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Our Nissan Altima Proves That Inoffensiveness Ain't a Bad Thing

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 5 days ago Rich Ceppos
a red car parked on the side of a road: The all-new Altima settles in for a long-haul, 40,000-mile test of its reliability at the hands of our hard-driving staff.© Brad Fick - Car and Driver The all-new Altima settles in for a long-haul, 40,000-mile test of its reliability at the hands of our hard-driving staff.

10,000-Mile Update

We've now spent six months and 13,000 miles with Nissan's new-for-2019 Altima and have come to this almost-unanimous conclusion: It's likable. Pleasant. Competent. Nice. But is that a blessing or a curse?

That depends. If you're a serious car enthusiast, you'll appreciate and maybe even respect the new Altima's strengths—its chiseled good looks; its roomy, well-dressed interior; and its nimble handling. But we've found it just doesn't bring the heat.

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Our long-term's 182-hp 2.5-liter inline-four is the culprit. We spec'd that engine rather than the optional 248-hp turbo four so we could also equip our car with all-wheel drive, which is only available with the base engine. The 2.5-liter masks its middling acceleration with sharp off-the-line throttle response, but when you ask for full power to merge or pass, it feels slower than it actually is. Exciting this version of the Altima will never be.

a red car parked next to a body of water: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

Then again, judging from our car's logbook comments, that's probably no issue for most of the family-car-buying public. Our Altima Platinum, the top model in the lineup, has revealed its pleasant character on drives long and short. It's trekked to Wisconsin, Chicago, and Mackinaw City—as far north as you can go in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. It's served as a workaday commuter and weekend errand runner and averaged an impressive 28 mpg to date.

"I think this chassis rivals the Accord's in terms of refinement and wheel control," noted staff editor Joey Capparella. "It's really pleasant to drive, even if it's not all that engaging." Indeed, the Altima felt as athletic as our long-term 2018 Honda Accord, which spent a short time in our fleet alongside the Nissan. But the Accord was equipped with its optional 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, which made it feel like fighter jet in comparison with the Altima.

a close up of a red car: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

For longer drives, we found the Altima a low-stress place to be. It's quiet on the highway, and the ride is adequately supple. The front seats are extremely comfortable, with a plush layer of foam under their leather covering. Staff editor Drew Dorian wrote, "I quite like this car. It's handsome and drives nicely." There's that word again.

Not that the Altima's niceness extended to every aspect of its personality. The Intelligent Lane Intervention feature, which attempts to keep the car centered in its lane when the adaptive cruise control is engaged, is obnoxious. If the driver allows the car to drift just a little too close to a lane marker, the system stabs a front brake and causes the car to jerk back into line. It's as subtle as a smack upside the head. Luckily, the system can be turned off. The rear automated-braking system has a habit of jamming on the brakes as we back into our office parking spots, apparently mistaking the approaching curb for a much taller objectr.

a close up of a piece of luggage: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

"Rear visibility is awful, due to the high rear decklid," reported staff editor Annie White. Nor is the Bose sound system up to that firm's normal standards. "The audio system is too bass heavy," noted staff editor Alex Stoklosa. "The operative description is 'muddy,' and fiddling with the equalizer doesn't help." And on our Wisconsin expedition, we found that the nav system's map was sometimes no help at all. Entire towns were missing, and at one point, we were on a two-lane road in the Cheesehead state that the map said didn't exist.

More important, though, is that the Altima has proved dead reliable. We've had only one minor service, which the onboard diagnostic system asked for at the 8300-mile mark. It cost $62. The only significant problem we've encountered was one of Mother Nature's making: production designer Jeff Xu had an unfortunate meeting with a deer near Michigan's picturesque Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While the accident appeared to put little more than a small tear in the front bumper cover, the unseen damage to a sensor and the right headlight ran up the repair cost to a jaw-dropping $4479.

a red car parked on the side of a building: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

Beyond that it's been easy sailing—emphasis on "easy." The Altima makes a virtue of being inoffensive. "Nothing really stands out about this car, and that's why I like it," wrote Capparella. White underscored that by adding, "I took this car to Chicago a while ago, and it was so unremarkable that I forgot to take notes. Unremarkable is not always bad, though." In fact, we think that's just what this car's target audience is seeking.

Months in Fleet: 6 Current Mileage: 13,021 miles

Average Fuel Economy: 28 mpg

Fuel Tank Size: 16.0 gal Observed Fuel Range: 440 miles

Service: $62 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0

Damage and Destruction: $4479

Introduction

a car parked on the side of a road: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

The sedan is dead, or so it has been written. In 2018, about 70 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States were anything but passenger cars—SUVs, crossovers, pickup trucks, and for all we know, flying saucers. And yet, in the midst of this buyer exodus from low-to-the-ground vehicles, the mid-size family sedan lives on: Americans bought 1.5 million of them in 2018, and the three biggest players—the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima, and the Toyota Camry—accounted for more than 50 percent of that total.

Those three aren't half-hearted efforts, either; the Accord punched its way onto our 2019 10Best Cars list for the 33rd time, and both the Camry and the new-for-2019 Altima earned Editors' Choice awards. That's one reason we've welcomed the Nissan into our long-term fleet. Another is that we can gauge just how good it is on a daily basis against the gold-standard Accord, one of which is also racking up miles in our long-term lineup.

a red car driving on a road: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

This new Nissan had us at first drive. It kept the good from the last generation—low mass, decent fuel economy, and a roomy interior—and left many of the negatives behind. Sleek, crisply folded sheetmetal replaces the old car's anonymous, softly rounded lines, which made it look as if it were slouching and wanted to avoid being driven. Given the old car's uninvolving road manners and sleepy performance, its appearance did not set up any false expectations. The new model looks, well, almost sexy. Did we just say that about an Altima? Its interior has been spruced up significantly and modernized with nicer materials and a good-looking infotainment system. The suspension has enough sinew now to actually make driving interesting. And the Altima offers one powertrain option that neither of its competitors from Honda and Toyota can boast of: all-wheel drive. Given our location in the heart of the country's snow-and-ice belt, we wanted to take advantage of the added winter traction that all-wheel drive affords.

Altimas can be powered by either of two engines, both of which couple with a standard continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT): a 182-hp naturally aspirated 2.5-liter inline-four carried over from the previous Altima, and the company's new but complex 248-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four, known as VC-Turbo, which employs Nissan's variable compression system. We already have an Infiniti QX50 fitted with that engine in our long-term test fleet, and its rubber-band-like throttle response and throbbing engine note have not endeared it to us. So we played against type and didn't opt for the more powerful engine in the Altima, choosing instead to equip our test vehicle with the base 2.5-liter—which was doubly convenient because the AWD system is available only with the less powerful engine.

a close up of a car: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

We knew from previous drives that the base engine would deliver a more refined—if significantly less exciting—driving experience. Our initial track test confirmed that it is definitely not going to set anyone's hair on fire with its straight-line performance, but it should be adequate for most family-sedan buyers. After doing our best to respect the 1200-mile break-in period, we took the Nissan to the track, where it jogged to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16.0 seconds at 90 mph. A Honda Odyssey minivan will outdrag it to 60 mph by a full second—our long-term Accord smokes it by two—but the Altima acquits itself well elsewhere.

Unlike the optional variable-compression engine, the 2.5-liter's response to your throttle foot is smooth and linear, and the CVT is well-behaved, almost never letting the engine drone for long when merging onto the interstate or slicing through traffic. The Altima also managed a quite respectable 0.93 g on the skidpad and a 170-foot stop from 70 mph. And it feels good doing it. The Altima's reflexes are sharper than the family-sedan norm on back roads, its ride is firmly sporting, and it lopes along comfortably on the highway. Speaking of highway cruising, you'll need a rest stop long before the Altima needs to hit a gas station. A near-identical Altima returned a stellar 41 mpg on our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test last fall, outdoing its 36-mpg EPA highway estimate by a healthy 14 percent. That suggests we might one day travel well beyond 600 miles on a tank during a long interstate road trip.

a person sitting at a desk: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

That base engine aside, our Platinum test car is a top-shelf pour. The list of standard equipment is comprehensive and includes a power sunroof, leather seating, heated front seats and steering wheel, and power-adjustable front buckets. An 8.0-inch touchscreen occupies the center stack and enables access to navigation, the dual-zone climate control, and a Bose nine-speaker sound system with volume and tuning knobs and satellite radio. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionalities are standard, and there are four USB ports to support your personal tech.

The Platinum also comes standard with a plethora of Nissan active-safety gear, from automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection to rear automatic braking. The ProPilot Assist system adds adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability and steering assist, which works to keep the car centered in the lane. There's also lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and lots more. We'll let you know if it's even possible to get into trouble with all of these driving aids on duty and whether they're a nuisance or a blessing.

a red car: 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD© Brad Fick - Car and Driver 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum 2.5 AWD

We'll also see how the Altima fares against its primary foe, the perennially award-winning Accord—considering that the two apples in this taste-off are as different as a Gala and a Granny Smith. That's because we went in different directions when ordering their powertrains: The Honda is equipped with the line's top-spec mill, a tire-smoking, 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, which is mated to a 10-speed automatic and powers only the front wheels. Still, these sedans are more alike than different: Both are metallic red with prices that hover around $35,000. Both are intended to handle the everyday duties of a family sedan. Both are loaded. Both are aimed at the same customer. Is the challenger closing in on the champ? We'll roll up the miles in the new Altima and let you know what we find along the way.

Months in Fleet: 1 month Current Mileage: 1776 miles

Average Fuel Economy: 25 mpg

Fuel-Tank Size: 16.0 gal Observed Fuel Range: 400 miles

Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0

Damage and Destruction: $0

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