Nissan Altima vs. Volkswagen Passat: Compare Cars

October 31, 2016

Oh, the how times have changed. Family-sedan shoppers' best choices used to be either the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord. Now, shopping lists should contain the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, and Mazda 6, for a full slate of contenders, all with slightly different personalities.

A pair of mid-size sedans, the Nissan Altima and Volkswagen Passat, have placed big bets on excellent fuel economy as a selling point, along with completely revamped style and features.

So, how do they stack up?

(Please note: we've changed the way in which we rate cars.)

MORE: Read our review of the 2017 Nissan Altima and 2017 Volkswagen Passat

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, it's close at 6.8 out of 10 for the VW and 7.2 for the Altima, but although these two are built not far from one another in Tennessee, they have decidedly different flavors. 

2016 Nissan Altima

2016 Nissan Altima

Enlarge Photo
2016 Nissan Altima

2016 Nissan Altima

Enlarge Photo
2016 Nissan Altima

2016 Nissan Altima

Enlarge Photo

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 4-cylinder engine is smooth and powerful enough in the current Altima, and though the continuously variable transmission isn't a favorite, it was thoroughly re-engineered in 2013 for better performance. It doesn't seem sluggish to respond any more, and that helps the base Altima deliver an EPA-rated 39 mpg highway with reasonably spirited performance.

The Passat's standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is a lovely boost over the former 5-cylinder. With the Passat's TDI sitting out for the model year due to the company's emissions scandal, it's a closer call than it would be otherwise, but we'd still give the nod to the Passat's 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 and responsive 6-speed automatic transmission for its energetic feel. Both the Altima and Passat offer an optional V-6 that many mainstream shoppers will pass on, since the high-economy models are so efficient and so effective.

2017 Volkswagen Passat

2017 Volkswagen Passat

Enlarge Photo
2017 Volkswagen Passat

2017 Volkswagen Passat

Enlarge Photo
2017 Volkswagen Passat

2017 Volkswagen Passat

Enlarge Photo

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. A new SR model goes a long way to addressing the handling differences, but it's an optional model; the base Altima's a much more traditional-handling car, while the Passat is still very much in European tune.

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 Altima gets our nod over the nicely fitted Passat, primarily because the extra sound damping in the Nissan makes it quieter at speed.

Thanks to additional active-safety options this year, the Altima and Passat are now on par with class leaders. Both earn IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status. The 2017 Passat earns five stars overall from the NHTSA; the Altima earned that rating for 2016.

The Altima outranks the Passat for convenience and luxury features, but only slightly. The Passat has caught up this year, with all models now including USB ports and upgraded infotainment. You can even get features like heated rear seats in the VW now.

The bottom line? Both the Altima and Passat are solid alternatives to our favorite family sedans—the Legacy, the Fusion, and the Accord. These challengers promise huge driving distances on a single tank of fuel, with handsome styling, above-average handling and exceptional room. With either the Altima or the Passat, you'll find yourself behind the wheel of a capable four-door without many obvious weaknesses.

Summary

7.2
Expert Rating
The 2017 Nissan Altima remains a fine mainstream choice, but rivals with newer designs offer far more technology.
6.7
Expert Rating
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat is a conservative pick in the mid-size pack with generous interior space.

Styling

7.0
Expert Rating
Thoroughly inconspicuous, the Nissan Altima does little to stand out from the crowd.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
The Passat plays it safe and stays mid pack in the mid-size sedan category.
Read More

Performance

6.0
Expert Rating
Though the V-6 is fast, no Altima is especially entertaining.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Two gas engines are available; the base turbo-4 is the best value for fuel economy and decent power.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

8.0
Expert Rating
The Altima's interior is capacious and high-grade models feel almost luxurious inside.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
Four adults will find plenty of space inside with room for plenty of cargo.
Read More

Safety

7.0
Expert Rating
The Altima aces its crash tests, but advanced safety tech requires opting for a high-zoot model.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The Passat earns very good scores from the IIHS and NHTSA and has a full complement of advanced safety features.
Read More

Features

7.0
Expert Rating
There are many ways to slice your Altima cake.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
Base cars are equipped well, but there aren't many options beyond lighting and safety.
Read More

Fuel Economy

8.0
Expert Rating
Most Altimas are rated at an impressive 39 mpg highway.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
The diesel Passat is likely long gone, but the base gas version is respectable.
Read More

MSRP

from $22,500
from $22,440

Invoice

from $21,348
from $21,520

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

31
27

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L
Intercooled Turbo Regular Unleaded I-4, 1.8 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Compare Free Dealer Price Quote
With competitive price quotes from multiple dealers, you will be prepared when you meet your local car dealer. Please tell us how to contact you so that dealers can compete for your business!
Search Dealers by ZIP Code
Update ZIP Code
2017 Nissan Altima
2017 Volkswagen Passat
Looking for dealers in your area...
Powered By
We are committed to your privacy. By submitting this form you agree the phone number you provided may be used to contact you (including text, autodialed or pre-recorded calls). Consent is not a condition of purchase.
2018
The Car Connection
See the winners »
2018
The Car Connection
 
Ratings and Reviews
Rate and review your car for The Car Connection
Review your car
Related Head to Head
The Car Connection Daily Headlines
I agree to receive emails from the site. I can withdraw my consent at any time by unsubscribing.
Thank you! Please check your email for confirmation.