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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

2020 Nissan Altima: New engine, fresh looks and available AWD reinvigorate family sedan

In 2018, Nissan dropped an all-new 2019 Altima. It was a refreshing return to form for the Japanese maker’s stalwart family sedan.

The Altima had been Nissan’s best-selling car in the U.S. until 2016, when the Rogue crossover bumped it from that perch. 

Rather than let its best-selling sedan fade into irrelevance, Nissan showed it some love. The Altima emerged from its sixth-generation makeover with snappy new sheet metal, a significantly updated cabin and a strong new up-level engine.

It also became one of a handful of midsize sedans to offer all-wheel-drive.

Where the last-generation Altima had grown sleepy, the new edition feels solid, buttoned-down and well-sorted. 

Roomy back seats

The new four-door grows longer, lower and wider. Its large grille, low hood and sleek headlight assemblies suggest a more assertive Altima. Its extended roofline creates a coupe-like profile.

Altima is a five-person sedan, with generous second-row legroom. Despite its sloping roofline, almost all riders have plenty of headroom. 

Hard plastics riddle the dashboard and forward cabin and some of the switchgear feels like it was ordered from the budget bin but Nissan compensates with an attractive assortment of textures and materials. Stitched trim on the doors and dashboard and available two-tone color palates add visual interest.

The front seats are cushy and supportive and the infotainment system is simplicity itself. The 8.0-inch touchscreen responds quickly to input. Intuitive menus are easily mastered and climate and audio functions are managed by large knobs with helpful indents.

Graphics are bold and sharp.

An open bin forward of the shifter houses cell phones and a large covered bin nestles beneath the padded lid of the center-console armrest.

Break-through engine design

The 2020 Altima is available in five trims; S ($24,100); SR ($25,700); SV ($27,880); SL ($31,590); and Platinum ($33,530). AWD is available on every trim. 

The Altima's standard engine is a 180-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. It’s smooth and quiet and delivers the Altima from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds.

The SR and Platinum trims can be fitted with a new, turbocharged 2.0-liter four that makes 188 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel (though it also runs happily on regular). It’s the industry’s first variable-compression engine — by altering the distance the pistons travel, its compression ratio varies from 8:1, for high performance, and 14:1, for high efficiency. It propels the Altima from 0-60 in 5.9 seconds. 

The standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) performed crisply in our tester, effectively mimicking the shift points of a traditional automatic and lapsing into the familiar CVT drone only when the driver really puts their boot into it.

The base S trim includes push-button start, a power-adjustable driver's seat, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, a rearview camera the 8.0-inch touchscreen. The infotainment system includes two USB inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. 

Standard safety gear includes front-collision warning, automatic emergency braking and a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear parking sensors are available as an option package on the S.

One step up, the SR is billed as the sporty Altima. Its suspension and chassis are tuned for a firmer ride, with less body lean. It gets paddle shifters and unique styling touches and comes standard with the driver assistance features that are optional on the S trim.

The SV trim adds Nissan's ProPilot Assist system, bringing blind-spot alert, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.

LED headlights are standard on all but the base S trim.

The Altima is softly suspended, which reduces the impact of broken road surfaces in town. Other effects include abundant body roll in the corners and unpredictable behavior over broken surfaces taken at speed. Its steering lacks the crispness and accuracy of its top competitors. Still, when pushed into a corner, it feels balanced and stable.

The Altima’s cabin is one of the quietest in its segment. Road and wind noise are muted and our tester’s 2.5-liter powerplant was smooth and quiet.

The new Altima isn’t destined to reclaim the No. One spot at Nissan, but it gives the company a legitimate shot in the hard-fought family sedan segment.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 Platinum AWD 
Vehicle base price: $24,100
Trim level base price: $33,530
As tested: $37,190 (includes destination and handling)
Options: splash guards; premium paint; floor mats, trunk mat, hideaway net and dual trunk hooks; ground-lighting effects; illuminated kick plates; rear spoiler; impact sensors
EPA rating: 29 combined/25 city/35 highway    
Regular gasoline specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.