Review: Nissan refines the 2019 Altima to make it one of the better midsize cars you can buy

With the new Altima, Nissan seeks to improve performance and efficiency, safety and technology, and styling and comfort.

What’s this? A redesigned and more efficient midsize sedan? In an American marketplace where family 4-doors are shunned in favor of SUVs, and where gas flows freely and cheaply?

Yep, and the new 2019 Nissan Altima is a good one, too.

With the new Altima, Nissan seeks to improve performance and efficiency, safety and technology, and styling and comfort. The new family sedan comes in S, SR, SV, SL, and Platinum trim, each offered for the first time with available all-wheel drive. A turbocharged 4-cylinder is available for SR, Platinum, and limited-production Edition One versions of the car.

Seeking to sample both the most popular trim level and the car’s new AWD system, I requested for this test the Altima SV AWD. It arrived with a set of accessory splash guards, and the sticker price read $30,380.

Design: 8.0 rating

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Nissan is finally distilling its V-Motion design language into a refined essence that appeals to a broader audience. With a bold yet cohesive face, creased and characterful body sides, and dual exhaust outlets, this car looks crisp and tailored. The only questionable styling element is the body color panel that looks like a rear skid plate instead of a racy diffuser panel.

Inside, the Altima’s cabin is simple, straightforward, and stylish. You choose between black and gray-on-black colors, so if you’re a fan of tan or trendy hues of brown, you’re out of luck. A flat-bottom steering wheel, carbon-texture plastic trim, and polished metallic accents give the SV a sporty look.

My test car’s black interior showed a mix of high-quality materials and switchgear, as well as the cheaper plastic panels common to the segment. The preponderance of hard surfaces won the battle for my impressions, making the Altima look and feel cheaper than some competitors.

NASA-inspired “Zero Gravity” seat designs provide good comfort, but the 2019 Altima seems smaller and less spacious than before. —Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.

Comfort: 7.0 rating

Ever since Nissan started using NASA-derived design for it’s so-called “Zero Gravity” seating, I’ve been a fan. In particular, I found the previous Altima’s front and rear chairs especially gratifying, no matter which position you selected.

This time around, I’m less enthusiastic. The driver’s seat is comfortable, but either I’m bigger or the seat is smaller. Thigh bolstering is almost too aggressive, and the hip point feels lower to me, making it harder to get into and out of the car.

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The front passenger’s seat does not offer height adjustment, even in higher trim levels. Because the seat is actually comfortable, you don’t really feel like you’re sitting on a collapsed lawn chair, but even a manual lever for raising the height would be advisable – especially since it seems as though the car is sitting closer to the ground in the first place.

In back, the rear seat doesn’t strike me as equal to the previous Altima in terms of room. Before, the Altima’s rear quarters were undeniably generous, and you sat up nice and high on an expansive bench seat. Now, the position feels lower, more cramped, and I sat in a slightly slouched position. The SV trim did supply rear air conditioning vents and a USB port, though, which is nice.

In short, the Altima is more comfortable than a Toyota Camry, but less comfortable than a Honda Accord.

At night, the 2019 Altima’s excellent control layout is marred by Nissan’s sickly orange Halloween backlighting. During the day, it is a model of simplicity. —Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.

Controls: 9.0 rating

Nissan has done a good job with the Altima’s instrumentation and controls.

The gauges are clear and legible, illuminated white at night for quick and easy reference. The infotainment system sits high atop the dashboard, and features knobs and main-menu buttons as well as a row of improved touch-sensing buttons on the bottom of the screen. And while secondary buttons are tucked behind the steering wheel on the left side of the dashboard, they’re for infrequently used functions.

I have two minor gripes with regard to the controls. First, the engine start button is on the center console instead of the dashboard, and it took awhile to get used to that. Second, Nissan’s sickly and dim orange backlighting for the Altima’s buttons and knobs needs to get lost, ASAP. It looks like a low-wattage Halloween display in a run-down neighborhood.

Utility: 8.5 rating

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Though the Altima’s trunk measures 15.4 cu.-ft. (just a bit more than a Camry but significantly less than an Accord), it seems plenty roomy enough. Plus, Nissan provides a handy grip on the inside of the lid, making it easy to swing shut without getting your hands dirty from touching the outside of the lid.

Interior storage is plentiful, unless you’re riding in the back seat, where no more than seatback pockets and small bins in the door panels await. Up front, I had no trouble finding spots in which to stash a smartphone, house keys, and a giant coffee drink, my usual accompaniments for a commute.

Technology: 8.0 rating

Nissan provides impressive infotainment value in every version of the new 2019 Altima.

Even in base S trim, the Altima features Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Siri Eyes Free, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, and hands-free text messaging capability. Upgrade to SL, Platinum, or Edition One trim and the car is equipped with a Bose premium sound system that it desperately needs because the stock speakers struggle with heavy bass.

Those higher trim levels also come with NissanConnect Services, including a 6-month trial of the appealing Premium Plus package that includes home voice assistant compatibility, remote access to various vehicle functions via smartphone app, key safety features like automatic collision notification and emergency calling, a parked car finder, safe teen driver settings, and more.

A navigation system is also included with SL, Platinum and Edition One trim. New for 2019, it features “door-to-door navigation,” which means you can open a smartphone app and it will continue providing directions in the event you’ve had to park some distance from your actual destination.

Safety: Not Rated

Because the new Altima hasn’t been crash-tested as this review is written, I’ve not rated the car for safety. Once those scores come in, you can assess whether or not it would make a good family sedan.

Nissan does equip every 2019 Altima with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, as well as a driver attention monitoring system. A Rear Door Alert system is also standard on every Altima, designed to warn a driver when he or she might have forgotten about something or someone important in the back seat.

Upgrade to the sporty SR trim, which is the second least expensive version of the Altima, and you get a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, in my opinion one of the most useful safety systems for daily driving.

My SV test vehicle came with standard pedestrian detection, automatic reverse braking, and intelligent lane intervention, which is a lane departure warning and lane departure prevention system. Additionally, SV trim includes ProPilot Assist, Nissan’s adaptive cruise control and lane centering assist system.

During testing, the forward collision warning system proved just a little over-sensitive when set to its normal operation mode, but the car never inadvertently activated its automatic emergency braking system.

Also, the ProPilot Assist technology worked more smoothly in the Altima than in other Nissan and Infiniti products in which I’ve experienced it. However, my normal testing route remains closed in the aftermath of destructive Southern California brush fires, so I did not sample it under the usual testing circumstances.

Power and Performance: 9.0 rating

Nissan ditches what was my favorite Altima engine for 2019. That’s right, VQ-series V6 fans. It’s dead – unless you get a Maxima.

Instead, the Altima features a new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or a new variable-compression turbocharged 2.0-liter, the latter a complex solution to a problem that could have been resolved by tearing down a modern Audi or Volkswagen turbo-four and then replicating the engineering.

Basically, Nissan is seeking to deliver high performance and high efficiency with its so-called VC-Turbo engine, which makes 248 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It debuted in the redesigned 2019 Infiniti QX50, and in my experience doesn’t come close to delivering on the fuel economy part of its efficiency + power equation.

But, that’s a story for another day, because I didn’t drive the Altima VC-Turbo. I drove the SV AWD, and I’ve got to say I’m impressed with the new 2.5-liter. With AWD, it makes 182 horsepower and 178 pound-feet (188 and 180 with FWD), and that’s plenty for this car.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is responsible for meting out the power, and it is the best Nissan CVT yet. Under normal driving conditions, it is utterly transparent. When accelerating hard, response is a little sluggish at first but then the drivetrain produces good, usable power. Plus, at all times the engine note sounds normal to the driver’s ear because of the CVT’s programmed ratios.

How does the AWD system perform? Admirably. During my week with the Altima the Los Angeles area got smacked by a wet winter storm and the AWD added an extra measure of traction on slick roads, especially helpful when accelerating out of corners or when turning left across approaching traffic.

As far as fuel economy is concerned, I averaged 29.3 miles per gallon on my testing loop and over the course of more than 600 miles of driving. The EPA says you should expect 30 miles per gallon in combined driving with the AWD system, so I’d call my result close enough.

Ride and Handling: 9.5 rating

Nissan has done an excellent job of tuning the Altima’s ride and handling. In spite of its 17-inch wheels and modest all-season tires, I found little about which to complain.

This car is really quiet at urban and suburban speeds. Road noise becomes an issue at higher speeds, though, especially on rougher pavement.

Active Ride Control is standard, a system Nissan uses to smooth out bumps, holes, and cracks in the road. It works beautifully, providing isolation when you want it but without erasing a feel for the surface.

Intelligent Trace Control is a brake-induced torque vectoring system that works indiscernibly to tuck the Altima tighter into a corner. This, combined with the car’s excellent roll control, makes even a skinny-tired version like my SV test car feel remarkably athletic when the road gets kinky. In fact, the system might even give some drivers a little too much confidence.

The Altima’s steering is excellent, good enough to make me wonder why Nissan’s Infiniti luxury division even bothers with drive-by-wire Direct Adaptive Steering. Plus, the Altima’s steering wheel is a genuine delight to hold in your hands.

Similarly, Nissan tunes the brake pedal and response so that it calls no undue attention to itself. Unfortunately, road closures impacting my normal testing route meant I could not beat on them as much as I normally would, so I can’t comment on how well they withstand abuse.

Dynamically, the new Altima impresses, even without its VC-Turbo engine. You can get the standard engine, enjoy impressive gas mileage, and not feel that you’re missing out on something special.

Our Recommendation

If you’re thinking about getting a new Nissan Altima, you won’t be disappointed. Still, there are things about this car that represent steps backward rather than forward.

The car just doesn’t feel and roomy and comfortable to me. The previous Altima exceled in this regard, and I didn’t come away from the 2019 model particularly impressed. Plus, Nissan needs to offer a third interior color choice. I’d be tempted to get something else just because of the restricted paint and cabin color combinations.

Dropping the V6 engine is a real bummer, too. They might not perform well in EPA testing, but out in the real world, V6 engines don’t work as hard, which means they deliver decent gas mileage in comparison to their better-rated 4-cylinder counterparts.

Finally, the tinny standard stereo speakers and all of the plastic covering various cabin surfaces gives the Altima a low-rent look, feel, and sound. At a minimum, this car deserves classier surface finishes.

Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault here, and that is reflected in the car’s high overall rating. The new Altima is better looking, better equipped, more technologically advanced, and more enjoyable to drive. I guarantee you that an equally-priced Rogue SUV won’t be as efficient or as fun.

Total Vehicle Score: 161/190 points

Overall Vehicle Rating: 8.5

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