2021 Nissan Altima

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
November 23, 2020

Buying tip

All-wheel drive cuts down on fuel economy and raises the price, so why get it if you don’t truly need it?

features & specs

2.0 SR Sedan
2.5 Platinum AWD Sedan
2.5 S Sedan
25 city / 34 hwy
25 city / 35 hwy
28 city / 39 hwy

The 2021 Nissan Altima has a plain-spoken appeal, not to mention high safety scores and a great low price.

What kind of car is the 2021 Nissan Altima? What does it compare to?

The 2021 Nissan Altima is a mid-size five-seat family sedan that costs about $25,000 in its base version. It’s a direct rival to some of the best-selling cars in the U.S., including the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Hyundai Sonata.  

Is the 2021 Nissan Altima a good car?

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It’s a good value, and scores well in safety. We give it a TCC Rating of 6.5 out of 10, in a cutthroat class of vehicles with some of the best profiles and technology on the road. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What’s new for the 2021 Nissan Altima?

Not much, other than some rejuggled features in the various available trims.

Every Altima still comes with a crisp, handsome body. Redesigned for the 2019 model year, the latest Altima looks leaner and more athletic than it has in the past, like it signed up for hot yoga class knowing lockdown was coming. The hood’s sharper, the nose has a deeper V-shaped grille, and the body has more sculpting. Less fat, more lean—and the appeal carries over into the simply laid out cabin, which doesn’t quite match the exterior’s energy, but puts the controls (including a dash-mounted touchscreen) where they’re easily seen and used.

Most Altimas have a 188-horsepower inline-4 and a continuously variable transmission that get together without much spark, like a Tinder date that won’t get a second. Fuel economy’s off the charts at 39 mpg highway, but the powertrain can drone and doesn’t develop speed that quickly. The 248-hp turbo-4 on the options list now comes only with the Altima SR and it’s more gripping—but its stiffer suspension tune and lack of optional all-wheel drive send us back to the Altima SV as our recommended pick. 

With more than 15 cubic feet of trunk space, and the interior for at least four 6-foot-tall passengers, the Altima doesn’t leave much room for complaint. Seat comfort is good, and so are leg and head room—and even if cargo space can’t match a Murano crossover, it’s still enough for a long weekend trip to anywhere accessible by car. 

The Altima scores well in crash tests, with some uneven ratings on the NHTSA regimen. Every one comes with standard automatic emergency braking, and many have Nissan’s ProPilot driver-assist setup, which ups the safety ante with active lane control and other crash-prevention technology.

How much does the 2021 Nissan Altima cost?

With a base price of about $25,000, the 2021 Altima comes with cloth seats, power features, and automatic emergency braking. We’ll take an SV with upgraded wheels, cloth, and better safety gear for less than $29,000.

Where is the 2021 Nissan Altima made?

In Smyrna, Tennessee, and in Canton, Mississippi.


2021 Nissan Altima


The Altima wears its family-sedan togs well.

Is the Nissan Altima a good-looking car?

It’s a stylish piece that’s looked more voluptuous and daring in the past. We like the exterior for its low and sleek shape, which puts it at a 6.

The Altima’s evolution would look great on a Darwin-style chart. It began life as a bulbous compact car, moved into ’90s pop-art angles, and dove into its middle age seven years ago with a toned, curvy new body. 

The latest edition? It leans out on the latter look and makes all the details bigger and bolder, but it’s lost some muscle with some of the fat. It’s aerodynamic and on trend, but that big, deep V-shaped grille takes some time to consider and to get used to. The Altima’s defining character line, which runs from the front fenders to the taillight, intersects with a surface on the doors to keep the body looking pert and taut.

The cabin of the Altima is nearly risk-free. Its standard-fare dash barely dips for the big touchscreen that sits in the center, while a thin band of trim keeps things from going entirely gray. Nissan lets lighter-color trim work its way up higher on the dash when it’s selected, and that keeps the interior feeling more breezy—but the effect’s cut down some by the tall center console and by the standard-issue black-on-black trim.

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2021 Nissan Altima


The Altima’s engineered for moderate performance, though all-wheel drive and a turbo-4 can alter the equation.

The 2021 Altima goes about its performance day without much flair or pretense. It’s a stock-issue four-door sedan—and even with the available all-wheel-drive system and turbo-4 engine, it’s still a moderate performer. It’s a 5 here.

How fast is the Nissan Altima?

Not very. Almost every Altima comes with a 188-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 coupled to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’s a common setup that delivers long on fuel economy, and short on hustle and satisfaction. The engine’s relatively quiet, when the belt-and-pulley transmission pulls to a ratio that keeps it at its strongest point—and still, its pace is unhurried. Most drivers will find it’s adequate. Power from a stoplight is fine; where it begins to lose steam is during highway-speed passing.

On the Altima SR, a set of shift paddles lets drivers select some pre-programmed ratios that simulate gears, but that’s where the sport-sedan flavor goes weak. 

The 2.0-liter turbo-4 makes 248 hp, and it’s now only available in the Altima SR. A replacement for the old V-6 engine Nissan once offered in the Altima, the turbo-4’s complex variable compression system doesn’t turn in great fuel economy, and can’t be paired with all-wheel drive. In a car that puts so little priority on speed, we think it’s a pass.

Is the Nissan Altima 4WD?

The Altima’s front-wheel-drive layout now accommodates optional all-wheel drive—a simple setup that moves up to 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels when the fronts begin to slip. We’ve driven the AWD Altima in Colorado during snow squalls, and it performed well on the highway, perhaps better than many buyers will need. 

In terms of ride and handling, we lean toward the lower-spec Altima with 17-inch wheels and tires. The base car wears skinny tires, and SR models have 19-inchers and a sport-tuned ride that’s stiff if not a little unforgiving. The “normal” Altima feels collected and calm, without much driving drama, and its electric power steering puts the car precisely where it needs to be, without much fuss. The steering feel goes effortless on the highway, and there’s a generous on-center spot that lets it track with confidence.

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2021 Nissan Altima

Comfort & Quality

The Altima can carry five adults in a pinch.

Family-sized four-doors can’t balance the needs for people and cargo as well as crossovers, but the Altima does as good a job as any sedan. We give it a 7, with extra points for comfortable front seats and for a trunk that just nudges past a critical spec.

The better-off passengers get to ride in the Altima’s front seats. They’re wide enough for most passengers and have firm bottom cushions, as well as a well-shaped backrest. Nissan swaps the base cloth upholstery for leather and adds heating in front as you spend into higher-spec models.

The back seats have good stretch-out space, and leg room still is good though it’s down slightly from prior Altimas. The bench can accommodate three medium-sized adults and 6-footers can sit behind other 6-footers. Head room is plentiful even for them, in spite of a sleek roofline. 

Small-item storage in the center console and door pockets is OK, and the Altima’s 15.4-cubic-foot trunk just makes it into our circle of honor, by a half-cube. Its interior trim and finishes miss the cut: The Altima isn’t as special inside as a Sonata, K5, or an Accord, mostly due to glossy material that reflects in the windshield and a tall center console that could be lower.

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2021 Nissan Altima


It’s all good on the safety front in the 2021 Altima.

How safe is the Nissan Altima?

The Altima earns excellent crash-test scores and has some of the latest safety technology wired into its brain. We give it a 9 here, just a chunky roof pillar or two shy of perfect.

The IIHS calls the Altima a Top Safety Pick+, though it nitpicks over its headlights. The NHTSA awards it five stars overall, but a handful of four-star ratings weave in and out of that overall result.

The Altima comes with standard automatic emergency braking, and most versions at the SV trim and above also have adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, and rear automatic emergency braking. 

Many models also come with ProPilot Assist, Nissan’s version of driver assistance. It runs in the background to keep the car’s distance from others in traffic, and works well on highways and interstates, but it beeps and boops a lot when it detects new cars to follow or changes lanes. The upside: It saves lives.

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2021 Nissan Altima


The Altima earns features points from infotainment and standard gear.

Nissan sells the 2021 Altima in base S trim, through SV, SR, SL, and Platinum editions. All-wheel drive is available on all but the Altima S; only the front-drive SR can be fitted with the turbo-4 engine.

It’s a 6 for features thanks to good standard gear and a good touchscreen. 

Mid-size sedans pack a lot into a little price tag. The $25,225 Altima S comes with cloth upholstery, a power driver seat, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, automatic emergency braking, and remote start. Blind-spot monitors are an option.

Which Nissan Altima should I buy?

We’d step up to a $26,325 Altima SV that includes upgraded cloth upholstery and 17-inch wheels, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, LED headlights, and rear automatic braking. All-wheel drive can be fitted to the Altima SV (and to other versions) for $1,400. 

How much is a fully loaded Nissan Altima?

At the top of the Altima lineup, the $35,025 Platinum has all-wheel drive as well as 19-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated power-adjustable front seats, navigation, a surround-view camera system, premium audio, and a sunroof. 

Every Altima comes with baked-in support for Apple and Android smartphones, but base Altimas now get a smaller screen than last year: 7.0 inches on the diagonal instead of 8.0 inches. The interface looks a bit dated, but it’s easy to connect via USB. We’d skip the embedded navigation; like almost every other mass-market machine, the Altima’s system is inferior to the one that comes free with almost every smartphone.

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2021 Nissan Altima

Fuel Economy

The Altima performs very well in EPA testing.

Is the Nissan Altima good on gas?

The 2021 Altima earns excellent gas mileage ratings from the EPA, especially for its size. Thanks to scores of 28 mpg city, 39 highway, 32 combined in base form, it’s a 6 here.

Higher-spec Altimas with front-wheel drive and the base engine lose a mile per gallon here and there due to weight and tires, but with all-wheel drive it’s still scored at 26/36/30 mpg. With the turbo-4 offered in one version, the Altima’s fuel economy drops to 25/34/29 mpg.

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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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MSRP based on 2.5 S Sedan
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Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 9
Features 6
Fuel Economy 6
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