Drive: Nissan’s 2021 Altima offers basic and near-luxury options

The Nissan Altima is one of a handful of midsize sedans that remain on the market in the United States. The Altima competes with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima. Critics seldom rank Nissan's entry the best of this group - that distinction usually goes to the Accord - but the Altima does have some assets that keep it in the running.

Priced at $24,300 in base S trim, the Altima has at least three qualities few cars in its price range can boast:

Available all-wheel drive. Our test car, the $35,025 Altima Platinum, had an all-wheel-drive system that gives it an edge in New England and other northern states.

Nissan's ProPilot system, which brings the medium-priced Altima within range of far more expensive vehicles equipped with self-driving capability. ProPilot will respond to traffic patterns and lane markers. All the driver has to do is keep his hands on the wheel.

Engine alternatives, ranging from a 2.5-liter Four producing 182 or 188 horsepower, to a 248-horsepower turbocharged Four in the sport-oriented VC-T SR sedan. (Unfortunately, Nissan does not offer a 6-speed stick shift, even with the VC-T SR.)

As is common in this segment, the Altima is available as a very basic sedan but can be dressed up in near-luxury garb. The Altima S has 16-inch steel wheels, front-wheel drive, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and keyless entry and ignition. Somewhat surprisingly, for a car in this price range, it features remote start.

Our test car met the near-luxury standard. In addition to the AWD and ProPilot, it was equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power heated front seats, heated steering wheel, remote start, satellite radio, navigation system, dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto compatibility, power moonroof, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert and 360-degree camera system.

The combination of all-wheel drive, continuously variable transmission and 182-horsepower engine didn't add up to high times behind the wheel, and the steering didn't provide as much road feel as, say, the Mazda6 does. The Altima delivers a pleasant enough ride, however - smooth, quiet and composed. The cabin is fairly roomy, and the trunk swallows 15.4 cubic feet of luggage.

2021 Nissan Altima Platinum AWD

Price: $35,025

Engine: 2.5-liter inline Four, 182 horsepower, 178 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: electronic continuously variable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,462 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 19-in. alloy

Tires: P235/40R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 15.4 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 16 gallons

Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 35 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Whatever the critics may think of the Altima, the consumer market gives it two thumbs up. In a time when sales for most sedans are in decline, the Altima, built in Smyrna, Tenn., actually saw a slight increase from 2018 to 2019. (Sales of the Camry, the perennial leader in the midsize-sedan category, have dropped every year since 2015.) The 2020 Altima also was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In the midsize-sedan category, the Camry is the clear leader in fuel economy: 44 mpg city, 47 highway; or 51 city, 53 highway, depending on the model chosen. Our Altima was rated at a respectable 25/34.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.