Nissan obviously has invested heavily in its new sedan and as a package, the latest Altima looks and drives the business. Pricing and content also appear set to compete with long-time and recently refreshed competitors including the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. All good, save the almost startingly recent decline in U.S. sedan sales.
Nissan’s take is that the annual U.S. mid-size sedan market is still 2 million units, and that Gen-Y/Z buyers don’t want to drive the SUVs their parents drove. They may not want to drive what their grandparents drove either, but if the recent market trend continues, Nissan could likely shift production towards SUVs sharing the platform.
Updated global-D platform and all-wheel driveThe 2019 Nissan Altima rides on an updated version of Nissan’s global-D platform, with a longer wheelbase (+1.9 in) and lower/longer/wider (-1.1/+1.0/+0.9 in.) sheetmetal. When compared to the previous iteration, body-in-white weight drops 42 lb (19 kg) but stiffness has increased, mostly through the additional use of high-strength steels. The platform warranted so many modifications, Chris Reed, vice president of platform and technology engineering at Nissan’s North American technical center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, said they should probably re-label it “D-Prime”, with many of the mods aimed at future technologies including autonomous features.
“It's a commitment, a platform that will last going forward,” Reed explains. One example is in the new rack-mounted electric power steering (EPS), “which will need exceptional precision for future autonomous applications. You can't just adapt it to a current model as it's a packaging issue. Its tens of millions of dollars to make a change as we have to re-certify, so you take advantage of that.
“You're trying to give the customer lots of new features but not change the weight class, so this went back to the basics. You look at all the openings where you have deformation. A lot more 1.2-gigapascal steel. How do you mount the engine? How do you reduce friction? We looked at road inputs and actually changed the king-pin angles in order to change the on-center feel.”
The stiffer platform permits a new suspension tune. Still fully independent with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup in back (featuring new monotube shocks), the new tune increases lateral stiffness 10 percent, with longitudinal stiffness decreasing 15 percent for improved ride quality. The popular SR trim receives a unique and even sportier suspension tune, with Altima-first 19-inch wheels.
Available in the U.S. on all trims with the standard naturally aspirated 2.5L 4-cylinder powertrain (and standard in Canada) is a new all-wheel-drive (AWD) system – another market first for the traditionally FWD Altima. “That's really feedback from the customer and dealers” Reed explained, “and the system itself is very similar to what we've developed for the Murano.” The on-demand AWD setup can vary front/rear torque percentages from 100/0 to 50/50, but tops out at 70/30 under normal dry-road conditions, and uses a brake-based system to vector left/right torque.
Four-cylinder-only engine lineupPowering the new Altima chassis are two new engines: a heavily revised standard 2.5L 4-cylinder; and the new 2.0L 4-cylinder (left) with a variable compression-ratio turbo (VC-T) system, which replaces the previous 3.5L V6. The standard direct-injected engine sees more than 80 percent new content (including plasma-coated cylinders replacing iron liners), with a concerted focus on friction and NVH reductions.
The revised 2.5-liter 4-cyl. is assembled in Decherd, Tennessee, and features a new composite intake that inserts directly into the cylinder head via insulated ports. An integrated exhaust manifold faces rearward, as the engine has been flopped 180° in the bay to help lower the cowl; a variable displacement oil pump and cooled external EGR are aimed at efficiency/emission improvements. Power is up 9 hp to 188 hp (140 kW), while torque jumps 3 lb·ft to 180 (244 N·m) along with a 1 mpg-gain across the EPA cycle.
Automotive Engineering has already dedicated some ink to Nissan’s innovative new VC-T system that debuted in the Infiniti QX50. The VC-T setup on the Yokohama-assembled KR20DDET can alter the compression ratio anywhere from 8:1 to 14:1 with maximum boost of 23 psi (1.6 bar). For its second application in the new Altima, it receives a unique calibration to complement new intake plumbing. So installed, the port- and direct-injected 2.0L VC-T produces 248 hp (185 kW) and 280 lb·ft (380 N·m) at 1,600 rpm on premium fuel, which is not required (likely a crucial distinction for Nissan customers). On regular fuel, Nissan claims a 15% fuel-economy improvement over the outgoing V6.
Both engines are paired with JATCO-supplied Xtronic CVT transmissions, which maintain their ratio spreads (2.5L - 6.96:1; 2.0L - 6.3:1) but get new tuning to accommodate the new engines’ torque characteristics, with a new, tighter torque converter designed for a swifter and more linear engagement feel. The CVT will automatically move to a “stepped” ratio map somewhere around the 50% throttle mark to provide the perception of swifter acceleration, and paddle shifters to access eight specific ratios are available on the SR trim.
Additional standard safety and techA new, more responsive infotainment system features a standard 8-inch display, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all Altima trims. Nissan is also expanding its Safety Shield 360/ProPilot Assist (safety/adaptive driving) suite, and this includes all-speed adaptive cruise with lane-centering tech, and a new rear-automatic-braking feature.
The full safety suite is standard equipment on SV trims and above, and includes high-beam assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, and lane-departure/blind-spot/rear-cross-traffic alerts. A new Traffic Sign Recognition system can provide drivers with the most recent speed limit information.
The 2019 Nissan Altima rolls of the assembly line in Canton, MS in its new Sunset Drift shade of orange, which features Viavi's "light interference" color-shifting ChromaFlair pigment technology. (image: Nissan)
Premium and spacious feel
On the road, the new Altima feels solid and confident, and would have easily been mistaken only a few years ago for a sedan from a more premium class. The VC-T engine provides satisfying gobs of torque at low rpm, and the CVT remains transparent except during extremely aggressive throttle applications. NVH levels are impressively low, and in the sportier and traditionally best-selling SR trim (which offers its own brilliant “Sunset Drift” shade of orange, above), chassis motions are smoothly damped without undue penalties in overall ride quality.
The new lower cowl brings a welcome, spacious and open feel to the cabin, and the clean and more distinctive overall design may help woo more buyers back into the sedan fold. The 2019 Nissan Altima goes on sale this fall and will be assembled at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi locations.