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2018 Nissan Altima Review

2018 Nissan Altima Review
The 2018 Nissan Altima does almost nothing out of the ordinary.

The 2018 Nissan Altima will go down as one of the best-selling family sedans of its time.*

There’s an asterisk, of course. Crossovers are the new family cars, and the Altima doesn’t have much in the way of ground clearance or all-wheel drive. It sells well, but it’s way behind Nissan’s own Rogue in raw volume.

It’s still a respectable, value-packed four-door with great safety and fuel economy to its credit. Perversely, it’s also a car that’s more rewarding the less you spend on it. That’s 2017 in a nutshell—don’t get too involved—and it’s the sad fate of so many $25,000 sedans in this era of warped sensibilities.

We’ll spare you more philosophy and boil it down to a 7.2 out of 10.

The 2018 Altima comes in S, SR, SV, and SL trims. All but the SR have a common look, with a handsomely sculpted body that’s grown familiar in its five years on the road. It’s conventional by today’s sheet-metal standards and its interior might have come from a mid-1990s Volkswagen, so traditional it is in its layout and subdued trim. Parked next to the striking new Chevy Malibu and Honda Accord, the Altima looks like the car of some rental fleet manager’s dream—if rental fleet managers were allowed to dream without the usual contractual waiver or add-on fee.

Relentlessly tuned for that imaginary place we call the mainstream, the 4-cylinder Nissan Altima has 179 horsepower, a plush ride, and a CVT that’s been so heavily reworked and programmed it’s almost unrecognizable from a 6-speed automatic. Those are strong words for a device so reviled through history, but it’s true, and it’s one reason the 4-cylinder Altima still deserves a look. That, and 38 mpg highway will get you somewhere, inexpensively.

The 270-hp V-6 promises good times, but the Altima’s steering is hard to roust from its nap. Altima SR models have slightly stiffer tuning, but on the whole, we’d rather have the luscious Maxima and its nifty blend of ride and handling.

The five-seat Altima has fine interior room and a good level of trim and seat comfort. It’s quieter than in past years, too. There’s nothing especially decadent about its interior trim, but it’s less spartan than a Fusion and admittedly less adventurous than the Accord and Camry and Impala.

The Altima continues to do well in crash tests, and this year Nissan makes forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking standard across the line. That leaves little impulse to spend a lot on the Altima: for $25,000, that safety technology is joined by Bluetooth audio streaming, a rearview camera, and your choice of paint color. Pay more for blind-spot monitors, leather, and a larger touchscreen? We’d go that far, but the pricey Altima SL with Nissan’s navigation and adaptive cruise control? As Drew Carey might chide us on network TV, “that’s too much!”

The 2018 Nissan Altima strikes a handsome sheet metal pose, but the cabin’s way more restrained.

Short of painting it in camouflage, there’s little else to be done to let the 2018 Nissan Altima blend in with its rivals. The family sedan has what was once a daring shape; now with the years gone by, it’s grown familiar and lost its flash, particularly inside.

In a recent redesign, the Altima adopted freshly styled front fenders and a reshaped hood, a wider V-shaped grille, and a lower front bumper. It also took on reshaped taillights, a new rear bumper, and a new trunk lid. In all, the touches gave the sedan a more attractive shape, though it’s grown less distinctive over time—particularly when compared with a car that shares almost all its running gear, the Nissan Maxima.

On the Altima SR, Nissan jazzes up the look with fog lights, new wheels, smoked headlight covers, and black upholstery with blue stitching. It’s more of a sport look than a sport reality, though.

As familiar as it’s become, the Altima’s interior never broke new ground. It’s almost awkwardly conventional now, with nicely textured and shaped dash panels and soft metallic trim that frames major groups of controls. It’s a symmetric, restrained space filled with lots of usable storage in the wide center console. If you told us it was designed by another automaker entirely, we’d believe you. There’s nothing brand-specific here, nothing out of kilter, nothing to dislodge the Altima from any family-sedan shopping list. That’s how it should be, right?

The 2018 Nissan Altima isn’t here to entertain your inner enthusiast.

Over the years, the Nissan Altima grew from compact car to mid-size family sedan. It also reordered its performance priorities. Today, it’s a plush-riding four-door with forgettable powertrains and forgetful steering. On our scale, that’s a 6.

Most Altima sedans buzz the planet behind the power of a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. It’s not merely adequate, it’s also staggeringly good at saving fuel. With 179 horsepower on tap it’s no enthusiast heartthrob, and its noise and vibration control are slipping as time passes. It still delivers highway mileage of 38 mpg and perfectly sufficient acceleration.

Opt for the 3.5-liter V-6 and Nissan stuffs 270 hp into the Altima’s goody bag. A bit gruff at lower engine speeds, the V-6 sings out loudly as the tach swings toward its redline. It’s a quicker choice and increasingly a lonely one, as other automakers switch to turbo-4 replacements for 6-cylinders.
Every Altima gets its own CVT, whether you want it or not. Two years ago Nissan updated the design of the pulley-and-belt transmission and dramatically improved the way it works. With smoother-operating hardware and software coding that lets the CVT “shift” through pre-programmed ratios, the transmission makes more from the 4-cylinder than it ever did in the early years of this Altima’s life. It’s not quite as good as some conventional automatics, but it relieves some of the droning at midrange engine speeds, the usual curse of CVTs.

The Altima’s handling has been detuned from the brisk, convivial feel of early cars that wore the badge. Today’s Altima has a very plush ride thanks to Sachs shock absorbers and relaxed-rate springs. The front struts and integral-link rear deliver a soft, cozy ride on most models; SR Altimas get stiffer anti-sway bars and distinct damper tuning, so there’s a big uptick in firmness without punishing stiffness.

The Altima’s steering is also relaxed—a bit too much we think. It’s fairly accurate but slow to respond off center. It never feels sloppy, but the setup clearly cares more for predictability rather than quick turn-in.

The sedan's stiff structure combines with a unique understeer control system that brakes the inside front wheels in order to tighten cornering lines. Its brakes bring things to a halt sufficiently and provide good communication through the pedal.

Comfort & Quality
Ample interior and trunk room get some high-grade finishes in the 2018 Nissan Altima, though base models look inexpensive.

The Nissan Altima’s interior has reasonable passenger space and amenable fit and finish.

Four adults will fit just fine inside the Altima. Nissan pads the car’s seats with extra-thick cushions that offer more comfort than the chairs in, say, a Ford Fusion. Most models have a power driver seat, but a power passenger seat only comes on the top models. We’ve also noticed the Altima’s dash intrudes on some of the available knee space.

In back, the roofline almost cuts into the head room allotted to tall passengers. There isn’t enough room under the front seats for backseat feet, but the Altima’s cozy rear bench has average knee room for the class, and is wide enough to carry three adults on short trips. A Honda Accord or VW Passat has more leg room, if that’s a prime concern.

Trunk space is standard-issue, at 15.4 cubic feet. Nissan leaves some passages barely finished; the trunk hinges are exposed, so are the rear speakers, but the Altima has fold-down seat releases in the trunk and in the back seat, simple fabric loops that save weight and money.

We’ve been favorably impressed by the sound deadening in recent Altimas, but the materials used on Altima SR sedans looks cheap. The higher-rent stuff found in the Altima SL does a reasonable Infiniti impression, for thousands less.

With more standard safety technology, the 2018 Nissan Altima once again rises to the top of the family-sedan safety ranks.

The Nissan Altima has excellent crash-test scores, and with the latest in safety tech now on its standard-features list, we think it’s among today’s top-rated sedans.

The NHTSA rates the Altima at five stars overall. It nearly aces the tests, save for a four-star rollover-resistance score.

The IIHS has given it a Top Safety Pick award, for “Good” crash-test scores and “Superior” crash prevention.

This year, Nissan makes forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking standard on all Altimas. A rearview camera also is standard, though on baser models, it displays on a small 5.0-inch screen.

Adaptive cruise control is standard on SL models, but is otherwise unavailable.

Make ours a 2018 Nissan Altima SR, light on the options.

The 2018 Nissan Altima gets credit for its roster of standard features, and the list of features grows as the trim level gets more spendy.

The 2018 Altima comes in S, SV, SR, and SL trims. All but the SR and SL come with the 4-cylinder only; those sedans can be fitted with the V-6.

Every Altima has power windows, locks, and mirrors; steering-wheel audio controls; a rearview camera; Bluetooth with audio streaming; and keyless entry. The Altima S, and Altimas without navigation, have a 5.0-inch touchscreen that seems woefully out of date in this niche.

From that model, the Altima splits into SV and SR models, both of which build on the Altima S equipment. The SV sedan has alloy wheels, a power driver seat, blind-spot monitors, and remote start; a Convenience pack adds a moonroof, a cold-weather group has heated seats, and another package adds navigation with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The Altima SR gets sport suspension tuning, a power driver seat, styling add-ons, and 18-inch alloy wheels. V-6 SR sedans have LED headlights.

The most plush Altima SL has leather, a power passenger seat, Bose speakers, adaptive cruise control, navigation, and 18-inch wheels. A sunroof is a stand-alone option, as are navigation and adaptive cruise control.

Fuel Economy
Gas mileage is one big reason to buy the 2018 Nissan Altima.

Fuel economy weighs heavily on the minds of some mid-size sedan shoppers. The Nissan Altima makes the decision easier.

We give it an 8 for fuel economy, since all its 4-cylinder models post very high EPA ratings.

Most Altimas with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder earn EPA ratings of 27 mpg city, 38 highway, 31 combined. The Altima SR has less gas-friendly tires, and only scores 26/37/30 mpg.

The V-6 Altima checks in at 22/32/26 mpg.

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