FIRST DRIVE: 2019 Nissan Altima goes against the grain

Sedan intro goes against the crossover boom and Nissan is fine with that

Published: March 9, 2019, 6:30 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2019 Nissan Altima

NOTRE-DAME-de-la-MERCI, Quebec – Despite the large growth in the crossover market, Nissan is making a heavy investment and statement in the sedan segment by rolling out the all-new and improved sixth-generation 2019 Nissan Altima. According to Scott Pak, Nissan Canada product planning manager, “It’s our biggest investment ever in a new platform and for Altima.”

This is not to say that the Japanese powerhouse isn’t focused on building its lineup of utility vehicles. It has a steady and growing lineup that includes a newly refreshed mid-size Murano to add to the Kicks, Qashqai, Rogue, Pathfinder and Armada. The list is long, but the excitement at this event in Mont-Tremblant and at the Circuit Mecaglisse revolved around the new Altima sedan that sits on a stronger and lighter platform with standard intelligent all-wheel drive (AWD) system. Yes, standard AWD — a first for a Nissan sedan in North America.

Now that’s a commitment that rests on the shoulders of the marketing department, whose aim will be to educate the public on why a starting price of $27,998 is great value for an AWD product. However, customers can also be won over through practical testing, a big reason why Nissan created the perfect setting for a winter drive to show off the stable balancing act of the Altima around the snowy back roads through Tremblant and the ice track at Mecaglisse.

Confidence inspiring

The all-new Altima is obviously a direct assault on the Subaru Legacy, a perennial AWD champion in this segment that happens to also be dramatically refreshed for 2019. No comparisons were made, but the Altima held its own as a smooth and confident companion – challenging ice, snow, and some tight corners, and whatever came its way, with help from a new rack-mount electric power steering system that’s both precise and responsive. Nissan used to term “confidence inspiring,” and as much as it’s marketing lingo, it held true in every regard including the ice track on studded tires.

The Altima is spearheaded by its only engine for Canada: a redesigned 2.5-litre 4-cylinder rated at 182 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque that aims to be in a front-wheel bias with fuel savings top of mind. But when in need (which was the case for most of this journey), it can instantly send up to 50% of its power to the rear. That torque distribution is constantly in flux guiding the vehicle through the turn and on course throughout without the assistance being noticeable from the cockpit.

All of this is achieved in a quiet nature, that surprisingly has a quick initial thrust forward, allowing the driver to forget or not even realize it’s being worked by a CVT. You won’t read about any whining in this review, as that CVT allows for an impressive 9.1 L/100 km in the city and 6.5 on the highway, both ratings lower than those of the Legacy.

Creating a newly configured engine featuring direct-injection allowed Nissan to take full advantage of its exterior design language lowering the Altima by about 15 mm and adding width of some 23 mm. It all contributes to an overall look that’s sleeker and sportier, blending well with its signature Vmotion grille and boomerang LED headlights.

Premium feel

The new Altima is going after a class-above premium look and feel that’s mainly expressed by its interior. All trims receive Nissan’s unique NASA-inspired seats that are heated, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, remote engine start, four USB ports, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. Those refined touches complement its comfortable seating (leather in Premium trim) and spacious headroom and legroom for both rows.

As you move up the trim line, that excitement only improves with added safety technology including Safety Shield 360 (Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Intelligent Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and High Beam Assist) and the semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist at the SV level, and an intelligent all-around view monitor, traffic sign recognition and navigation under Platinum.

A launch of an all-new mid-size sedan with a large investment backing would appear to go against the grain of the crossover boom, and Nissan is perfectly fine with that. Even though the percentage of sedan sales have dropped, buyers still exist, and with some competitors leaving the mid-size market, the Altima's path to success has simply widened. The addition of standard AWD in Canadian winters will open the door to more customers, it will just be a matter of how many?