- The 2020 Subaru Legacy comes standard with all-wheel drive.
- The 2020 Nissan Altima offers optional AWD, but only with its base engine.
- The Legacy is all-new for 2020, while the Altima was all-new for 2019.
For the past few decades, the Subaru Legacy has stood out in the midsize sedan segment by offering standard AWD. This meant that buyers wanting a family sedan with all-weather capability really only had one option. Today, this is no longer the case, as competing automakers have taken to making AWD optional to their sedan offerings in recent years. One of these automakers is Nissan, which introduced an all-new Altima just last year with optional AWD. Below, we’ll compare the Altima and Legacy in a number of categories to help highlight the major differences between the two vehicles.
Neither of these vehicles packs revolutionary styling, but it’s fair to say that the Legacy wears a slightly more conservative design than the Altima. Up front, the Altima has steeply sloping headlights that culminate at a V-shaped grille, one of Nissan’s current design hallmarks. Around back, the vehicle’s C-pillar is bisected by a black trim piece, meant to give the Altima’s roof a floating appearance, another common Nissan design element. Compared to the last generation, the Legacy matures slightly, with a trapezoidal-shaped grille, rectangular headlights and a tall greenhouse. It’s a slightly less polarizing look than the Altima. In terms of footprint, the two vehicles are about the same size, though the Altima is about 2.5 inches longer than the Legacy. See the 2020 Nissan Altima models for sale or See the 2020 Subaru Legacy models for sale near you
As they’ve both been redesigned in the last 12 months, the Altima and Legacy both come with smart, modern interiors. The Altima’s infotainment screen resides atop its dashboard, allowing the dash itself to sit lower, which gives the cabin a more open feel. The Legacy’s screen is located entirely within the vehicle’s center stack, and if you opt for the newly available 11.6-in screen, it takes up the entire area. While some manufacturers have moved toward push-button units, both the Altima and Legacy use a traditional gear lever.
Looking at dimensions, what stands out the most is that the Legacy has considerably more 2nd-row legroom than the Altima. The Legacy’s 2nd-row legroom measures 39.5 inches, while the Altima has just 35.2 inches. Trunk space is similar for the two vehicles: the Legacy measures 15.1 cu ft., while the Altima has 15.4 cu ft.
Both of these vehicles offer two different powertrain options. The Altima’s base engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that makes 188 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, sending power to either the front wheels or to all four if fitted with the newly optional AWD system. With basic front-wheel drive, this powertrain returns 28 miles per gallon in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg in combined driving, while AWD models are rated at 26 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined. The Altima’s optional engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which is only available with FWD. Output for the turbo is 248 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, while the EPA rates it at 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined. Regardless of which engine you choose, the Altima comes exclusively with a continuously variable automatic transmission.
The Legacy’s base engine is a 2.5-liter flat 4-cylinder engine that makes 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for this engine is rated by the EPA at 27 mpg city/35 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined. The engine offered on upper trims is a turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which makes 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for the turbo is rated at 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined. Like the Altima, the Legacy comes exclusively with a CVT.
The key takeaway here is that while the Legacy comes standard with AWD regardless of what powertrain you choose, only the Altima’s base engine can be optioned with AWD. Its more powerful turbo is still FWD only.
Features & Technology
Either of these vehicles can be had loaded with features, if you’re willing to pay for them. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard on both vehicles. The Altima comes standard with an 8.0-in screen across the board, while the Legacy has a massive 11.6-in screen on all but its base model, which gets a 7.0-in unit. Beyond the norm, highlights of the Altima include an available 360-degree camera system, remote start, integrated garage door opener, a memory driver’s seat and more. Available features on the Legacy include windshield-wiper de-icers, steering-responsive headlights, driver distraction mitigation, a 180-degree front-view camera, power-folding sideview mirrors and Nappa leather seating. Both vehicles offer available heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, though only the Legacy offers ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
Both vehicles performed exceptionally well in testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, acing the crashworthiness part of the evaluation. The 2020 Subaru Legacy earns a Top Safety Pick+ designation, while the 2020 Nissan Altima misses out on this coveted award due to slightly inferior headlight performance, though it still earns a basic Top Safety Pick award. The Legacy comes standard with active safety features like automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beams. The Altima gets the same technology on all but its base model. Additionally, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection is available on both vehicles as well. The Altima ups the ante though with what Nissan refers to as ProPilot Assist, a feature that combines the Altima’s full-speed adaptive cruise control system with a lane tracing feature to allow the vehicle to pilot itself down the highway autonomously over short distances, provided the driver remains in attention and keeps their hands on the wheel.
Pricing for a base 2020 Nissan Altima with FWD is $25,025, while checking the box for AWD drive adds another $1,350 to the price. Fully loaded with either the base engine and AWD, or the optional turbocharged engine and FWD, the Altima tops out at around $37,000 in its Platinum trim.
The Legacy, which again comes standard with AWD, starts at $23,645 and tops out at just under $37,000 for a loaded Touring model.
If AWD is a priority for you, then the Legacy strikes us as a better overall package than the Altima. Though Nissan’s available ProPilot Assist feature is a boon for highway travel, the Legacy comes with slightly better overall safety ratings, a bigger back seat, a nicer infotainment setup and a statelier overall image. Additionally, if you want a more powerful engine paired with AWD, then the Legacy is still your only option, as the Altima’s AWD system is only available with its base engine. Finally, the Legacy will likely hold its value better than the Altima over the long-term, given Subaru’s stronger brand name and more widely known association with AWD. If you’re indifferent to 4-wheel traction, then you’ll likely be able to save a few dollars going with the Altima, and it’s really not a bad sedan at all. But if AWD is the main thing driving your purchase, then the Legacy likely still holds a stronger appeal. Find a Nissan Altima for sale or Find a Subaru Legacy for sale