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Nissan Altima Vs. Volkswagen Passat: Compare Cars

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Nissan Altima Vs. Volkswagen Passat

Nissan Altima Vs. Volkswagen Passat

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Family-sedan shoppers no longer have just a few choices; these days it's not just a Camry-versus-Accord world. Look to the latest Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Chrysler 200, and Mazda 6, and you'll see a full slate of serious contenders, all with slightly different personalities.

Two of the newest mid-size sedans, the Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat, promise excellent fuel economy to go with completely revamped style and features. How do they stack up?

The answer is that it's a close race, and depending on how highly you value miles per gallon and spare design, it could go the other way. By our numeric ratings, the Altima ekes out a win--narrowly--thanks to its superior base drivetrain and more widespread luxury features, though the Passat's optional diesel, its immense back seat, and its excellent safety scores bring it within a few tenths of its Tennessee-built neighbor.

The Altima's sleek looks mimic those of the more expensive Infiniti range, and the interior's never looked so refined, or been so quiet. The Passat? It's very spare and neatly organized, if a little plain to some. It promises a timeless appeal, and it leaves unnecessary detail off its fenders and its dash to that end.

Nissan's four-cylinder engine is smooth and powerful enough in the new Altima, and though the continuously variable transmission isn't a favorite, it's been thoroughly re-engineered. It doesn't seem sluggish to respond any more--and that helps the base Altima deliver an EPA-rated 38 mpg highway with reasonably spirited performance. The Passat's standard five-cylinder engine is adequate for acceleration, more rumbly and less refined than a four-cylinder like the one in the Altima, so we recommend a step up to the turbodiesel Passat TDI, which carries a significant price premium over the base car. You'll spend a few thousand more for the excellent powertrain, but you'll be rewarded with 43-mpg highway economy. Both the Altima and Passat offer an optional V-6 that many mainstream shoppers will pass on, since the high-economy models are so good.

Both the Altima and Passat have good handling for the class. The Passat's much more firm in steering feel and ride damping; the Altima's softened up a lot with this redesign, but it's still one of the more precise-handling sedans in the segment.

Comfort and quality in either four-door are excellent. The Passat's firm seats come in synthetic leather or cloth, and interior room is vast, in front or back, with or without the available sunroof. The Altima's a bit smaller but still quite spacious; its front seats are the best we've tried in family cars, and the rear bench has good support, too. The high quality of materials in the Altima gets our nod over the nicely fitted Passat, primarily because the extra sound damping in the Nissan makes it much quieter at speed.

Both models get Top Safety Pick+ status—ranking them in the top tier from the IIHS and achieving top 'good' scores in all area, except the new small overlap frontal impact test, where they both are rated 'acceptable.' And from the federal government, they both earn four stars overall.

The Altima outranks the Passat for convenience and luxury features, too. Bluetooth is standard, with audio streaming and voice-to-text translation. A USB port and satellite radio are available, and so is a new navigation system with a larger LCD touchscreen. The Passat offers many of those features, but is packaged in such a way that some buyers may feel underserved. Want a base Passat TDI with cloth seats, satellite radio and a USB port? It doesn't exist.

The bottom line? Both the Altima and Passat are poised to take even more business away from the Accord and Camry. They promise huge driving distances on a single tank of fuel, with handsome styling, above-average handling and exceptional room. The Altima has an advantage with its richer features list. With either the four-cylinder Altima or the Passat TDI, you'll find yourself behind the wheel of a capable four-door without many obvious weaknesses.

For more information, see our full reviews of the 2014 Nissan Altima and the 2014 Volkswagen Passat, and follow last year's Six-Month Road Test of the VW Passat TDI.


2014 Nissan Altima 2014 Volkswagen Passat
2014 Nissan Altima 4-door Sedan I4 2.5 SL Angular Front Exterior View 2014 Volkswagen Passat Sport
TCC Rating
8.2 Following improvements that hit all the right spots, the 2014 Nissan Altima is a solid choice for those who don't mind a CVT. 7.8 The 2014 VW Passat gains a good new four-cylinder, while it keeps its grip on TDI economy, excellent interior room, and top-notch crash-test scores.
8The Nissan Altima has matured over the years; it keeps more of its edge in its sheetmetal than in its sober interior. Read more7The Passat skips all the drama, and poses out a classic--very understated--look. Read more
8The CVT's far better than before, and so is the ride, but where has the Altima's old, athletic feel gone? Read more7Handling's a strong point for such a large car; the TDI is our pick of drivetrains, but the new base four runs sweetly. Read more
8Roughly the same size as before, the Altima's gained much-improved seats and a profoundly quieter cabin. Read more9Superlative interior and trunk space is the Passat's big win, even if rear-seat headroom is snug for the tallest passengers. Read more
9Top safety scores are a new Altima feature, along with a raft of safety technology. Read more9The Passat has top-flight crash-test scores, and a rearview camera is now more widely available. Read more
8Nissan's updated the Altima's standard features to rival those in Korean sedans; the options list misses out on a few features. Read more7Some features found on other family sedans just aren't offered on the Passat, but its options are packaged sensibly. Read more
7The Altima sports an excellent 38-mpg EPA highway rating in four-cylinder form--and it's reachable in the real world. Read more8Who needs a hybrid, when the Passat delivers 43-mpg EPA highway ratings? Read more
from $22,170 from $20,845
from $20,971 from $19,990
Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway
31 26
Front Leg Room (in)
45 42.4
Second Leg Room (in)
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Read Full Specs
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