The 2021 Nissan Altima isn’t the most alluring or exciting family sedan, but it’s competent and available with some unconventional options. The latter include all-wheel drive and a one-of-a-kind variable-compression turbocharged engine. Unfortunately, Nissan doesn’t allow them to be paired together. Instead, the VC-Turbo is reserved for a single model that’s tuned for sportier intentions, and we found it surprisingly athletic. While the Altima isn’t as attractive or engaging as the Honda Accord or the Mazda 6, it does have very comfortable accommodations and a roster of popular driver assists and features. Its standard four-cylinder engine and gearless transmission don’t make for an inspiring powertrain, but the combo is subdued and fuel efficient. The fact of the matter is the 2021 Altima is good but not great. And that’s OK.
What’s New for 2021?
The 2021 Altima lineup sees a handful of small changes. The 2.0-liter variable-compression-turbo engine is no longer available on the top-of-the-line Platinum model. Instead, the VC-Turbo is only an option on the sporty SR, which also leapfrogs the previously mid-level SV in a move that reorders the Altima trim hierarchy. While this drops the SV’s starting price by $2740, it also removes several fancier standard features. Nissan offsets this with the new $1800 SV Premium package that includes adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, lane-keeping assist, a leather shift knob and steering wheel, ProPilot Assist, and a sunroof.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
Unlike rivals such as the Accord and Toyota Camry, the Altima offers features those two don’t: all-wheel drive and that unique VC-Turbo engine. While the benefits of the latter are hard to quantify, the $1400 all-wheel-drive system might attract sedan shoppers who live in the Snowbelt. We’d skip that option and choose the SR trim level. Along with a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels that make this family sedan more fun to drive, the SR has a host of desirable features that include an eight-way power driver’s seat, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an upgraded digital gauge cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and more. We’d also spring for the Premium package that adds heated mirrors, heated front seats, and a sunroof.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Altima has a standard 188-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that pairs with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes up to 248 horsepower with premium fuel and also uses the CVT. While Nissan touts the innovative variable-compression technology, only the 2.5-liter engine can be had with all-wheel drive. The standard four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive had predictable, albeit unremarkable, acceleration. The engine grew noisier the harder we pressed the gas pedal, but the four-cylinder Camry we tested was equally loud at times. The VC-Turbo engine makes the Altima significantly quicker. Despite the unconventional turbocharged engine and uncommon all-wheel drive, the Nissan is nowhere near as fun to drive as the Mazda 6 or pretty much any Accord. The Altima SR receives a sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch wheels that make it more entertaining on twisty sections of road. However, these upgrades also reduce the ride quality found on regular Altima models. Surprisingly, the top-of-the-line Platinum model we drove had more cornering grip than the 2019 BMW 330i xDrive we tested. The Nissan also had a comfortable ride that prevented any shudders over undulating pavement. Its steering system was precise by family-sedan standards and doesn’t add effort to emulate steering feel. The Altima’s brake pedal had linear feedback and prompt responses to our input.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The Altima doesn’t offer a fuel-saving hybrid or eco-friendly plug-in-hybrid model as do many of its rivals, but its two gasoline engines have lofty EPA fuel-economy ratings and even better real-world results. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine has estimates up to 28 mpg city and 39 highway. However, more expensive models are rated as low as 25 mpg city and 35 highway. The EPA estimates that all-wheel-drive models can earn up to 26 mpg city and 36 highway. The VC-Turbo engine is rated at 25 mpg city and 34 highway. On our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route—part of our extensive testing regimen—the all-wheel-drive Altima achieved an eye-popping 41 mpg, while the VC-Turbo version recorded an impressive 37 mpg. The most fuel-efficient (nonhybrid) Accord and Camry earned 38 mpg and 45 mpg, respectively.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Inside, the Altima’s cabin provides a straightforward dashboard with user-friendly switchgear. Interior materials vary among trim levels, but everything is a significant improvement compared with the previous-generation Altima. Our SV test vehicle had attractive appointments and hard plastics that drew little attention. The flat-bottomed steering wheel and faux carbon fiber were a bit much here, especially since there are no paddle shifters or selectable drive modes on the SV. Still, the soft armrests made cruising and sitting in traffic more tolerable. The front seats can accommodate a wide variety of body types, but we felt that the lumbar support was too aggressive. The large back seats were very comfortable with ample legroom. We fit six carry-on bags in the Altima’s trunk and 17 bags total with the rear seats folded. These numbers matched those of the Camry we tested, but both fell short of the Accord’s 19 bags. Unfortunately, the Nissan’s rear seats don’t fold completely flat and they must be released using handles in the trunk, which is inconvenient. The Altima has decent storage in the front seat, with narrow albeit deep door pockets and a useful tray at the front of the center console.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Every Altima—except the base model—has a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The infotainment interface has a customizable main menu but otherwise few personalization options. While the sound system has useful knobs for volume and tuning, the touchscreen we tested responded slowly to inputs. Along with optional built-in navigation, the Altima’s infotainment system can be upgraded with a Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as a nine-speaker Bose stereo.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Altima earned a five-star crash-test rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the last one that was evaluated by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) was named a Top Safety Pick. While every Altima has forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, the SV versions and up have standard blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and more. Nissan also offers a semi-autonomous drive mode called ProPilot Assist. Other safety features include:
- Available lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available rear automated emergency braking
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Altima has a competitive warranty coverage that aligns with rivals such as the Accord and Camry. Unfortunately, Nissan doesn’t offer any complimentary scheduled maintenance—Toyota provides two years or 25,000 miles.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
More Features and Specs