Nissan’s Altima used to be the mid-sized sport sedan for the buyer who couldn’t afford a Maxima sedan.
It was similar to the Maxima – both were about the same size – and it could be ordered with the V6 the Maxima came standard with, while costing less.
Now that the Maxima’s gone, the Altima’s the only mid-sized sedan Nissan still sells.
The question is – is it still sporty enough?
And how much longer will you be able to buy this sedan?
What It Is
It’s actually slightly larger (and roomier) than the Maxima, which was Nissan’s top-of-the-line sedan. But it’s no longer available with the V6 you used to be able to get.
Prices start at $25,730 for the base trim 2.5S, which comes standard with a 2.5 liter engine paired with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission and front wheel drive.
Although the Maxima’s 3.5 liter V6 is no longer available, you can get a turbocharged 2.0 liter four in the SR VC-Turbo, which lists for $35,430. This more powerful version of the Altima is front wheel drive only, however.
What’s New for 2024
The Altima hasn’t been updated since 2019, so the current model may be the last model. If it isn’t cancelled, expect a major makeover soon. The next-generation Altima (if there is one) is likely to be a hybrid of some type, like the just-redesigned Camry and the recently redesigned Honda Accord.
Affordable base price.
Standard engine isn’t turbocharged (or hybridized).
More back seat and trunk room than Maxima had.
What’s Not So Good
No more optional V6.
Available turbo 2.0 four isn’t nearly as powerful as the previously available V6.
The standard (and only) transmission is a CVT automatic transmission.
The Altima’s standard engine is the same 2.5 liter four that used to be the standard engine in Nissan’s Frontier pick-up as well as a number of other models. It is not especially powerful (188 horsepower) but it is durable and low-maintenance. Probably in part because it isn’t turbocharged, so there’s no pressure on it to produce the power it makes.
An interesting counterpoint is the 1.5 liter turbocharged four that’s standard in the Honda Accord – which needs the turbo because a 1.5 liter engine would otherwise be too small to adequately power a mid-sized sedan like the Accord. It makes a little more power (192 hp) but it doesn’t use a lot less gas. The Honda rates 29 city, 37 highway vs. 27 city, 39 highway for the Altima. And the Altima also costs $2,165 less to start than the Accord (MSRP $27,895) which more than negates the almost immeasurable MPG difference between the two.
The Toyota Camry is about to transition into a hybrid – and it will probably average 50 MPG or more. But it will also likely cost close to $30k or even more – which is the up-front price you pay to “save on gas” down the road. There is also the down the road cost of replacing (eventually) the hybrid’s battery (just the same as in an EV). Just as there is the inevitable down-the-road replacement cost of a new turbo to bear in mind as regards the Accord.
In lieu of the previously available Maxima 3.5 liter V6 – that made 300 horsepower – there’s an available 2.0 liter turbo’d four with variable compression “technology” that makes 248 horsepower (if you feed it premium). This engine is standard in the SR VC-Turbo and is paired with the CVT automatic and front-wheel-drive only.
The “technology” is an multi-link crankshaft that alters the stroke of the pistons, increasing or decreasing compression, to deliver more power and higher fuel economy (at the cost of more complexity).
Interestingly, this little engine uses almost as much gas as the no-longer-available 3.5 V6, which had the compensating factor of making 300 rather than 248 horsepower. And being a V6 rather than a four.
The 2.0 liter engine rates 25 city, 34 highway. The Maxima V6 rated 20 city, 30 highway. And that’s on paper. In real-world driving, the Altima’s turbo four uses more gas than advertised . . . if you use the turbo. Which, of course, you almost have to – in order to make up for the fact that all there is under the Altima’s hood is a 2.0 liter four. Without the boost, this engine does not make enough power to adequately move this mid-sized sedan. So you push down harder on the gas pedal – and you end up using about as much gas as the V6 used.
Without having the V6.
There’s a reason why sedans are going away – and crossovers have taken their place. Sedans are no longer fun like they often used to be. This renders crossovers – which are also not much fun but are more practical (because of their layout, which allows them to carry more stuff) more popular.
There’s a tragedy in here, somewhere.
When the Altima could be ordered with the Maxima’s V6, it was lots of fun. Part of the fun being to outrun BMW and Mercedes sedans that cost $20k more (and also cost more to insure). Another part of the fun was that the V6 Altima – and the V6 Accord and the V6 Camry – looked like family cars. Which they were. But they were also performance cars whenever you wanted them to be. They could run with a Camaro or Mustang without looking like a Camaro or a Mustang.
The V6 Altima (and Camry and Accord) were stealthy. They flew under the radar, so to speak. That made it worth overlooking their smallish trunks vs. the capacious cargo areas you get with crossovers.
But now what?
The Altima is a perfectly pleasant car. Equipped with the 2.5 liter engine, it has enough power to move itself as quickly as a typical crossover in the same price range. It gets to 60 in about 7.5 seconds or so.
But what else does it do?
When you could get it with a V6, it could get to 60 in the high fives – and that’s a difference that made all the difference. The turbo 2.0 SR tries to split the difference. But it’s a step backward rather than forward. Less engine – and less performance. Only marginally higher (and mostly on-paper) mileage gains, as if that mattered to people who are willing to pay extra for more engine and better performance.
If the 2.0 were available with a manual (you used to be able to get one in the Altima and the Maxima – and with the V6, if you can imagine that) it would make up for some of what’s been lost. There would be more for the driver interested in driving to do, for instance. And here we assume that people who are willing to spend thousands extra for more engine and better performance are wanting precisely that.
If they didn’t, they’d be looking at crossovers . . . right?
The Altima is still more fun to drive than most crossovers, because it’s still a sedan and sedans handle better than jacked-up crossovers. You can dive into a corner faster – and that’s fun enough. But there’s not as much fun to be had powering out of the corner when there’s less power to do it and you haven’t got anything to do other than steer and mash the gas.
The CVT automatic is ok but it’s not there for performance. CVTs are everywhere because they help a car manufacturer squeeze an addition 2-3 MPGs out of a drivetrain. In other words economy first.
Which, of course, is fine . . . in an economy car.
The problem here is the Altima isn’t supposed to be that. And yet – all of a sudden – it kind of is.
One of the reasons Nissan stopped selling the Maxima was that it was also selling the Altima – and the two sedans were so similar that having two of essentially the same thing didn’t make much sense. Not only did they look very much the same, they were close to the same size; in fact, the current Altima is a slightly larger sedan than the last Maxima. The latter was 192.8 inches long; the Altima is 192.9 inches long.
It also has nearly the same front and rear seat legroom (43.8 and 35.2 inches, respectively, vs. 45 up front and 34.2 for the 2023 Maxima) and a slightly larger (15.4 cubic foot) trunk (vs. 14.3 for the Maxima).
A lot of people asked themselves: Why not just by the less-pricey Altima?
The Maxima did used to come with the V6 as standard, of course. But now it’s gone – and so is the Maxima’s V6 as an option for the Altima.
What you do still get – and maybe it’s enough – is a much lower-than-Maxima price. At $25,730 to start, the ’24 Altima costs $12,610 less than the asking price of a base-trim ’23 Maxima ($38,340).
And that’s worth something.
The Altima is also thousands less expensive (to start) than either of its two remaining major rivals, the Accord and Camry.
It comes standard with steel (rather than aluminum) 16 inch wheels, which is worth something, too – because steel wheels are sturdier than aluminum wheels and less vulnerable to being bent by potholes and curb strikes. They also cost less to replace if they are damaged, which is almost impossible to do.
All trims come standard with pushbutton start and keyless entry – which you may not want, if you want to be able to have an extra set of keys cut at any hardware store for $10 or so rather than have to spend several times that sum on a transmitter fob that you’ll need to have a dealer program for you.
A suite of “driver assistance technologies” – including a “driver attention” warning system- is standard in all trims.
That’s what you get nowadays instead of a V6.
Rumors abound that 2025 will be the Last Call for the Altima – so this may be your second-to-last chance to buy one.
Which you may want to consider doing while you still can – because the Altima is already pretty much the last mid-sized sedan you can still buy new without a turbocharged engine or a hybrid drivetrain.
It may not be much longer before you won’t be able to get either of those. When all you can get (new) is a battery powered device.
And that probably will cost you a lot more more than $25k or so.
The Bottom Line
It’s not yet the last of its kind. But it’s almost that.
Probably sooner than you think, too.
. . .
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