The Nissan Altima rides smoothly while offering frugal fuel economy. Nissan’s midsize family sedan was last redesigned as a 2013 model. Though handsomely sculpted for its fifth generation, the sedan looks more conventional today than it did five seasons ago.
Safety technology for the 2018 Nissan Altima includes automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning. The Altima 3.5 SL gains adaptive cruise control and upgraded NissanConnect with navigation, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A new Midnight Edition package for the Altima 2.5 SR features blacked-out body accents and 18-inch wheels. Navigation and heated front seats are included.
Five versions of the 2018 Altima are available: 2.5 S, 2.5 SR, 2.5 SV, 2.5 SL, and 3.5 SL. The 2.5 prefix indicates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that develops 179 horsepower. Only the 3.5 SL holds a V6: a 3.5-liter engine that generates 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. Every Altima comes with Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) and has front-wheel drive.
During its history, the Altima grew from a compact car to a sporty midsize family sedan. At the same time, its performance potential shrunk somewhat. Nowadays, the Altima is a plush-riding, sensibly roomy four-door with a pair of powertrains that don’t stand apart from the midsize pack.
Handling talents don’t stand out from the competition, ride being emphasized. Yet, the Altima ranks among the top-selling family sedans on today’s market. Of course, crossover models, including Nissan’s own Rogue, sell even better.
Interior space is a strong point in the five-passenger Altima, which promises comfortable seating and appropriate cabin trim. Today’s Altima is quieter than some of its predecessors, too. Except for the four-cylinder SR sedan, which boasts some sportier styling touches, appearance differences between trim levels are slight.
Nissan’s Altima ranks near the top in family-sedan safety, thanks to newly standard safety technology and excellent crash-test scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rates the 2018 Altima at five stars overall, as well as for frontal and side-impact crashes. Rollover resistance is calculated at four stars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has awarded Altima a Top Safety Pick designation, with Good crash-test scores (including the small-overlap crash) and Superior frontal crash prevention.
Every Altima now has forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, along with a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitoring is optional. Adaptive cruise control is standard on SL sedans, but otherwise unavailable.
Altima 2.5 S ($23,260) has a four-cylinder engine, CVT, power windows and locks, power mirrors; steering-wheel audio controls, rearview camera, 5.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth with audio streaming, keyless entry, and 16-inch wheels. Altima 2.5 SV ($25,910) gets alloy wheels, a power driver’s seat, blind-spot monitoring, and remote start. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $885 destination charge.)
Altima 2.5 SL ($29,110) adds leather upholstery, a power passenger seat, Bose speakers, adaptive cruise control, navigation, and 18-inch wheels.
Altima 2.5 SR ($24,320) comes with sport suspension tuning, a power driver seat, extra styling details, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Altima 3.5 SL ($33,630) substitutes a 3.5-liter V6 engine.
Inevitably, a design that was initially seen as daring begins to fade into the background. When the newly redesigned Altima first appeared as a 2013 model, it struck quite a handsome figure. Today, Nissan’s midsize entrant almost starts to look bland.
While still attractive, the 2018 Altima simply blends more readily into its category, rather than clawing for visual attention. Front fenders remain shapely, flanking a relatively wide V-shaped grille, above a low bumper. Comparisons with the recently redesigned Maxima, which shares running gear, place Nissan’s midsize model at a disadvantage.
At least, the sportier-looking SR edition incorporates a bit of flash, in the form of distinctive wheels and smoked headlight covers.
With its subdued trim and traditional layout, the Altima’s cabin looks as if it wouldn’t be out of place in a mid-1990s model. Designers exercised restraint, keeping the interior conventional while competitors turned adventurous.
Not that the Altima cabin is the most spartan of the lot, though little evidence of the Nissan brand stands out. Dashboard panels are well-shaped and nicely textured, symmetric in appearance, with soft metallic trim framing major control groups.
Display screens are on the small side, and the dashboard tends to intrude on knee space. Base models look inexpensive, though fit/finish is satisfying.
Four adults can ride in comfort, but a fifth might feel constricted on a longer journey. Thick seat cushions are more comfortable than in a Ford Fusion. In the back seat, tall passengers might note that the roofline cuts slightly into headroom. Space beneath the front seats isn’t quite sufficient for rear riders’ feet, though knee room is average on the cozy back bench.
Trunk space is on par for the class, at 15.4 cubic feet, but hinges are exposed.
Nothing about the Altima aims toward enthusiast. This sedan is strictly mainstream.
Nissan’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) has long been recognized as one of the better examples. Abundantly reworked not long ago, it improved dramatically, now operating with admirable smoothness, almost like a regular 6-speed automatic.
A series of pre-programmed ratios in the gearless belt/pulley transmission extracts ample vitality from the four-cylinder engine. Droning at midrange engine speeds, typical of earlier CVTs, is substantially reduced.
Though wholly sufficient, the four-cylinder engine ranks no higher than adequate in acceleration, but strikingly high in fuel economy. Most 2018 Altimas with the 2.5-liter engine are EPA-rated at 27/38 mpg City/Highway, or 31 mpg Combined. With its bigger tires, the SR sedan is rated 1 mpg less in each category.
Nissan is among the dwindling group of automakers to continue offering a V6 alternative rather than a turbo four. For performance, at a higher cost, the 3.5-liter V6 is clearly the way to go, though it’s a bit gruff at lower engine speeds and loud when approaching the tachometer’s redline. The V6 Altima is EPA-rated at 22/32 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined.
Handling isn’t quite as briskly confident as in previous Altimas â€“ predictable, but lagging in steering responses. Relaxed-rate springs and Sachs shock absorbers contribute to a plush ride. SR editions get stiffer anti-sway bars and distinct shock tuning, for greater firmness without a punishing ride.
Brakes provide good pedal feel, but noise and vibration control could be better.
Despite a few issues and a design that no longer clamors for attention, the well-equipped Altima is still a respectable, value-laden four-door. Four-cylinder gas mileage and impressive safety add to its appeal. Even though it’s not truly sporty, the SR sedan, fitted with few options, is a tempting choice.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.