Nissan Adds All-Wheel Drive to the Midsize Altima Sedan

The Nissan Altima is a midsize sedan with room for five.

2021 Nissan Altima Front Fascia
The first time, all-wheel drive comes to the Nissan Altima line.

The Nissan Altima remains one of the best-selling cars in America. Even as consumer demand shifts to utility vehicles and competing models shrink in numbers, Nissan doubled down by rolling out a new Altima in 2019. Also beginning that year, Altima added an all-wheel-drive option, an uncommon upgrade in the segment. It’s the focus of this review.

Nissan offers the 2021 Altima in nine configurations ranging from the S FWD ($24,300) to the Platinum ($34,100), plus a $925 destination charge. The Altima comes with standard front-wheel-drive and seats five.


We like the Altima’s size as well as its styling. It’s the kind of sedan a family of four would find ideal. Add in attractive looks thanks to its sporty nose, distinct character lines, and handsome wheel choices, and the Altima successfully brings its attractiveness to the forefront.

2021 Nissan Altima Rear Three Quarter

Inside, the cabin is spacious. Five adults can fit in comfort, including three across on the rear bench seat. The trunk measures just over 15 cubic feet, which holds ample space for a long weekend away with your family. The standard cloth seats are especially comfortable, but with available leather, they seem plush or nearly on the comfort scale of Infiniti, which is Nissan’s luxury marque.

Safety and Technology

Modern cars come with the usual safety equipment, including a suite of airbags, traction and stability control, and excellent brakes. But that’s not enough as crashworthiness and driver-assist features are what consumers also demand. Happily, Nissan does not disappoint in this area.

Besides garnering top ratings from insurance and federal testers, the Altima receives accolades for equipment that helps prevent accidents in the first place. Indeed, nearly every Altima comes with standard automatic emergency braking. Nissan also includes “ProPilot Assist” with the top trims, a feature that helps steer the Altima, accelerate, and brake. Although it isn’t a hands-free system, ProPilot works best wherever road markings are clear. It gives drivers a taste of what autonomous driving looks like, but it’s no substitute for the driver’s full attention at all times.

2021 Nissan Altima tech

Other safety features available beginning with the SV trim include blind-spot monitoring, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic rear braking.

On the tech front, Nissan supplies an 8-inch touch-screen display for most trims, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, Bluetooth, remote start, keyless entry, and four USB ports beginning with the SV trim. A 6-speaker audio system is standard; a 9-speaker Bose package along with navigation comes with the SL and Platinum trims. However, you don’t need navigation if your compatible smartphone supplies directions.

Nissan Altima Performance

Nissan gives Altima shoppers a choice of two engines, but only one of the nine configurations offers the available turbo.

For most shoppers, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is all that’s needed. This one makes 188 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque and it packs plenty of punch, although there is a slight loss of power in models equipped with all-wheel drive. Compare this to the available 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 236 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque and the contrast is evident. But the turbo cannot be paired with all-wheel drive.

Our test Platinum with standard all-wheel drive allowed us to put the new drivetrain system into practice. We sensed no difference under most conditions and that’s a good thing. An “always-on” all-wheel-drive system tends to consume more fuel. In this case, the Altima sends power to the front wheels, then shifts some power to the rear wheels as needed.

2021 Nissan Altima seats

On one drive we took the Altima to a nearby park for our photoshoot. While circling to find an ideal spot, we crossed over wet leaves and pine needles covering the road. Quite suddenly, we felt the Altima begin to lose grip, but just as quickly, the rear wheels compensated to hold the sedan in place. An all-wheel-drive system is a handling difference-maker that’s also lacking in many mainstream sedans and is particularly welcome for slick roads, especially wherever winter conditions prevail.

Other Altima attributes include a compliant continuously variable transmission that works relatively seamlessly in the background. This powertrain combination is highly efficient with some trims registering near 40 mpg on the highway. With all-wheel drive, though, there is a slight drop in efficiency. Combine a robust powertrain to a capable drivetrain and add in light steering and a comfortable ride and the Nissan Altima makes a strong case for itself in the competitive midsize sedan segment.

2021 Nissan Altima Rear Fascia

Nissan Altima Considerations

Nissan makes all-wheel drive available on all but the base trim, but it’s standard with the Platinum. As a $1,400 upgrade elsewhere, it’s a reasonable cost. We recommend starting your Altima shopping with the SR trim to gain the full roster of safety equipment. With all-wheel drive, your cost remains below $29,000.

See AlsoThe Third-Generation Nissan Rogue Crossover

Photos copyright Stumpwater Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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