I finally did it: I’m a dad. The funny thing is, I’ve always owned dad cars, even before I needed to. Owning anything with less than four doors never made much sense, which is how I ended up with a stable of souped-up grandpa cars from the Sixties and Seventies. Now that I’m a father, the ’74 Oldsmobile sedan I brought my wife and son home from the hospital in seems a bit dated. And that, my friends, is how I found myself on this quest to find the perfect new dad car. The latest contender: The 2019 Nissan Altima.
The 2019 Nissan Altima, By the Numbers
- Base Price (Price as Tested), SR VC-Turbo: $30,195 ($30,655)
- Base Price (Price as Tested), Platinum AWD: $34,175 ($34,910)
- Powertrain, SR VC-Turbo: variable-displacement turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, 248 horsepower, 280 pound-feet of torque; continuously variable automatic transmission; front wheel-drive
- Powertrain, Platinum AWD: 188 horsepower, 180 pound-feet of torque; continuously variable automatic transmission; all wheel-drive
- Fuel Economy, SR VC-Turbo: 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
- Fuel Economy, Platinum AWD: 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
- Top Speed (SR VC-Turbo): 142 mph (Car and Driver)
- Random dad fact: Nissan’s variable compression turbo engine uses a crank-mounted actuator to change the position of the pistons. Compression rates vary between 14.0:1 and 8.0:1, providing ideal conditions either for performance or fuel economy.
When I asked my wife what she thought of the new Altima, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It’s a Nissan. It’s fine.” Not a lavish endorsement, sure, but certainly a window into the soul of a modern Nissan: dependable, comfortable, more or less unremarkable. But after spending some time in both the all-wheel drive version and the turbocharged variant, I came away from the new Altima with a better-than-average opinion of the turbo.
Like most Nissans, the Altima offers a generous amount of space inside relative to its exterior dimensions. And this year, fresh styling in line with recent redesigns of the flagship Maxima sedan and Murano crossover has finally trickled down to Nissan’s midsize sedan workhorse, imbuing it with a rather fetching look. Add in new powertrain options and top safety ratings, and the Altima starts to make a lot of sense as a family car.
Looking at the Altima from a parent’s perspective, let’s consider the parameter that’s paramount among almost all others: interior space. Compared with the ever-dominant Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sedans, the Altima offers a little more legroom up front, and a tiny bit less in the rear. It has a larger trunk than the Camry, but trails the Accord. The Altima’s back doors score it points: They’re huge, which is great when you have to sling a heavier-with-each-passing-day child safety seat (presumably loaded with child) through the opening and into the center of the back seat. There are a lot of sedans on the market with narrow back doors that make this maneuver difficult. Not the Altima.
If the trunk isn’t the largest in its class, it makes up for it by offering a space that’s long and boxy. Packing in the stroller, diaper bag, groceries, and various other parental flotsam and jetsam is easy by sedan standards. If I had any beef, it was that this sedan—like all the fastback-roofed models on the market other than the Kia Stinger GT and the Honda Civic—doesn’t come in hatchback format. Are you listening, automakers? If you want to boost sedan sales, maybe turning them into hatchbacks (or sportbacks, liftbacks, or whatever you want to call them) is the way to go. But buyers don’t always know what’s good for them, otherwise a lot more family types would be driving minivans and small, fuel efficient station wagons.
Performance-wise, the Altima is lackluster—unless you go for the turbo model. It isn’t sports-car fast by any means, but the more time I spent with it, the more I liked it. The engine—a de-tuned version of the one Nissan uses in the Infiniti QX50—features an innovative new technology that changes engine compression rates on-the-fly to fit demand; it offers a good blend of low-speed grunt and solid, if a bit noisy, highway performance. And, unlike its luxury counterpart, the turbo Altima’s engine can run on regular gasoline.
The familiar naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder is a smoother version of its former self, but it takes more rpm to wring meaningful power out of it. The upside of the less powerful naturally aspirated engine is its fuel economy—the EPA average rating for the 2.5 is 32 miles per gallon, while the 2.0-liter turbo is 29 mpg. (Unfortunately, the all-wheel drive version is only available with the 2.5-liter motor, thus forcing Snow Belt buyers to make a tough choice between power and grip.)
All trim levels of the new Altima come standard with forward collision warning and driver fatigue warning systems. Blind spot warning with rear cross traffic assist is standard on all but the base S model. Lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and Nissan’s Pro Pilot semi-autonomous adaptive cruise control system are optional. (The Platinum AWD I tested came with Pro Pilot; it works as intended, but it seems more like a stepping stone to better technology than a true semi-autonomous driver aid to be taken seriously.) The 2019 Altima is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, but it has not yet been rated by the federal government for crashworthiness.
The question, as always over the past few years, is how long a sedan like this one will remain as an option as SUVs and pickups continue to gain market share. But for parents—those of us who have willingly entered into a life of endless shlepping and other minor inconveniences—the Altima presents itself as an excellent option. Plenty of space, comfortable seating, and decent fuel economy go a long way in the battle against crossover hegemony. In most cases, after all, a sedan will best a crossover in terms of fuel economy, handling, and price. Having solid sedans like this Nissan to choose from only makes the old-fashioned four-door even more appealing.
Two cents from the spouse: “I thought it was very convenient, but uninspiring. I liked the VW Jetta a little more. If I was going to go with a Nissan sedan, I’d get the Versa because it’s still pretty roomy, but a lot cheaper.”
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Author: Benjamin Preston
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