2021 Nissan Altima - Driven - story fullscreen Fullscreen

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven

The Nissan Altima is the definition of average family sedan, but the VC-T makes it a little more interesting

The sixth-generation Nissan Altima has been on the market since 2018, and was generally received as more technologically advanced, better looking, and better equipped than the fifth-gen model. Three years in, however, and it’s easy to wonder if the Altima can still hold its own so close to its mid-cycle update. We spent a week with the Altima VC-T to see just how well it manages to navigate the cut-throat midsize sedan market.

Nissan Altima Powertrain and Performance

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Altima is offered with two different powertrains. The base offering is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder while the VC-T is a performance oriented offering with a more powerful, turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. All powertrains are offered with a CVT only, so there’s not option for a conventional automatic or a manual transmission. The SV, SR, and SL trims can be optioned with all-wheel drive, while the platinum trim level comes standard with AWD. These models, when equipped with AWD deliver just a bit less power, but the exchange be fair if you’re in the right location. We spent time with eh VC-T, so we had the best performance offered in the Altima lineup but were stuck with FWD only.

How Powerful is the Nissan Altima?

2019 Nissan Altima Drivetrain
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The Nissan Maxima’s base engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, is good for 188 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. The Altima VC-T, which is what we drove, delivers a cool 236 horsepower and 267 pound-feet from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder. Both engines are paired exclusively with a CVT, so there’s no option for a traditional automatic transmission or a manual transmission. In comeparison, the Toyota Camry TRD has a 3.5-liter V-6 that’s good for 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque while the Hyundai Sonata N-Line and its 2.5-liter is good for 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet.

How Fast Is the Nissan Altima VC-T?

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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In independent testing, the Nissan Altima VC-T hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds at 99.0 mph. The same outlet tested the Camry TRD and found it to hit 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at 99.6 mph. The Sonata N-Line, however,is the real winner here as it can hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and hits the quarter-mile in 13.6 seconds.

Nissan Altima VC-T Fuel Economy

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Altima VC-T isn’t the most efficient model on the block, scoring 25 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg combined. It is however, the most efficient of this bunch, with the V-6 Camry offering just 22 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg combined. The Sonata N-Line does falls in the middle with 23 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined.

Nissan Altima vs competition - fuel economy
City  Highway Combined
Nissan Altima 25 34 29
Toyota Camry 22 31 25
Hyundai Sonata 23 33 27

Does the Nissan Altima Have A Manual Transmission

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Interior
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Unfortunately, the Nissan Altima – like most midsize sedans these days – isn’t offered with a manual transmission. The Altima is only offered with a CVT while the Camry TRD comes with a traditional 8 speed automatic and the Sonata N-Line has an eight-speed automated manual.

Nissan Altima Interior Design

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Interior
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The interior of the Nissan Altima is pretty simple, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The center console sits a little higher than you’d expect and the way it sits below the center stack makes for a nice little cubby. The infotainment display looks like last-gen BMW technology, floating above the center stack, although it does feature a few physical buttons and knobs. As an entry-level model, the HVAC controls are also analog. The VC-T tester that we had featured a flat bottom steering wheel, nice leather wrapped sports seats, and some decent helpings of leather on the dash and door panels as well. Despite being the top of the range, the instrument cluster is only semi-digital, which seems a little out of place for a car that lands in the mid-$30,000 range before options.

How Big Is the Nissan Altima Inside?

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Interior
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The Nissan Altima sits nicely within the midsize sedan segment and is about average when compared to both the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata. It’s lower roof design, however, means it comes in last in terms of headroom, although it was more shoulder room than its competitors. The Toyota Camry is the breadwinner when it comes to rear passenger legroom by far, but each model has its own cons on pros. Check out the full interior dimensions of the Altima vs. the Camry in the table below

Nissan Altima vs competition - interior dimensions
Nissan Altima Toyota Camry TRD Hyundai Sonata N-Line
Front Headroom 38 38.3 40.0 Inches
Front Shoulder Room 58.2 57.7 57.9 Inches
Front Hip Room 54.7 55.4 54.6 Inches
Front Leg Room 43.8 42.1 46.1 Inches
Rear Headroom 36.7 38 38.4 Inches
Rear Shoulder Room 57.1 55.7 56.1 Inches
Rear Hip Room 54.5 54.7 54.4 Inches
Rear Leg Room 35.2 38 34.8 Inches

How Much Cargo Room Does the Nissan Altima Have?

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Altima offers up 15.4 cubic-feet of cargo room, which places it in the middle of the Toyota Camry with 15.1 cubic-feet and the Hyundai Sonata with 16.3 cubic-feet.

What Is Nissan Safety Shield 360?

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Interior
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Nissan Safety Shield 360 is a small suite of automatic safety features that help keep you safer on the road. This suite comes standard on the Altima SV and above. The features included are as follows:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking
  • Pedestrian Detection
  • Rear Automatic Braking
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert
  • Blind Spot Warning
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • High Beam Assist

Nissan Altima Infotainment

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Interior
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Nissan’s base infotainment system is…uhem… usable, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about. The VC-Turbo comes with a slightly larger 8-inch infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and Android auto are standard and Nissan’s door-to-door navigation works about as good as you’d expect. Pairing via Bluetooth was a bit tedious, although once we were connected, we experienced no problems with calling or call quality. Of course, you don’t have Android or Apple connectivity on models with the base system, so that’s something to keep in mind. Sound quality from the base system is okay, but the Bose system with nine speakers is a big improvement on properly equipped models. We also weren’t a fan of the low-res rearview camera, but it wasn’t exactly a deal breaker either. On a side note, adaptive cruise control works pretty good, so that’s something in the Altima’s pros list.

Nissan Altima Exterior Design

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Altima looks pretty sporty for a mainstream, common-day sedan, and Nissan has tried hard to give it enough style and unique design without going overboard. Of course, this doesn’t mean it comes without the fake corner vents and the nose is clearly too large as evidenced by half the grille being blocked off. Overall, it’s a striking design from the front to the side while the rear of the VC-T, to be specific has a strong sportscar feel to it. The taillights and the rear diffuser are probably the highlights here. Overall, the Altima is a good looker and while it won’t turn heads nobody will look at it like it’s ugly, either.

How Big is the Nissan Altima?

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Altima measures 192.9-inches long, 72.9-inches wide, 56.8-niches tall, and rides on a 111.2-inch wheelbase. If you have a one-car garage on the bigger side, the Altima might fit in there tightly, but a 1.5-car garage should be considered a bare minimum when it comes to garaging. The Altima is small enough, however, that street parking and mall parking aren’t difficult, but you wouldn’t want to find yourself cruising the streets of Rome. Compared to the Camry TRD and the and Sonata N-Line, the Altima is just a bit smaller overall, but the different in size is, honestly, negligible. Check out the full dimensions of all three in the table below.

Nissan Altima vs competition - exterior dimensions
Nissan Altima VC-T Toyota Camry TRD Hyundai Sonata N-Line
Length 192.9 194.6 192.9 Inches
Width 72.9 73.1 73.2 Inches
Height 56.8 56.3 56.9 Inches
Wheelbase 111.2 111.2 111.8 Inches
Front Track 62.8 TBA 63.5 nches
Rear Track 63.9 TBA 63.8 Inches

How Much Does the Nissan Altima VC-T Weigh?

2021 Nissan Altima - Driven Exterior
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The Nissan Altima VC-T weighs 3,425 pounds, which makes it lighter than the Camry TRD and heavier than the Hyundai Sonata N-line at 3,575 pounds and 3,336 pounds, respectively.

How Much Does The Nissan Altima Cost?

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The Nissan Altima is priced from $24,300 to as much as $35,180. Our tester, the Altima SR VC-T was priced at $30,650, but came with option splash guards, premium paint, SR-branded interior accessories, and a rear spoiler. Add in the $900 destination fee and the total came to $32,905. In comparison, the Toyota Camry starts at $25,045 and goes as high as $35,620 while the Sonata starts at $23,600 and goes as high as $33,500.

Nissan Altima VC-T Competition

The midsize sedan market may be dwindling, but it’s still a pretty cutthroat market, so the Altima isn’t without some pretty stout competition. Today, we’ve compared it to the Toyota Camry TRD and the Hyundai Sonata N-Line. Both cars sit nicely in the midsize market, but all have their own little twist that makes them unique. The Camry, for example, has a big V-6 and the most horsepower while the Sonata N-Line offers better straight-line performance. Both also sit in the same general price range of the Altima, too, so there’s definitely some things to consider when choosing between the three.

Is the Nissan Altima VC-T Better Than the Toyota Camry TRD

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The Toyota Camry TRD is, honestly, one of our favorites, just because you can still have the beautiful goodness that is V-6 power. The Camry TRD turns exterior design up to 11 with some Supra-like DNA and a huge nose that makes the Altima look tame by comparison. It also has powerful-looking side skirts and a sporty rear end. The interior of the Camry TRD is arguably more stylistic than that of the Altima, while the instrument cluster features a much smaller drive information display. We like the way the infotainment system is integrated into the dash of the Camry as opposed to the BMW-like display, but at the same time it almost feels like Toyota was trying a little too hard with the overall design of the dashboard.

Under the hood, that 3.5-liter V-6 is naturally aspired and pumps out 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. That power is shunted through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. This is definitely a huge selling point over the Altima’s obligatory CVT, and it can do the 60-mph sprint in the same 5.8 seconds that it takes the Altima. On that note, however, the Altima does do the quarter-mile run in 14.3 seconds vs. the TRD’s 14.4 seconds.

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Nissan Altima VC-T vs Toyota Camry TRD
Nissan Altima VC-T Toyota Camry TRD
Engine 2.0-Liter Inline-Four 3.5-Liter V-6
Induction Turbocharged Naturally Aspirated
Horsepower 236 HP 301 HP
Torque 267 LB-FT 267 LB-FT
Transmission CVT 8AT
Driveline FWD FWD
Fuel Premium Regular
Steering Electric Electric
Suspension Front Independent Four-wheel Independent
Tires 235/40 R19 235/40 R 19
Curb Weight 3425 LBS 3575 LBS
Fuel Economy 25/34/29 22/31/25
0-60 MPH 5.8 Seconds 5.8 Seconds
Quarter Mile 14.3 Seconds 14.4 Seconds

Read our full review on the Toyota Camry TRD

Is the Nissan Altima VC-T Better Than the Hyundai Sonata N-Line

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The Hyundai Sonata N-Line is somewhat unique for a performance sedan in that it’s not all that more aggressive than its toned-down counterpart. The front fascia is a little different, and there’s a different side skirt layout on the side, but for the most part, it’s definitely a sleeper compared to the Altima VC-T and the Camry TRD. Even the rear end, which has a black lip spoiler and revised fascia insert is relatively calm by comparison. The interior is definitely more relaxed and shows precious little in the way of visual cues that this is a performance sedan. It has as basic steering wheel, no contrast stitching, and while the seats are more supportive, it doesn’t really hit you like a ton of bricks that there’s something different about it.

Under the hood of the Sonata N-Line sits a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 290 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. In this case, shifting duties are handled by an eight-speed automated manual and the interior is void of your usual gear shifter, as a button assembly takes its place. Where the Sonata N-Line really shines, though, is that it can sprint to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds – 0.6 seconds faster than the Altima and the TRD – and it can run the quarter-mile in 13.6 seconds, which is nearly a second faster! Pricing for the Sonata starts at $23,600 and goes as high as $33,500 for the range-topping model.

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Nissan Altima VC-T vs Hyundai Sonata N-Line
Nissan Altima VC-T Hyundai Sonata N-Line
Engine 2.0-Liter Inline-Four 2.5-Liter Inline-four
Induction Turbocharged Turbocharged
Horsepower 236 HP 290 HP
Torque 267 LB-FT 311 LB-FT
Transmission CVT 8 Speed Automatic Manual
Driveline FWD FWD
Fuel Premium Premium
Steering Electric Electric
Suspension Front Independent Four-wheel Independent
Tires 235/40 R19 245/40 R 19
Curb Weight 3425 LBS 3552 LBS
Fuel Economy 25/34/29 23/33/27
0-60 MPH 5.8 Seconds 5.2 Seconds
Quarter Mile 14.3 Seconds 13.6 Seconds

Read our full driven review on the Hyundai Sonata N-Line

Philippe Daix
Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read full bio
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