Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Nissan Altima

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

I’m going to tell you some things about the driver’s seat of the new 2019 Nissan Altima.

As you read them, you’ll wonder briefly why I’m on for so long about the driver’s seat, and then you’ll remember that the driver’s seat is a thing of importance, and you’ll likely carry on.

The seat. It is an excellent seat. A very good, very comfortable, very nice seat.

I almost never say that because I figure that my spine and back and composition and tastes are very likely different than yours, and I trust readers will figure the seat comfort thing out for themselves.

I do love me a good sit though. And I know a good seat when I visit one.

The new Altima’s so-called Zero Gravity seats are among these. There’s this perfect bit of extra softness and give, at just the right points on my lower back and upper butt. They very slightly (but very strategically!) mean that I’m seated just a wee smidge “deeper” into the actual soft and meaty part of the seat.

The effect is subtle, but it works.

And it means that more of the seat (just a little) is now touching – and supporting – more of you.

This, of course, means that less of you is being supported by your spine and bum and tailbone and hips. Further, all parts of you that do touch the seat do so with a lighter touch.

And, though subtle, this actually makes you feel lighter – or so says this writer’s spinal cord. Hence the Zero Gravity name, I figure, and the NASA marketing and research tie-in, which isn’t a total stretch, having experienced it first-hand.

Anyhow, here’s the newest version of one of the older kids on the block. Nissan’s been in the family sedan game with this nameplate for some time now – and the all-new for 2019 Altima brings a total redo into the mix, complete with a glistening mound of the latest and greatest goodies in the segment.

It’s also got AWD as standard. Every unit, basic to loaded, is standard with AWD.

That’s a first for Altima, and a nod to what we can expect to see more of from competitors. It’s also a neat bit of thinking around the marketing stuff: everybody loves AWD, and almost everyone buys a crossover to get it.

Nissan, perhaps targeting those of us who might prefer an AWD car to an AWD crossover, knew our options were limited for anything much less than big bucks. Or maybe, they’re trying to pick up on some of the action in the crossover department by encouraging some multi-body-style cross-shopping. Or, maybe knowing AWD is all the rage these days, they just figured “Why not?”

But here’s the most important thing to know, and especially if the new Altima will be your first brand-new car in many years: it’s brimming with tons of high-tech and exciting new stuff, and none of it will cause you much stress.

For some, new features and new tech can feel daunting at first – especially if you go a decade or so between new cars. (My mom bought her first car with a back-up camera three months ago). Some may, then, be studying up on Altima, and feeling a bit overwhelmed at the volume of new things to learn.

Don’t be. Let me explain.

The AWD. It gives you extra traction when you need it. You don’t have to do anything. There’s nothing to turn on, to switch on, or to remember to do, ever. At all moments while you’re driving, the system is controlled by a computer specifically designed to prevent you from having to ever think about the AWD, ever.

So, that’s one thing off the list.

The safety gadgets. There are many. The Altima can even work its own steering and brakes (read the manual first).

But all outward-looking safety aids, including lane-departure and forward collision alerts, are toggled on and off by a very obvious button on the steering wheel. And autonomous steering capability (seriously, read the manual) is controlled by a very obvious button nearby.

In any case. The condition of the various safety systems is communicated by the on-screen display, also very obviously. Apprehensive first-timers can, therefore, quickly turn them on for a moment or two, try them, and then quickly turn them off. Altima lets you take little peeks at how its safety systems work, if you’d rather take it easy at first. You can therefore learn, use, enable, or disable any or all of these technologies, however or whenever you see fit. You’re the boss of the Altima’s safety systems, and they’ll be second nature before long.

And that’s a second thing off the list of new car things to worry about.

There’s a third, if the new Altima will be your first car with a CVT transmission. Some people don’t understand these. Others overthink them. One reader asked if he should buy a car with a CVT, even though the listing said it had a “0-speed transmission”.

Here’s what you need to know:

A CVT is just an automatic transmission that’s a little different than other automatic transmissions. They both do the exact same thing, but in different ways. For both, you literally just place the shifter in “D”, and drive the car. If you think about your transmission at no point during any given day, the Altima’s CVT transmission is perfect for you. Also, you’ll likely find it much smoother and more refined than an older automatic.

So, that’s the third thing off of the list of things you need to worry about.

What else is there?

Inside, Altima proves roomy and posed no issue with headroom in any seat for me, at about 5'10". Rear-seat legroom is very adult friendly, too. I could sit behind myself with room to spare.

The overall look and feel is techy, upscale, and modern – but without any too silly looking or over the top. Tasteful trimmings (other than a slim, dash-spanning fake plastic wood garnish) and textures galore keep the eyes busy. Aside from a few too many close-out panels and that plastic-printed wood trim, it’s a job pretty nicely done.

The touchscreen central command interface is easy to learn without frustration. The graphics are decent, the layout is logical, and you need, at most, a day or two to get used to it. The best part? There’s a row of tactile hard-buttons beneath the touchscreen that quickly bring you to the applicable menu on the screen. It makes learning less frustrating, and more experienced system usage even easier. Or, use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to do everything, literally, by voice instead.

Other controls are logically placed, clearly marked, easy to find, and easy to use. Everything is pretty much smack where it belongs, and you’ll be moving like a ninja between each function and feature in no time. Little funny-business is required to operate anything in here.

Outward visibility is pretty good, too. Still, there’s a 360-degree parking camera system that shows drivers their full surroundings on a single screen. It works well enough, but the graphics remind me of my old Sega Genesis. If you have anything above half-decent eyesight, you’ll likely be able to make out ragged pixel edges in some lighting conditions. The image is very usable, but not very pretty.

In most driving, you’ll rarely feel or hear anything from Altima’s four-cylinder engine: a 2.5-litre with 182 horsepower. The engine and transmission work nicely together towards greasy-smooth locomotion that’s pleasingly quiet and refined. All said, this is a good setup for the driver who primarily wants decent performance, very quiet operation, and very good mileage. My tester easily handled a four-hour highway cruise on less than half a tank.

On that highway cruise? A ride that’s soft but not sponge-cake, and noise levels kept low enough that there’s no need to raise your voice for a casual conversation, even past the highway speed limit.

And so, you cruise along, doing 2,000 revs or less, taking in the Bose stereo, and enjoying the drive in quiet comfort. You’re relaxing. And I suppose that’s mostly because the Altima’s atmosphere and setup has made that easy for you to do.

Brakes feel sharp – a good bite from a light pedal press but not too abrupt or jerky, and a fast buildup of pedal pressure deeper into the pedal to dial up the feel of precision and confidence.

Conversely, the throttle pedal feels like a balloon, filled partially with melted cheese. Unless you get very deep into it, or engage Sport mode, things are quite lazy. That’s perfect for the very relaxed driver, but annoying to the sportier ones. If you’re one of the latter, just remember to not be shy on the gas.

Apply full throttle, and Altima’s powertrain quickly gets things surging to max revs, gliding things ahead on an uninterrupted wave of thrust that should satisfy most. It sounds delightfully restrained and calm about the entire process, even as the car fires along eagerly. I’d bet you a dollar it’s no louder than a BMW 328 or Audi A3.

Final bits: the trunk is massive, and if you’re out shopping a whack of family sedans, you’ll likely find this on the larger side of the spectrum. The LED headlights are quite good as well – and should prove a massive improvement if you’re coming to the new Altima from an older car or truck with standard lights.

End of the day, Altima feels comfortable doing almost anything, you’ll feel comfortable using it, and it’s full of neat gadgets that won’t make you pull out your hair.

Gripes? Mostly just those mentioned earlier (closeout panels, cheese-fest fake wood, bad back-up camera graphics). Also, I suppose, the sportier drivers among us might wish for a bit more precision and playfulness to the steering and throttle and handling.

Small complaints really. This is a car with many strengths, and few weaknesses. And AWD to boot.

Engine Displacement 2.5L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 182 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque 178 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.1/6.5/7.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 436 L
Model Tested 2019 Nissan Altima Platinum
Base Price $35,298
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $37,493
Optional Equipment
$300 – 3-Coat Paint $300