Is the traditional four-door sedan on its way out?
The numbers would suggest so – buyers in the market for a new vehicle are choosing an SUV, crossover or truck of some sort in increasing numbers. Sales for conventional four-door sedans are definitely not what they used to be.
According to the Wall Street Journal, of the 20 top-selling vehicles in North America, at least 14 are trucks or SUVs. Four-door sedans, which accounted for at least half of all new vehicle sales as little as five years ago, now account for only about 30 per cent.
But don’t tell that to Nissan, which has been selling its Altima sedan for close to 30 years. Not the hottest seller in this market, it’s nonetheless a steady performer and can match any of its competitors when it comes to driveability and comfort.
Introduced in 1992 to compete directly with the ever-popular Honda Accord, the Altima received a bit of a facelift in 2018 and these days is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine developing some 182 horsepower.
It features a continuously variable transmission (CVT) – Nissan calls it their Xtronic transmission, but if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, etc. Apparently, Nisssan has given this transmission a revamp for 2020, but this is arguably the Altima’s weakest link in an otherwise soundly engineered, very driveable sedan.
But what sets the Altima apart is that it comes with all-wheel drive (AWD) as standard equipment. There are three trim levels: S, SV and Platinum, and they all feature AWD.
It’s huge to get an all-wheel-drive system as standard equipment on a mainstream four-door sedan and definitely gives the Altima a step up on its rivals. That’s especially true given its reasonable price tag.
The AWD system is completely unobtrusive and automatic. I suspect many owners won’t even realize it’s there. And it doesn’t seem to affect fuel economy. According to Nissan, the Altima will deliver a combined rating of 7.9 litres/100 km, definitely in the range of comparable sedans.
Otherwise, this car doesn’t get the blood pumping but it doesn’t disappoint either.
Yes, it has the usual irritations – push-button start, lane departure warning, etc. – but it’s still one of those just-get-in-and-drive vehicles, much like the Accord. I suspect it will see a lot of duty as a rental vehicle.
The controls and switchgear of the Altima can be readily understood and are easy to get along with. Some other models in this category, such as the Mazda6, are far too obtuse and driver-unfriendly. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but were I in the market for a new car, this is the kind of thing that would make or break the deal.
We can’t leave out the usual safety goodies: intelligent emergency braking, intelligent forward collision warning and intelligent driver alertness. These are all basically nanny features, designed to prevent accidents. It also has a rear backup camera and perhaps my favourite item, a traffic sign recognition system, which tells you what the speed limit is via an instrument panel warning light.
My test model also had heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, earning it instant brownie points.
One other thing worth noting is the size of the Altima’s trunk, which has 436 litres (15.4 cubic feet) of room. A Honda Accord has 16.7 cubic feet, while the Hyundai Sonata has 16.3 cubic feet. So it’s not the biggest but definitely in the running.
This is a nicely styled automobile. Some of its competitors – Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, for example – are getting a little too much like origami, with all kinds of weird angles and odd styling cues. The Altima has a cleanness about it and is anonymous without being boring.
2020 Nissan Altima
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: continuously variable
Horsepower: 182 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 178 foot pounds at 3,600 rpm
Base price: $28,09
Fuel economy: 9.1 litres/100 km city and 6.5 litres/100 km highway with regular gas
Some alternatives: Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Mazda6, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).