2020 Nissan Altima SR AWD Review by Ben Lewis

Sometimes, we wonder if family sedans sit around and reminisce about the good old days. Yeah, remember when the big box office was 4-doors? Camry and Accord, we ruled. The best-selling cars, the bring-home-the-bacon for most automakers. At least until…ugh…. SUV’s.

Well, lately, it seems like auto manufacturers aren’t taking things sitting down. The all-new Camry and Accord are dynamite cars, with loads of style and performance and value. And now we have an all-new Altima – the sedan that’s always been a little different from the rest of the pack – but always a delight in its own right.

It’s Good to Be Bad

This may be the best-looking Altima yet. Longer, lower and wider than the previous model, the lines are crisper and have a family-like appearance that started with the Maxima, and seem to have echoed down into the all-new Versa sedan. There’s a large, prominent corporate V-motion grille – handsomely finished in dark chrome on our SR tester – flanked by LED projector headlights and signature Daytime Running Lights, with large grille-like openings on the side housing LED fogs. It’s an aggressive and eye-catching front-end.

This Altima looks mean.

It also has the visual muscle to back up the attitude. The sides have a crisp contour line that flows off the hood, powerful fender flares, and sharp indents at the bottom of the doors. The Altima looks more than the new model’s 1.0-inch added length, thanks to a 2-inch longer wheelbase that pushes the wheels farther into the corners, with notably less front overhang.

The coupe-like profile really gets sold with the Sporty SR model’s handsome 19-inch alloy wheels. It gives the Altima real stance, a sense of purpose. It looks European – promising a great drive, even sitting still. We like.

The rear strikes us as especially Audi like, with sharp boomerang shape LED taillights, a small but tasteful rear spoiler, and a lower rear fascia with aerodynamic slats bracketed by dual exhaust pipes. Serious. The perfect finishing touch – the Sunset Drift ChromaFlair, a bold, sharp metallic orange that reminds us when the 350Z was launched with a similar bright eye-searing orange. And the first-generation Murano also had a unique, similar shade. A color with a sense of history. We love that!

Orange Zest Interior

Inside, the SR model picks up the that zesty orange exterior color with some nice contrasting orange trim and stitching, along with faux carbon fiber trim that helps to brighten up the interior.  The SR is not an expensive model – it’s next above the entry-level S – but the design feels crisp and modern. The driver gets a nice D-shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters and a leather-wrapped shift knob. There are a clear analog speedo and tach, with a useful 7-inch Advanced Drive Assist Display that serves up loads of info from music, to trip data and driver aid alerts.

The 8-inch multi-touch color display puts info-tainment at your fingertips, and incudes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Although you can’t get navi on the lower models, we enjoyed seeing WAZE on our Altima’s big screen. It must be hard to sell Navi these days… Instead, we’d pony up for the available NissanConnect services, that lets you enjoy compatible smartphone/smartwatch access to Remote Engine Start/Stop, Remote Door Lock/Unlock, Valet Alert, as well as Amazon Alexa Skill and Google Assistant. The Altima also includes 4 USB ports, including two USB-C ports. It’s a high-tech powerhouse.

You’ve got a great perch to enjoy all this tech. The front Zero Gravity seats are supportive and designed to fit the long of leg, while the rear seats are spacious too, with plenty of room for adults. The 60/40 rear seats fold down and there’s a nice-sized pass-through to fit large items.

But Does it Drive with Zest?

Well, that depends on which model Altima you opt for. At the top of the Altima line is an all-new ground-breaking, world’s-first, variable-compression turbo engine that gives you the power of a V6 and the fuel-efficiency of a four-cylinder. This little 2.0-liter powerhouse punches out 248 hp, and 273 lb.-ft of torque, and is rated at 29 mpg combined. Wow. How’s it drive?  We don’t know, you can’t get it on the SR with All-wheel-drive like our tester.

But we’re not glum. The 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder in our tester has seen a bunch of development, with over 80% new or redesigned parts. In the all-wheel-drive model, you get 182 hp, and 178 lb.-ft of torque. (Front wheel drive models net a little more, 188 hp, and 180 lb.-ft.) It’s not only a bit more powerful than before, Nissan really stepped up the refinement – this is an engine with an Audi-like, turbine smoothness.

The Xtronic CVT transmission is Nissan’s best effort to date, which is to say, it doesn’t feel like a CVT. It does a wonderful job of impersonating an 8-speed automatic, smooth and quick without any of the rubber-banding or motor-boating we’ve noted in other CVTs. And with the SR’s paddle shifters and manual mode, it’s fun to snick through the gears. Even if they aren’t really gears.

The all-new chassis is rigid, and it really reinforces that solid Audi-like vibe we noticed. It’s exceptionally quiet in the Altima, and the slightly longer wheelbase gives a slightly smoother ride. The SR model’s suspension is sport-tuned, and combined with the large 19-inch wheels, and all-wheel-drive, handling grip is impressive, and the steering is notably direct, but light – again like an Audi.

Overall, the Altima’s performance is impressively refined. It has a palpable feeling of confidence. Easy to drive quickly, but too well-mannered to goad you into pushing it hard. That’s probably the job of the models with the VC-Turbo engine.

Confidence comes too, with the standard Safety Shield 360 suite of features. For 2020, all models except the base trim include  Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Rear Automatic Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and High Beam Assist. All good stuff.

Will it Break the Bank?

The Altima may whisper “Audi”, but the price still says Nissan. You can get a handsome Altima S with standard intelligent forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking and the 8” NissanConnect touchscreen for just $24,100. All-wheel-drive is only $1,350 more. Watch out, Subaru.

Nissan figures the SR to be the most popular model, and we can see why. For only $25,700 you get a huge step up in looks with LED lights, the dark grille, handsome 19” alloy wheels, sport suspension and sporty interior. It’s a very good value. Our AWD tester started at $27,050. The Sunset Drift Chromaflair paint added $395, and with a few accessories like mud guards and rear spoiler, we had an as-tested sticker of $28,695. If you’re willing to forgo the AWD, an Altima SR with the VC-Turbo engine comes in at $29,750.  That’s a lot of performance for under $30k!

You can also ladder up the luxuries in the other trims with the SV ($27,880), SL ($30,240) and Platinum ($33,530) models, which are all available with AWD. And in the Platinum, you’re getting loads of Maxima goodness for a lot less. Just sayin…

Competitors to our SR AWD would include the Camry SE which is a bit more $29,700. But Camry doesn’t offer the all-weather confidence of AWD. And for that amount you could get the VC-turbo Altima, which would crush it, performance-wise. The Accord is in the same boat with no AWD. The Accord Sport front wheel drive comes in at $26,530 – very close to the Altima SR FWD. They’re both great cars. No one will make you wrong for buying an Accord (including us). But you will see a lot of them around.

Thanks to the new Accord, Camry and now Altima, the sedan is far from gone. And we’re glad.

The new 2020 Altima is a great step forward. With style, performance, tech, and available all-wheel-drive.

Toyota and Honda should be worried. Subaru and Audi too!