Fearless forecast: All-new 2019 Nissan Altima to shelve V-6 for variable-compression turbo four, offer all-wheel drive

Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept

Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept

What changes will make the 2019 Nissan Altima different?

It’ll be all-new: larger, racier-looking, higher-tech, and very possibly available with all-wheel drive (AWD) and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Expect a roomier, more contemporary interior along with exterior styling influenced by Nissan’s edgy Maxima sedan. Anticipate a degree of autonomous driving. And look for the ’19 Altima to break from the pack by offering AWD — while at the same time joining a trend by dropping its V-6 engine.

Altima’s first full redesign since model-year 2013 should help it compete with its top two rivals, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, both of which were all-new for model-year ’18. Even this influx of fresh product, however, isn’t likely to reverse a sales slide across the midsize-car class. Once America’s most popular model segment, it’s been surpassed in sales by crossover SUVs and even by compact cars. The ’19 Altima at least should distinguish itself with rare-in-the-segment AWD and styling elements drawn from the Maxima, which, incidentally, is the only midsize car to experience sales growth in 2017.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

To get a thoroughly up-to-date four-door sedan that should blend family-friendly room and amenities with forward-thinking design and engineering. It’s been displaced by the Rogue compact crossover as Nissan’s top-selling vehicle, but Altima remains one of the automaker’s signature nameplates. Nissan isn’t apt to cut corners with the redesign. The five-seater will retain an underskin architecture shared with the Maxima, Murano, and the larger Pathfinder crossover, but with wholesale updates and weight savings intended to improve ride, handling, and refinement.

Spy shots of camouflaged prototypes suggest the ’19 Altima will draw some visual inspiration from the Maxima, and the two cars will stay similarly sized. But the Altima will remain less expensive than the Maxima, and continue to appeal to a more mainstream buyer. The separation will become more pronounced if, as expected, Maxima retains a V-6 as its sole engine and Altima drops its six. But Maxima will remain front-wheel drive. Waiting for the ’19 Altima will likely get you access to AWD, an all-weather advantage currently offered in this class only by the Buick Regal, Ford Fusion, and Subaru Legacy.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

If you’re keen to snag a still-worthy midsize sedan at what almost certainly will be steep discounts as Nissan and its dealers clear inventories ahead of its all-new ‘replacement. Yes, you’ll get styling that’ll soon look very dated against the ’19 Altima. And you won’t have the latest driver-assist technology. But every ’18 Altima does come standard with a reasonably comprehensive suite of safety features, including autonomous emergency braking. Buying an ’18 also gives you access to a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with its smooth 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. Indeed, V-6 fans in particular should exploit the model-year closeout sales because for ’18, Nissan dropped the V-6 3.5 SR model, which started at $28,885. That left the top-of-the-line 3.5 SL as the only Altima with the six. It’s priced from $34,515, including destination fee.

Base prices for the 2018 four-cylinder models – the 2.5 S, 2.5 SR, 2.5 SV, and 2.5 SL – range from $24,145 to $29,995. With 179 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, their 2.5-liter isn’t nearly as muscular as the 3.5 SL’s V-6, although it provides a nice balance of power and fuel economy. Every ’18 Altima is a spacious sedan highlighted by outstanding ride comfort, even if overall road manners aren’t up to those of the new Accord and Camry. Notable features include the blackout Midnight Edition Package for the 2018 2.5 SR and addition of imbedded navigation and adaptive cruise control as standard on the 3.5 SL.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, dramatically so. Bid adieu to the rounded contours of the 2013-2018 Altima. Prepare for the radically cut lines Nissan previewed on its recent Vmotion 2.0 concept car. Toss in the current Maxima’s “floating” rear-roof treatment and its pronounced “V-motion” grille, install LED headlights as standard on most trim levels, and you have a fair notion of the ’19 Altima’s looks.

Dimensions will stay solidly within midsize-class norms, although expect Altima to follow the segment trend with a slightly longer wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) as well as a fractionally lower, wide, and longer body. That growth may well compensate some for what’s apt to be a sleeker roofline, allowing Altima to remain suited to carry four adults in comfort and a fifth with a little squeezing.

Look for a broad range of model grades similar to that of the 2018 Altima, but don’t be surprised if Nissan adds a new flagship Platinum trim level to match the lineup of several of its other vehicles. Expect wheel sizes to again include 16- and 17-inch alloys, though top trims may use 19s instead of the outgoing car’s 18s.

The fully revamped cabin will likely focus on the latest in connectivity, including a main infotainment screen slightly larger than today’s 7-inch-diameter display. Spy shots show a tablet-like affair affixed to the new dashboard; that would introduce a new design touch to the brand. They also show an array of knobs and buttons, suggesting Nissan will wisely retain traditional controls for many functions, although there’s no indication of a centrally located mouse-type governor, meaning the display will likely be a touchscreen augmented by voice control. Expect a flat-bottom steering wheel, as already featured on several current Nissan vehicles.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, major ones. Beyond dynamic improvements promised by updates to the underskin structure, the headline here is the expected retirement of the V-6 engine in favor of a turbocharged four — a rather unique turbo-four, at that.

Along with the Maxima and high-line versions of the Camry, Legacy, Ford Fusion, and Volkswagen Passat, the outgoing Altima was among the dwindling number of midsize-car holdouts still available with a six-cylinder engine. For 2019, it’s expected to join the majority of entries in the segment – including the new Accord – with an engine roster exclusively of naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinders.

Prime candidate for Altima is a variant of an innovative turbo 2.0-liter already announced for the redesigned 2019 QX50 crossover from Nissan’s premium Infiniti brand. The automaker touts it as the world’s first production-ready engine that continually adjusts its compression ratio, essentially altering the volume of the combustion chambers while running. Nissan says it combines the power of a 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine with the torque and fuel efficiency of a four-cylinder diesel. It brands it the VC-Turbo in the QX50 and rates it there at 268 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

Given family-car fuel-economy parameters — and perhaps some cost and brand-hierarchy considerations — don’t expect quite as much power from a variable-compression turbo four in the 2019 Altima. However, even, say, 240 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque would be commensurate with some of the higher output engines in the class. But the variably compression technology is designed for fuel economy on par with rivals’ less powerful base four-cylinders.

The variable-compression engine is a candidate for the sporty-themed SR and Platinum trim levels. Expect the other ’19 Altimas to continue with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder, although upgraded in horsepower and torque; figure around 185 and 180, respectively. Both engines would again link to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a Nissan mainstay designed to mimic the action of a conventional automatic transmission but without stepped gear ratios.

In the QX50, the VC-Turbo can be paired with both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Again, brand distinction and perhaps cost and technical considerations may preclude Nissan from doing the same in the ’19 Altima – at least initially. So if AWD becomes a reality, we’d anticipate it being available at first with the 2.5-liter base engine only.

Will fuel economy improve?

It should, given advancements in powertrain and engineering. EPA ratings for the 2019 Altima were not released in time for this review, but Nissan reportedly has targeted a rating of 32 mpg city-highway combined with front-wheel drive for both engines. That would be a slight increase for the 2.5-liter, which rated 27/38/31 mpg city/highway/combined in the 2018 Altima (26/37/30 in the 2.5 SR model). It would be a significant 23-percent gain for the variable-compression engine over the ’18 V-6 Altima, which rated 22/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined.

Will it have new features?

Yes, most notably enhanced safety systems. Primary among them will be Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, designed to provide semi-autonomous driving. The system debuted on Nissan’s 2018 Rogue crossover and uses radar, a camera, sensors and automatic steering to keep the car in the center of the traffic lane. Combined with adaptive cruise control, it can maintain a set distance from traffic ahead and also bring the car to a stop and hold it during traffic jams. The driver’s hands, however, are required to remain on the steering wheel or the system will deactivate.

Laudably, Nissan has been liberal with safety features, so expect ProPilot Assist to be available on most 2019 Altima trim levels – probably all but the S model – and perhaps standard on the Platinum. It would augment autonomous emergency braking, which the automaker makes standard on virtually every vehicle it builds. Capable of stopping the car to avoid a frontal collision, it’s part of Nissan’s Intelligent Safety Shield Technologies, which also includes an around-view monitor, blind-spot detection and lane-maintaining automatic steering, as well as a driver-alertness monitor.

Yet to be announced is precisely what mix of driver assists will be standard or optional, and the same is true for such amenities as imbedded navigation. Expect Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to be widely available, if not standard across the board. Imbedded navigation would provide real-time GPS mapping in the absence of a cell signal.

How will 2019 prices be different?

It’s a safe bet the 2019 Altima will be more expensive than the 2018, with base price of the new Platinum edition apt to exceed the $36,000 mark. (Estimated base prices here include Nissan’s destination fee, which was $885 on the 2018 Altima).

Among the 2.5-liter models, expect the ’19 S to be priced from around $25,000, the SR from around $26,000, the SV from about $28,000, and the SL from around $31,000. An SR with the 2.0-liter turbo would have an estimated base price of around $28,000. Assuming Nissan makes that engine part of the Platinum grade’s standard equipment, look for it to hit or exceed that $36K level.

When will it come out?

Look for a release date for the 2019 Nissan Altima during the third quarter of 2018.

What are the top alternatives?

Buick Regal, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]