Now in the third year of its sixth generation, the Nissan Altima receives minor changes to its trim levels and packaging for 2021.
To compete with the likes of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the 2021 Nissan Altima continues to offer two engines – a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 188 horsepower, or a technically fascinating turbocharged 4-cylinder with a variable compression ratio and 248 horsepower. Both engines mate to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that improves vehicle fuel economy.
Most Nissan Altimas are front-wheel drive (FWD), but all-wheel drive (AWD) versions are available. Even better, AWD models are only $1,400 more than their respective FWD versions. Fuel economy, though, does go down a bit with AWD, and the Altima powered by the VC-Turbo engine is front-wheel-drive (FWD) only.
All Altimas above the base S model are equipped with an 8-in infotainment screen, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, and automatic emergency braking. As such, this stylish 5-seat Nissan, built in Mississippi and Tennessee, continues to be a solid offering in the competitive midsize sedan segment.
For 2021, the VC-Turbo engine is available in only one Altima, the 2.0 SR. What’s more, the base S model gets pedestrian protection added to its automatic emergency braking, and a new Driver Assist Package on the S adds a blind-spot-alert and rear cross-traffic alert – two active safety technologies we find especially helpful.
In other 2021 Altima news, the SV model now slots between the S and the SR, while the SL has been repositioned to make an Altima with a leather interior available for less than $30,000. Last, there’s a new SV Premium Package that includes a moonroof, LED turn signals, heated front seats, and a leather-covered steering wheel, plus adaptive cruise control with steering assist. See the 2021 Nissan Altima models for sale.
What We Like
- Fuel efficient
- Available AWD
- Handsome styling
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (in all but the S)
- 8-in infotainment screen (in all but the S)
- Lots of standard safety features
What We Don’t
- No AWD VC-Turbo model
- No Altima Hybrid
- CVT is better, but it’s still a CVT
When equipped with the 188-horsepower 2.5-liter engine and FWD, the Nissan Altima is very fuel-efficient. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 2021 Nissan Altima returns 28 miles per gallon city/39 mpg highway/32 mpg combined. Given its fuel tank size of 16.2 gallons, that translates to an impressive range easily in excess of 500 miles.
With AWD, Altima mpg suffers a bit. The AWD 2021 Nissan Altima is rated by the EPA at 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway/30 mpg combined. Although the AWD Altima has a slightly smaller fuel tank (16.0 gallons), it still has a respectable range of approximately 480 miles. The Subaru Legacy, another 5-seat AWD midsize sedan with a CVT, is similarly efficient to the AWD Altima, returning EPA fuel economy numbers of 27 mpg city/35 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined.
If you choose the Altima 2.0 SR equipped with the 248-horsepower VC-Turbo engine, you’ll get considerably better performance at a slight cost in fuel efficiency. This variable-compression Altima, an FWD model, is rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined. Considering the 2.0 SR’s high level of performance, that’s good.
Standard Features & Options
The 2021 Nissan Altima S ($24,300) comes with 16-in steel wheels and cloth upholstery, plus pushbutton ignition, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, cruise control, and automatic emergency braking (now with pedestrian detection).
On the Altima SV ($25,400), you get 17-in alloy wheels and an 8-way power driver’s seat, along with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, an 8-inch color display, LED headlamps, and a safety suite featuring a blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking. Equipped with AWD, the 2021 Nissan Altima SV costs $26,800.
With its 19-in alloy wheels and tuned suspension, the Altima SR (FWD: $26,200; AWD: $27,600) is the sporty model. It comes with paddle shifters, sport seats, and a leather-covered steering wheel. The 2.0 SR ($30,650), the only Altima equipped with the VC-Turbo engine, adds a moonroof and heated front seats, plus outside mirrors with integrated LED turn signals.
The Altima SL (FWD: $29,990; AWD: $31,390) abounds with standard equipment. In addition to leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and navigation, the Altima SL is equipped with a 9-speaker Bose audio system, acoustic front door glass, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and ProPilot assist; which builds on active cruise control with steering assistance.
For 2021, the lineup is capped by the opulent Altima Platinum ($34,100) model, a decadent AWD version that builds on the SL with 19-inch alloy wheels, a 360-degree monitor, interior accent lighting, and a driver’s seat with memory.
Many Altima options are in packages. A new Driver Assist Package on the base Altima S includes a blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert, along with an 8-way power driver’s seat. At $475, the Driver Assist Package is a good deal.
If you want adaptive cruise control on your midlevel Altima SV, order the $1,800 SV Premium Package. In addition to adaptive cruise control with active steering, the package includes a moonroof, LED turn signals, heated front seats, and a leather-covered steering wheel.
The SR Premium Package ($1,200) is quite similar, featuring a moonroof, LED turn signals, and heated front seats, along with lumbar support for the driver’s seat.
Among the available stand-alone options on the 2021 Nisan Altima are splash guards, premium paint, a rear spoiler (not on the S), and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Priced as such, the 2021 Nissan Altima competes with proven players like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, plus others like the Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5, and Mazda6.
The Nissan Altima has earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Even the base Altima, the S, has automatic emergency braking, and for 2021 it’s been supplemented with pedestrian protection.
Safety Shield 360, Nissan’s safety suite, is standard on every Altima model above the S. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic alert (with braking), and automatic high-beam headlights. Also available: adaptive cruise control with low-speed stop-and-go functionality.
Behind the Wheel
The Altima we drove was the 2.0 SR model, the one equipped with the VC-Turbo engine. It was quite responsive, with torque arriving right as the variable-compression engine allowed boost to arrive. A display on the dash tells the Altima driver if compression is low (which permits the use of turbo boost for power) or high (which translates to super-efficient cruising down the highway). Expect highway fuel economy in the mid-30s with the Altima 2.0 SR model.
The base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is quiet and adequately powered, and the CVT automatic transmission works just fine in relaxed, everyday driving. It even simulates the shifts of a conventional automatic, and it feels livelier and more responsive when the driver selects Sport mode. However, when the Altima is driven hard, such as on an uphill freeway onramp, there’s still some of the CVT-related “motorboat” effect, which makes it feel like engine rpm is only loosely related to vehicle speed.
On a positive note, the Altima chassis, with struts in front and multilink rear is very good. It delivers a comfortable ride while having excellent body control that helps make this midsize Nissan a fun companion on that twisty road up to your mountain cabin. The Altima cabin has a slightly premium feel, and the infotainment is easy to use. Also, the supportive front seats are comfortable even after several long hours in the saddle.
One last point: When we sampled an AWD Nissan Altima in good weather, it felt just like a front-drive model.
Other Cars to Consider
2021 Toyota Camry — The Toyota Camry is available with a powerful V6 and now AWD. You can also get a super-efficient Camry Hybrid. Made in Kentucky.
2021 Honda Accord – Roomy, sporty, efficient, reliable – that’s the Honda Accord, which is an entertaining sedan with two different turbocharged 4-cylinder engines but no manual transmission. That’s right, for the first time since the Accord’s 1976 introduction, there will not be an Accord manual. Made in Ohio.
2021 Subaru Legacy — The Legacy, all-new last year, competes with the AWD Altima. Subaru sells the Legacy with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or a turbo 2.4, both with standard AWD and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Made in Indiana.
2021 Nissan Maxima — The Altima’s sportier, more luxurious big brother has a 300-hp V6 engine and a more upscale interior. But it’s only a 4-seater. The starting price of a Maxima is similar to that of an Altima Platinum. Made in Tennessee.
Used Mercedes-Benz C300 – There are many low-mileage 2017 Mercedes-C300s available on Autotrader for less than $30,000. Look for a CPO version with a warranty. A Mercedes sedan for the price of a new Altima? That’s intriguing. Made in Alabama.
Questions You May Ask
Does the 2021 Nissan Altima have a V6?
No. While there have been Altima V6s in the past, the 2021 model is sold with a 188-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a variable compression ratio and 248 horsepower.
Where does Nissan build the Altima?
The 2021 Nissan Altima is made in Canton, Mississippi, and Smyrna, Tennessee.
Where is the variable-compression VC-Turbo engine built?
Nissan builds the VC-Turbo engine in Japan. Via an internal link system that changes the pistons’ reach, the compression ratio is altered for greater efficiency or power, depending on what is most needed at the time.
What is the warranty offered on the 2021 Nissan Altima?
Nissan sells the 2021 Altima with a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. The powertrain warranty is a better 5-year/60,000-mile plan.
Does the Nissan Altima have a folding rear seat?
Yes. All 2021 Nissan Altimas come with a rear seatback that splits 60/40 and folds forward. Just the thing for that new 55-inch smart TV you’ve been eyeing at Costco.
In this world of Camrys and Accords and newer challengers like the Sonata and K5 (the new Kia Optima), it might be easy to overlook the Altima. But don’t. This Nissan is a stylish and solidly built midsize sedan, one that backs up its good driving manners with excellent fuel efficiency and a healthy dose of safety and technology.
We’d opt for the SV. It’s priced reasonably, and we think the 2.5 is well suited for its role in the Altima. Moreover, the SV trim sweetens the Altima experience with 17-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, satellite radio, acoustic door glass, a larger 8-in infotainment touchscreen, and a safety suite that includes a blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. And if we lived in the Northeast, the Northwest, or the Rockies, we’d order our Altima with AWD. Find a Nissan Altima for sale