The 2021 Nissan Altima strikes a balance of pleasing design, desirable features, and competent powertrain offerings.
Hard to believe the Nissan Altima has been sold here for nearly 30 years. Since its 1993 intro, the Altima has gained over a foot in length, not to mention an exotic variable-compression turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive (AWD). 2021 marks the third year since a major platform redesign, bringing trim level shuffling and package changes.
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For 2021, that exotic motor, dubbed VC-Turbo, is no longer available on the top tier Platinum trim and can now only be had with front-wheel drive (FWD). There is also a new, $1,800 SV Premium Package that includes goodies like ProPILOT Assist, a moonroof, and heated front seats.
Aggressive front-end design
Cleanly integrated infotainment screen
Variable-compression ratio turbocharged engine
All-wheel drive availability
Rear seat release is only accessible from the trunk
Drone-prone continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Warranty coverage could be better
Though the feat-of-engineering, variable-compression ratio motor gets all the attention, it is only available on the SR VC-Turbo trim. All other Altimas are equipped with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-pot mated to a CVT. Making 188 horses, this powertrain won’t be setting any drag strip records but gets the job done thanks to a relatively low curb weight in the 3,200-pound range. AWD is available on all trims except the base model and only incurs a 150-pound penalty. For those with sporting intentions, the Altima SR has had its suspension and chassis tuned accordingly.
The aforementioned VC-Turbo model is an impressive specimen that can vary its compression ratio from 8:1 when you hit the gas, to 14:1 for higher efficiency cruising. This boosted four-cylinder packs 248 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, but is only available in FWD configuration, so torque steer is a distinct possibility. But, paired with a sport-tuned suspension, the SR VC-Turbo Altima is the one for enthusiasts.
The 2021 Nissan Altima is a highly efficient sedan across all powertrain configurations. Starting with the FWD S model, EPA estimates predict 28 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city and 39 on the highway. This efficiency decreases as you increase engine power to a low of 25 mpg for city and 34 mpg highway on the VC-Turbo. It is worth noting, however, that the variable-compression turbo is 15% more efficient than the previous generation 3.5-liter V6.
The interior of the 2021 Nissan Altima is a nice place to be, from design to ergonomics and execution. The controls layout is intuitive with a just-right number of knobs and buttons for drivers who prefer this to a touchscreen interface. It’s all part of what Nissan dubs the “Gliding Wing” instrument panel and incorporates pleasant matte chrome colored trim and available wood-tone accents.
While cloth is standard, leather is available on amply bolstered seats that offer power lumbar support. Heated front seats are an option and, in a nod to Snow Belt customers, a heated steering wheel is a nice luxury touch. Behind that flat-bottomed steering wheel is a 7” digital screen that can be toggled to display audio details, navigation directions and vehicle alerts.
Unfortunately, the rear seats do not fold completely flat but they can be split 60/40 and fold down enough to accept larger cargo. The measured 15.4 cubic feet of cargo room, with the seats up, is in line with Altima’s competitive set and can accommodate storage tasks expected of a midsize sedan.
While the base Altima is equipped with a 7” color touchscreen audio display and a single USB port, every trim above this has an 8” screen and four USB ports, two of which are USB-C. These upper trims also include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, which is hard to pass up for the majority of smartphone users. Jumping up the trim ladder to the $30K Altima SL, nets a 9-speaker Bose premium stereo system and the ProPILOT Assist suite of driver assistance features. The nifty “AroundView” monitor, only available on Platinum trim, gives drivers a full circle look at the exterior of their Altima.
The 2021 Nissan Altima earns a 5-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Occupants are protected by crumple zones and steel door beams along with loads of airbags. Standard on all models are dual front torso and knee airbags, seat-mounted side impact airbags for the front and back, plus a roof mounted curtain airbag. This last one is for side impacts and includes a rollover sensor to offer head protection for outboard passengers.
The lowest rung on the Altima trim ladder comes with a strong array of driver assistance features and interior niceties. Automatic emergency braking can apply the brakes to lessen impact severity and includes a pedestrian detection feature. This is complemented by lane departure warning, high beam assist, and an alertness monitor for detecting drowsy drivers. On the inside, S models come standard with a 7” color touchscreen display, power driver’s seat, and a 60/40 folding rear seat.
Next up is the Altima SV, which nets 17” alloy rims, LED lighting out front, and additional driver assistance features. The center mounted infotainment system bumps up to an 8” touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. In front of the driver is a 7” digital, configurable display between the tach and speedometer for details like audio info and turn-by-turn navigation.
The sport-oriented SR brings suspension and chassis tweaks for improved handling along with 19” alloys and darkened exterior trim. This theme continues inside with sport seats, paddle shifters, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Like the SV trim, the Altima SR can be optioned with Nissan’s Intelligent AWD system.
Nissan ramps up the feature list on the SL with the ProPILOT Assist system, remote start, and dual zone automatic climate control. Luxurious items like leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and Bose sound system are included as well. One-touch up/down on the windows, a power passenger seat, and the NissanConnect suite of vehicle services round out the SL trim.
This upper-level SR model is the only Altima available with the variable-compression ratio, turbocharged four-cylinder which nets 60 additional horses and 93 lb-ft of twist over the naturally aspirated engine. Upgraded touches include a moonroof, heated outside mirrors, heated front seats, and power lumbar support for the driver.
The Nissan Altima Platinum is equipped as you would expect a nearly $35,000 sedan to be. AWD is the only drivetrain offered and the 19” aluminum wheels really dress things up. Tech-wise, there is the “AroundView” monitor, which shows a 360° “birds-eye” rendering of your car on the dash monitor. Wood-tone trim and interior accent lighting complete the upscale direction of Platinum Altimas.
The basic Altima warranty, for coverage of workmanship defects, runs for 3 years or 36,000 miles. The powertrain warranty extends to 5 years/60,000 miles and covers repairs on the engine, transmission, and drivetrain. There is also a 5-year/unlimited mileage corrosion warranty if any body panels develop rust or corrosive perforations. And in the event your Altima breaks down due to a warranty-covered failure, Nissan will cover towing costs to an authorized Nissan repair facility.
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The 2021 Nissan Altima is a competent middle of the road family sedan. It does everything well without going off the reservation on design or functionality. It strikes an appropriately aggressive stance with a deeply drawn front grille, and 19” wheels on higher trims give it a sporty look. The VC-Turbo motor is an impressive feat of engineering and the option for AWD is not typical for this class. 21 Altima’s offer plenty of connectivity and infotainment options along with their ProPILOT driver assistance suite of safety features.
Trim levels are laid out in an easy-to-navigate fashion and the limited powertrain options keeps decision making simple. The Altima ranked third in overall sedan sales for 2019 behind the Camry and Accord, so it’s a strong performer that is always in the conversation.