Although the 2021 Nissan Altima may not be the most exciting or attractive family sedan, it is capable and comes with some unusual options. These include an all-wheel-drive system and a unique variable compression turbocharged engine. They can’t be paired together, unfortunately. The VC-Turbo is for a single model tuned for sportier purposes, and it was surprising athletic. Although the Altima may not be as engaging or attractive as the Mazda 6 or Honda Accord, it offers very comfortable accommodations as well as a variety of driver assistance and features. Although the standard four-cylinder engine and transmission aren’t very powerful, they make for a fuel-efficient and subdued combination. The 2021 Altima is a good car, but it is not great. That’s okay.
What’s new for 2021?
There are a few small changes to the 2021 Altima lineup. The 2.0-liter variable-compression-turbo engine is no longer available on the top-of-the-line Platinum model. The VC-Turbo engine is now only available on the sporty SR. This makes it the most expensive option for the SV, and reorders Altima’s trim hierarchy. This reduces the SV’s price starting at $2740 but also eliminates some of its more exclusive standard features. Nissan compensates for this by offering the $1800 SV Premium Package that includes adaptive cruise control and heated front seats. It also has ProPilot Assist and a sunroof.
Pricing and Which One To Buy
The Altima is a better choice than rivals like the Hyundai Sonata and Accord, as it offers all-wheel drive and a unique VC-Turbo motor. The Altima’s $1400 all-wheel drive system may be attractive to sedan buyers who live in the Snowbelt, even though the benefits are difficult to quantify. We would choose the SR trim. The SR features a sport-tuned suspension with 19-inch wheels, making this family sedan more enjoyable to drive. Other desirable features include an eight-way power driver’s chair, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an upgraded digital gauge cluster and a leather-wrapped steering column. The Premium package adds heated mirrors, heated seats and a sunroof.
Performance, Transmission and Engine
Altima’s standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces 188 horsepower and pairs with a continuously variable automated transmission (CVT). Turbocharged 2.0-liter four cylinders produce up to 248 horsepower when using premium fuel. It also makes use of the CVT. Although Nissan boasts its variable compression technology, the 2.5-liter engine is only available with all-wheel drive. Both the standard four-cylinder engine with all-wheel drive provided predictable acceleration, although not remarkable. While the engine was louder as we tried harder to push the gas pedal, the four-cylinder Camry that we tested was just as loud. The Altima’s VC-Turbo motor makes it much faster. Despite its turbocharged engine, and all-wheel drive, it is not nearly as enjoyable to drive as the Mazda 6 and almost any other Accord. Altima SR gets a sport-tuned suspension with 19-inch wheels, making it more fun to drive on twisty roads. These upgrades reduce the ride quality of regular Altima models. Surprisingly the Platinum model, which is the highest-end model, had better cornering grip than our 2019 BMW 330i xDrive. It was also comfortable and did not shake on uneven pavement. The steering system is very precise and does not require extra effort to replicate the feeling of a family sedan. The brake pedal of the Altima was responsive to our input and provided linear feedback.
Fuel Economy and Real World MPG
Although the Altima does not offer a fuel-saving hybrid model or an eco-friendly plug in-hybrid, its gasoline engines have high EPA fuel economy ratings and better real-world results. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine can achieve up to 28 mpg in the city and 39 on the highway. Higher-end models can achieve 25 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway, but these ratings are lower for more expensive models. According to the EPA, all-wheel-drive vehicles can achieve 26 mpg in cities and 36 on highways. The VC-Turbo engine has a 25 mpg rating in the city and 34 on the highway. The all-wheel-drive Altima scored a staggering 41 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test route. The VC-Turbo model recorded a remarkable 37 mpg. The Accord and Camry were the most fuel-efficient (nonhybrid) vehicles, achieving 38 mpg each and 45 mpg respectively.
Interior, Comfort, & Cargo
The Altima’s interior features a simple dashboard and user-friendly switchgear. The interior materials differ between trim levels but they are all a marked improvement over the previous-generation Altima. The interior of our SV test vehicle was attractive with hard plastics that drew very little attention. The SV’s flat-bottomed steering wheels and faux carbon fiber were a little too much, especially considering that there aren’t paddle shifters or other selectable driving modes. The soft armrests made it easier to cruise and sit in traffic. Although the front seats are able to accommodate many body types, we found that the lumbar support was too harsh. The large back seats are very comfortable and offer ample legroom. With the rear seats folded, we were able to fit six carry-on bags and 17 bags into the Altima’s trunk. These numbers were comparable to those of the Camry, but they fell short of the Accord’s 19-bag limit. The Nissan’s rear seats cannot be folded flat, so they must be opened using the handles in the trunk. This is annoying. The Altima offers decent storage, with narrow but deep door pockets and a useful tray at its center console.
Connectivity and Infotainment
All Altimas, except the base model, have a standard 8.0 inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability. Although the main menu can be customized, there are very few customization options. The sound system does have knobs to adjust volume and tune, but the touchscreen was slow to respond to inputs. The Altima can have optional navigation built in. An optional Wi-Fi hotspot and a nine-speaker Bose stereo can also be added to the infotainment system.