down. Second, there’s some excellent competition in the form of the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. However, with the improvements and new attitude of the Altima, it should be a compelling sporty alternative to those two top dogs – and neither the Accord nor the Camry are available with all-wheel drive.
The 2019 Nissan Altima will be available in six trim levels, and the base Altima S comes with an impressive array of standard features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a power driver’s seat, and USB ports for front and rear passengers. The Altima Edition One will be a limited run of 3,900 cars only built at launch. Only the SR, Platinum and Edition One are available with the VC-T. It’s a $4,500 option with the SR, $3,000 with the Platinum, and standard with the Edition One. All Altimas that are powered with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder are available with all-wheel drive, as a $1,350 option. The only option is the premium package. All prices include $895 destination.
Starting MSRP: $24,645
2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, CVT
Automatic emergency braking
Intelligent driver alertness
8-way power driver’s seat
60/40-split folding rear seat
NissanConnect w/8-inch display
7-inch advanced drive assist display
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility
USB charge ports -- 2 front, type-A (the current standard) and type-C, and 2 rear, type-A/type-C
Remote engine start
Starting MSRP: $25,995
19-inch alloy wheels with sport suspension
Sport exterior and interior trim
Leather steering wheel and shift knob
Rear cross-traffic alert
Starting MSRP: $28,825
LED fog lights
17-inch alloy wheels
Heated front seats and steering wheel
2-way driver power lumbar support
Heated outside mirrors
Outside mirror LED indicators
Electronic parking brake with auto-hold
Rear sonar parking sensors
Dual-zone climate control
Safety Shield 360
Starting MSRP: $30,735
9-speaker Bose audio
Integrated navigation with Nissan Connect Services
4-way power passenger seat
Starting MSRP: $32,675
19-inch alloy wheels
Around View Monitor with moving-object detection
Driver memory seat
Interior accent lighting
Altima Platinum Edition One
Starting MSRP: $36,645
Edition One Nissan Concierge
Unique 19-inch alloy wheels
Edition One floormats
External ground lighting
Premium Package (optional with the 2.5-liter, standard with the VC-T)
Heated front seats
Heated outside mirrors