2020 Nissan Altima Review – Happy in the Middle

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL AWD Fast Facts

2.5-liter four-cylinder (182 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 178 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm)

Continuously-variable automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

26 city / 36 highway / 30 combined (EPA Estimated Rating, MPG)

9.1 city, 6.5 highway, 7.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

Base Price: $31,590 (U.S) / $35,098 (Canada)

As Tested: $34,855 (U.S.) / $36,283 (Canada)

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,942 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

The Nissan Altima was once in the mix with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord in the mid-size sedan conversation.

That’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been for some time.

Nissan is working hard to get back in that mix, and while the 2020 Altima takes the right strides forward, there’s still more work to be done.

The styling is a start – the new-for-2019 Altima has sharper looks than its predecessor, both literally and figuratively speaking. The creases are more angular and the car looks more aggressive.

It’s not that the previous car was ugly – it wasn’t, although it didn’t stand out – but this update is an improvement.

On-road, the Altima feels more dialed in and far less “soft” than the previous-gen car, although it’s still not as dialed in, from an enthusiast’s perspective, as much as an Accord, Mazda 6, or even the Camry. It’s not dull, and the steering gives appropriate feedback and feels well-weighted, but in terms of dynamics, it’s closer to mid-pack than the top of the class.

[Get a price quote for the Nissan Altima here!]

If you have Walter Mitty fantasies, shop elsewhere. If you just want to occasionally spice up a commute, the Altima will be just fine.

Fine – that’s the word I kept coming back to as I drove the car. It does everything fine. It rides well, not too soft or stiff. It’s quiet, but not a vault. The switchgear is functional, but the cabin, while more aesthetically pleasing than before, isn’t particularly pretty. It is roomy, however, and comfortable.

Acceleration from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder (182 horsepower/178 lb-ft of torque) is adequate if not thrilling, and the weight of the available all-wheel drive system likely has something to do with that. The top two trims are available with a turbo four, if you’re OK with front-drive only. At least the continuously-variable automatic transmission is mostly well-behaved.

Then there’s the ProPilot Assist system, which Nissan is proud of. The system is meant to keep you centered in the lane, and it can also keep you at a set speed. It can also help you keep the gap with the car in front of you, should that car slow down. It can even bring you to a complete stop.

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL AWD

When it works, that is. It was wonky during my time with the car, and it’s not the first time I’ve had issues getting it to work. A quick chat with Nissan confirmed to me that it needs clear lane lines on each side – and Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, where I tested it, has a lot of lines with faded or fading paint. You also need to make sure the system is both turned on and then set. That makes sense, but so doing is trickier than it seems. Finally, I was told that even with the intelligent cruise control working, the system can still cut out.

When the system worked, it was fine, but the inconsistency makes it easier to just leave it off. Even if it worked perfectly each time, it’s still an assist feature, not really meant to do much other than lend a driver an automated hand. It’s nowhere near autonomous driving – and to be fair, Nissan doesn’t claim it is. Personally, I find it easier to drive the old-fashioned way than use most of these systems, so this isn’t a shot only at Nissan. Some driver-assist features are useful, some are not, and this one, as presently constituted, really isn’t.

PPA’s inconsistent functionality may have been my biggest beef with the car, along with the tacked-on infotainment screen. Otherwise, the Altima is perfectly fine. There’s that word again.

2020 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL AWD

Even the features list doesn’t scream standout. I drove an SL-trim car, which is the second-highest grade. Standard features included ProPilot Assist, keyless entry and starting, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, intelligent forward-collision warning, rear automatic braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, intelligent lane intervention, high-beam assist, rear-view monitor, power moonroof, premium audio, leather seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote start, rear sonar, satellite radio, Bluetooth, navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, multiple USB ports, traffic-sign recognition, hill-start assist, 17-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, chrome exhaust tips, and LED headlamps.

Options included splash guards, floor and trunk mats, ground lighting, interior accent lighting, a rear spoiler, kick-plate lighting, and impact sensors. The price was just shy of $35K.

A fine price, for an automobile that is just fine, if not fine. Our last Altima review suggested the car is good enough now to be thought of as more than just a decent choice on the Enterprise rental lot, and I don’t disagree. But I imagine the next time I choose to drive one, the words “I’ll pay a bit more for the Nissan” will be said to an overworked counter agent before I take the keys.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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