A lot has happened in the midsize sedan segment over the past decade. Class stalwarts like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry now boast a healthy helping of styling flair. Back-of-the-pack entries like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are now legit front-runners. Even as companies like Ford and Fiat-Chrysler have left or are planning to pull away from this space, midsize sedans are still hugely important.
As far as Nissan's concerned, after selling nearly 255,000 Altimas in 2017, walking away from the midsize sedan segment wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. In fact, Nissan is going all-in, reupping with the brand-new 2019 Altima that represents the nameplate's biggest step forward yet in terms of looks, tech and performance.
The outgoing Nissan Altima was like the manila folder of midsize four-doors. Happily, the sixth-generation, 2019 Altima ditches its predecessors' dull threads for a more inspired appearance, getting lower, longer and wider, with nearly 2 additional inches built into the wheelbase. Like its big brother Maxima, it has a more in-your-face V-Motion grille, aggressive LED lights, a shorter front overhang and the love-it-or-hate-it floating roof design.
Heading inside, things are also visually more stimulating with a layered dash and contrasting two-tone panels, as well as stitched, soft-touch areas and silver trim. Mixing things up further are faux wood-pattern bits that don't look terrible, but do look like something that you would see on higher-quality particle board furniture.
In a nod to comfort, Nissan's Zero Gravity seats gain more bolstering to hold front occupants snugly in place inside the spacious cabin. The seat's pleasing mix of cushiness and support from the dual-density foam was excellent during a 4-hour round-trip ride from Detroit to Coldwater, Michigan. At the end of the trip, I felt fresh and ache-free.
On my range-topping Platinum test car, a NissanConnect infotainment system with an 8-inch touchscreen comes standard with navigation, nine-speaker Bose audio setup, satellite radio and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. Punching in my destination in Coldwater was quick and intuitive with the responsive touchscreen and simple layout. Thankfully, NissanConnect still employs a fair number of hard buttons so you can easily get to the most common menus like audio, navi and home, while adjusting volume and changing radio stations is a cinch with old-fashion rotary knobs.
There's no shortage of power points, with a USB Type-A, USB Type-C and 12-volt outlet up front. For folks in the rear, there's another standard USB and USB Type-C outlet within easy reach on the back of the center console.
On the safety front, the loaded Altima Platinum comes standard with a ProPilot Assist suite of features that adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as a 360-degree camera. However, I found the camera image quality disappointingly grainy. Like other ProPilot Assist-equipped vehicles, the Altima can use its adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist simultaneously, letting the car make quick work of stop-and-go highway traffic. It was perfect for the long highway cruise to western Michigan.
The Altima's tech story doesn't end in the cabin. Under the hood of my test car was the new 2.0-liter VC-Turbo four-cylinder engine that replaces the outgoing 3.5-liter V6. New engineering tech gives the powerplant the ability to alter the length of the piston stroke for variable compression from 8:1 for max performance to 14:1 when chasing fuel efficiency.
Output is serviceable, with 248 horsepower on tap, but the key is the 280 pound-feet of torque available from just 1,600 rpm, giving the Altima a punchy feel off the line and throughout the better part of the rev range. Things do taper off slightly when you approach the 6,000-rpm redline. Impressively, the engine hums along smoothly with nary a sign of the complex compression changes even taking place as you roll down the road.
A continuously variable transmission works with the engine to return 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. And I have to say, I don't hate the CVT with its simulated gear changes under normal throttle loads. Of course, mashing the gas will make the engine scream annoyingly like with all CVTs.
While still nowhere near as sharp as the Honda Accord or Mazda6, the Altima has tighter performance than before. Its new underpinnings include reworked rear shocks as well as beefier suspension reinforcements in an effort to improve steering response and feedback. To Nissan's credit, the Altima does feel more eager to turn in, body roll is better kept in check through corners and steering feedback is up a touch.
Sadly, ride quality on the 19-inch Hankook Kinergy GT 235/40 tires is harsher over the medium-to-big bumps commonly found on Michigan roads. There's still enough give in the suspension to soften the blow from small impacts, though. Lower-trim Altimas ride on smaller wheels with less aggressive tires, which no doubt help ride quality, too.
How I'd spec it
Building my ideal Altima is quite difficult. As a Midwest resident, the newly available all-wheel drive system is enticing, but it's only available with the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Since I for sure want the VC-Turbo engine, I'll opt for a SR model that starts at $30,045, including $895 for destination. A Deep Blue Pearl paint job is a no-cost option and $310 floor mats bring the price of my car to $30,355.
My SR isn't going to be quite as well equipped as my $36,370 Platinum VC-Turbo tester, but it still has the really important features such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The sport-tuned suspension will likely hamper ride quality a bit, but I'm willing to give up some comfort for snappier handling reflexes.
A more interesting Altima
Without a doubt, you'll want to check out the new Altima (video) if you're shopping for a midsize sedan. More appealing looks inside and out, much better technology offerings and performance improvements are all strong selling points. Not to mention optional all-wheel drive and a powerful and efficient variable compression turbo engine.
A $24,645 base price puts the Altima right in the heart of this extremely competitive class. Now, however, the Altima really deserves your attention.