2019 Nissan Altima First Look Review: The Future Is Variable

First Look

Nissan's newest midsize sedan borrows some seriously advanced engine technology from the Infiniti QX50.

After five generations and over 5.6 million Altimas sold, Nissan is placing some serious bets on its midsize sedan's as Americans move to crossovers and SUVs. The Altima is no longer the top-selling model in Nissan's lineup in the U.S. That accolade goes to the Rogue, which found a staggering 403,465 driveways (or rental lots) last year versus the Altima's 254,996-unit sales tally. To combat this (or at least stem the tide of midsize sedan sales losses), Nissan is making the Altima more expressive, sportier, and giving it the same trick VC-Turbo engine as the Infiniti QX50.

Revealed at the 2018 New York Auto Show last month, the 2019 Nissan Altima makes use of a new platform that's longer and wider than before, but designers have slimed it down visually to make it seem more spritely. It features wheels pushed further into the corners, which extends its wheelbase by 1.9 inches. It's also 1.1-inches lower, 1.0-inch longer, and 0.9-inches wider than before, contributing to an overall more athletic demeanor. Up front, Altima again wears a Vmotion grille, its latest interpretation looking more natural than the grafted-on design piece from before. Within the V sits a large honeycomb grille; outside the V, more angular headlights bookend the top of the large chrome piece.

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Creases in the body work extend from the top of the grille over the hood and from the top edge of the headlights down each side of the Altima to give it a nice cut a couple inches below the beltline. Front and rear wheel arches are more pronounced than before, and another crease extends from the front wheel arch to the rear taillights to add another piece of flair. Nissan was restrained in its usage of chrome around greenhouse openings, limiting it to just the lower edge of the windows. However, designers saw fit to apply the company's floating roof design element to the Altima's C-pillar, a peculiarity to which this author has never quite warmed up. At least the rear is simple and strong, reminiscent of the Lexus IS and Acura TLX.

Beneath the Altima's reshaped hood are two new engines. The first is a reworked version of previous-generation Altima's 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-pot. It'll crank out 188 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. The big news, however, has to do with the engine that replaces the outgoing 3.5-liter V6. The Altima has poached the 2.0-liter variable-compression turbocharged engine from the QX50, which will produce 248 hp at 5,600 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque in the sedan when fed with premium gas. The VC-Turbo mill is a trick unit able to change the its combustion-chamber volume to alter its compression ratio, which spans from 8:1 to 14:1. That also means its effective displacement varies from 1,997 cc to 1,970 cc.

Nissan has been working on the variable-compression concept for 20 years, but only recently had access to enough computing power to make it work in a production vehicle. It's a mechanical ballet that requires an amazing amount of synchronicity to pull off. Furthermore, the engine ekes out an additional bit of fuel economy by being able to switch between Otto and Atkinson-style cycles. Nissan claims a “double-digit percentage increase in fuel economy” over the outgoing V6 engine. For the first time in Altima's history, it'll join other midsize sedans—such as the Buick Regal, Ford Fusion, and Subaru Legacy—in the all-wheel-drive club, but it can only be paired with the base 2.5-liter engine.

The Nissan Altima hasn't been known for having the best interior during its last couple generations. Plasticky panels and seas of beige have done the midsizer no favors over the years. The new 2019 Altima looks to change that. Leather trim pieces and inserts give the Altima some softer touch points. A two-tone dash is split with aluminum and metal inlays to visually break up the one interior surface you're likely to notice day in and day out. Seats have been given additional bolstering to enhance the support of Nissan's Zero Gravity thrones. Sitting front and center up front is a new 8-inch multi-touch color display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and up to nine speakers with active noise cancellation.

When the Altima starts arriving on dealer lots later this year, it will be available with ProPILOT Assist, Nissan's driver assistance suite. It includes Steering Assist and Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC) with Full Speed Range and Assist. Nissan will offer Altima in 13 different combinations: S FWD, S AWD, SR FWD, SR AWD, SV FWD, SV AWD, SL FWD, SL AWD, Platinum FWD, Platinum AWD, SR VC-T FWD, Platinum VC-T FWD, and a limited-edition VC-Turbo FWD. The automaker did not provide a feature breakdown for the trims. Pricing has not yet been announced.

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