2021 Nissan Altima
2021 Nissan Altima
The 2021 Nissan Altima is a mid-size sedan that’s a good value and scores well in safety. Made in Tennessee and Mississippi, and restyled two years ago, it has a crisp and handsome body, simple cabin, and superb fuel economy for a family sedan.
Most Altimas come with a 188-horsepower inline-4 engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT), with front-wheel drive. This powertrain is relatively quiet but not overly energetic. There’s an available 248-hp turbo-4 on the Altima SR model; it’s offered with a stiffer suspension but can’t be paired with all-wheel drive.
The Altima earns impressive EPA ratings for fuel economy, with 28 mpg city, 39 highway, 32 combined with front-wheel drive, and 26/36/30 mpg with all-wheel drive. The front-wheel-drive-only turbo-4 drops it to 25/34/29 mpg.
The Altima also earns excellent crash-test scores. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick, while the NHTSA gives it five stars overall. It comes standard with automatic emergency braking, and most versions also have adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and rear automatic emergency braking.
Many models also come with ProPilot Assist, Nissan’s system for driver assistance. It works well on highways and interstates to maintain a safe following distance.
Nissan sells the 2021 Altima in base S trim, through SV, SR, SL, and Platinum editions. All-wheel drive is available for $1,400 on every model but the Altima S and the SR when it has the turbo-4 engine.
With a base price of $25,225, the 2021 Altima S comes with cloth seats, power features, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, remote start, and automatic emergency braking.
The $26,325 Altima SV adds upgraded wheels, nicer cloth seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, LED headlights, and rear automatic braking.
At the top of the Altima lineup, the $35,025 Platinum has all-wheel drive, leather upholstery, heated power-adjustable front seats, navigation, a surround-view camera system, premium audio, 19-inch wheels, and a sunroof.
The restyling in 2019 made the Altima lean and athletic, compared to its former body that was more voluptuous and daring. We think it looks better for it. It’s low and sleek, with a sharp hood and deep V-shaped grille.
The sculpting on the sides is busy but clean. The defining character line runs from the front fenders to the taillights, intersecting with a surface on the doors to keep the body looking pert and taut.
The cabin of the Altima is conservative, laid out simply, breezy but not energetic like the exterior. The dash dips slightly over the tall center stack containing an 8.0-inch touchscreen, while a band of flight trim keeps things from going entirely gray, on the SV and above—the base S model has a 7.0-inch screen, and the trim is basic black. It’s maybe a bit too glossy, as it reflects in the windshield. Small-item storage in the center console and door pockets is OK.
Every Altima supports Apple and Android smartphones. The touchscreen interface looks a bit dated, but it’s easy to connect via USB. Like just about every car we can think of, the Altima’s navigation system is inferior to what’s available for free on a smartphone.
The front buckets are wide enough, with a well-shaped seatback and firm bottom cushion. The back seats have good leg room for two 6-footers, although a third passenger in the rear bench will be squeezed. Head room is plentiful, even with the sleek roofline.
The trunk is quite large, at 15.4 cubic feet.
Almost every Altima comes with a 188-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 coupled to a CVT. It’s fairly quiet, and long on fuel economy, but short on hustle and satisfaction. Power from a stoplight is fine, but it loses stem out on the highway. The CVT keeps the engine’s powerband in its sweet spot, but drones a bit.
The Altima SR, which can be optioned with the 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 248 horsepower, has shift paddles that enable the driver to select the CVT’s ratios, simulating gear-shifting.
That turbo-4 engine replaces the V-6 that used to be the Altima’s upgrade engine. The turbo’s complex variable compression system doesn’t deliver fuel economy that can compare to the base engine, and it can’t be paired with all-wheel drive. We think it’s not worth it, just for the better acceleration.
Another reason we like the lower-spec Altimas is ride and handling. The standard 17-inch wheels and tires just feel better than the wider 19-inchers on the SR, along with its sport-tuned suspension that’s stiff, if not unforgiving.
The base Altima feels collected and calm, without much driving drama, and its electric power steering puts the car precisely where it needs to be, without much fuss. The steering feel goes effortless on the highway, and there’s a generous on-center spot that lets it track with confidence.
The Altima’s simple all-wheel-drive system moves up to 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels, when the fronts begin to slip. We drove the AWD Altima in Colorado during snow squalls, and it performed very well.
The 2021 Nissan Altima is a solid contender in the mid-size sedan class, and it’s better in its less expensive versions. Standard equipment is generous, and fuel economy is very high. The Altima’s best feature? Value.
—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection