2023 Nissan Altima Review and Test Drive
The popular Nissan sedan gets updated styling and features.
First introduced 30 years ago, the Altima sedan is one of the best-selling passenger cars in the United States. It is also the second most popular model in the Nissan lineup behind the Rogue SUV. While many car companies have forgone the four-door sedan in favor of the more common SUV, Nissan isn't ready to give up on its popular Altima.
The company theorizes that many of the younger buyers coming into the market will not want to drive what their parents are driving (typically an SUV), expecting the four-door sedan to have a promising future. Sales of the Altima have continued to climb in the last year, so perhaps there is something to the brand's logic.
To continue that investment in the sedan, Nissan gave the Altima a full refresh for the 2023 model year. The list of what’s new includes updates to the exterior styling, more standard features, and interior enhancements. Nissan also added new colors and wheel designs for the new model year. In addition, Nissan used this refresh to better differentiate the performance-oriented Altima SR, which gets a unique grille pattern that stands out in the lineup.
The 2023 Nissan Altima is available in five trim levels: S, SV, SR, SL, and SR VC-Turbo. Nissan drops the Platinum trim for 2023. Prices start at around $26,385 for the Altima S and climb to $36,085 for the top-level Altima SR VC-Turbo. These 2023 Altima prices include the destination charge to ship the car from its assembly plant in Canton, Miss, to your local dealership.
All Altimas have a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making as much as 188 hp, except for the top SR VC-Turbo trim. The VC-Turbo gets a variable-compression turbocharged engine that supplies up to 248 hp if you run it on premium gas. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard on all trims; all-wheel drive (AWD) is available on the SV, SR (non-VC-Turbo), and SL for an additional $1,500.
For this 2023 Nissan Altima review, Nissan provided me with an SR VC-Turbo to test drive for a week in and around Redmond, Wash. The SR VC-Turbo is the top-level trim of the Altima and comes with a long list of standard equipment. My test vehicle had the additional options of premium Scarlet Ember Tintcoat paint and floor mats. The total manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) was $36,835, including the $1,095 destination charge.
2023 Nissan Altima Review: The Design
The most noticeable update to the 2023 Nissan Altima is at the front end of the car, where the sedan gets a new fascia featuring a revised version of the brand's signature V-Motion grille. The enlarged grille gives the car a sportier look and features the updated Nissan logo front and center. LED headlights are now standard, with updated LED running lights that give the Altima a unique look at night. Other exterior updates that set this new 2023 Altima apart from its predecessor include updated taillights and four new wheel designs. The sporty SR gets a black chrome grille that sets it apart from the rest of the lineup.
Nissan also made updates to the Altima's interior for 2023. The most noticeable change is a new 12.3-inch touchscreen display that is standard with Altima SL and SR VC-Turbo trim and optional with Altima SV and SR trim. (The new infotainment system is unavailable in the base model.)
The large screen is easy to navigate, especially with a menu for home, audio, and navigation that remains static on the left side of the screen, even when using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. It's also possible to customize the home screen to display preferred features and shortcuts. Wireless charging is standard with the new screen, too. The only thing missing is a tuning knob, but I appreciate that there are tuning buttons to either side of the easily accessible volume knob. Nissan keeps the climate controls separate for quick access.
Nissan continues to use what it refers to as Zero Gravity front seats that feature dual-density foam and bolstering, and they are quite comfortable even after long drives. Nissan fitted the SR VC-Turbo that I drove with standard leather trim with new dual stitching that adds contrast to the seats, doors, and center console. While the Altima has a premium look at first blush, I was disappointed with the hard plastic materials on the lower dashboard and door trim. They look fine but, unfortunately, feel a bit cheap. It’s not what I'd expect to find in the most expensive version of this car.
The Altima's back seat is quite spacious, with good legroom and headroom. The outboard positions offer good bolstering, nice cushioning, and a perfectly comfortable space for two adults. The middle seat does offer reasonable space, but the hump in the floor infringes on legroom, and the seat cushion is a bit hard and not near as comfortable as the outer seats. Two USB ports — USB-A and USB-C — are a nice added benefit to the rear-seat passengers.
Trunk space in the Nissan Altima is adequate at 15.4 cu.-ft. of volume, but I had no problem fitting two suitcases plus additional bags and backpacks with room to spare. You can fold the rear 60/40 split-folding seat to handle any oversized pieces of cargo.
2023 Nissan Altima Review: The Technology
As the top-level trim in the 2023 Altima sedan lineup, my SR VC-Turbo test vehicle featured the new 12.3-inch center display screen and the 7.0-inch driver's display, located front and center between the speedometer and tachometer. With the larger main display, there's space for multiple customizable tiles on the home screen. I painlessly configured it to display the map, audio, and the local weather. You can also configure various pages, accessible by swiping left or right.
Nissan added wireless Android Auto smartphone connectivity for the 2023 model year. I quickly and easily connected my Galaxy S21 via Bluetooth, and I was able to set up Android Auto in just a few seconds. I like that the system allows Android Auto to use all the screen real estate. This isn't always the case in competitors' products. The static menu options on the left of the screen make it easy to jump to features in the Nissan system, then back to Android Auto without digging into a separate menu.
The driver display has multiple menus operated via steering wheel buttons that can provide a range of driver-oriented information, including fuel economy, driving directions, vehicle status, and adaptive cruise control settings.
Every 2023 Nissan Altima comes standard with Nissan Safety Shield 360, the brand's suite of advanced safety features. This suite includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic rear braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and high-beam headlight assist.
Nissan also offers the brand's advanced adaptive cruise control system, ProPilot Assist (standard on SL and SR VC-Turbo, optional on SV). Using a forward-facing camera, radar, and sensors, the system is designed to keep the car centered in its lane while maintaining the selected speed. If the vehicle ahead slows, the Altima will maintain a set distance behind, eventually slowing to a complete stop, if needed.
I found the system to work quite well, steadying me in the lane without bouncing from side to side and smoothly coming to a stop when traffic backed up. Keep in mind, however, this is not an autonomous driving system; it only provides temporary steering assistance. After 10 seconds, if the system does not detect hands on the wheel, it will alert the driver to resume steering control.
I had the (mis)fortune of testing the Altima in snowy conditions in the Pacific northwest. When stuck in the snow, the key to freeing yourself is usually deactivating the traction control, which allows the wheels to spin. Most new vehicles have a button that will enable you to turn this system off, but the Altima does not.
To deactivate traction control, I had to go into the driver-assist menu via buttons on the steering wheel and turn off all the Vehicle Dynamic Controls. Not only does this turn off the traction control, it also deactivates the automatic emergency braking and rear automatic braking systems. Not wanting to drive without these safety features, I had to remember to turn everything back on again once underway. A simple button push would have been much less complicated.
The 2023 Nissan Altima earned the top overall rating of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with high scores in overall side crash and rollover-resistance tests and a four-star overall rating for frontal crash tests.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also rates the Altima quite highly, awarding the 2023 version of the sedan a Top Safety Pick+ rating for the 2022 calendar year — the highest safety accolade available from the IIHS. As this review is written, the IIHS has not assigned a calendar year rating.
2023 Nissan Altima Review: The Drive
Nissan offers the Altima with a choice of two engines. Standard on all but the top SR VC-Turbo trim is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 188 hp and 180 lb.-ft. of torque (FWD) or 182 hp and 178 lb-ft (AWD). The more powerful VC-Turbo engine comes standard on the FWD-only SR VC-Turbo, the car I drove. This unique turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. (That’s with 93 octane fuel; otherwise, the specs are 236 and 267, respectively.) Nissan employs a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) in every 2023 Altima.
According to Nissan, the VC-Turbo is the world's first production engine that uses variable compression. A lower compression ratio provides more power, while a higher ratio yields better fuel economy. According to the automaker, this setup offers the best of both worlds: power when you need it and better efficiency when the load on the engine is lighter.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the combined fuel-economy ratings for the less-powerful 2.5-liter engine range from 30 to 32 mpg, depending on trim and driveline. Meanwhile, the combined EPA rating for the FWD-only Altima SR VC-Turbo powertrain is 29 mpg, making it nearly as fuel efficient despite its added power. During my evaluation, which included a mixture of highway and city driving, the trip computer indicated just over 29 mpg.
The Altima VC-Turbo feels quick off the line, with strong acceleration. Even with FWD, wheel slip is minimal, and the traction control is not too intrusive. Merging onto the freeway on a long entrance ramp, I found the car pulled strong well past 70 mph. Even at highway speeds, a jab at the throttle pushes you back in the seat as the Altima effortlessly passes slower traffic.
Cruising at highway speeds is perfectly comfortable as the Altima delivers a confident ride. This is a car that would be suitable for a long road trip.
The CVT works well most of the time, even allowing for simulated gear shifting via the paddle shifters. However, the power did not always come on very smoothly. On several occasions, the power would surge unexpectedly under steady acceleration, with the car suddenly moving quicker than planned. This was especially noticeable when coming out of a turn, with the Altima accelerating faster than expected. That said, after more time with the car, I could better anticipate its behavior and modulate the power. However, I'd still prefer a traditional automatic transmission over the CVT.
Overall, the Altima provides a comfortable, solid ride, although it can be a bit jarring when the road gets rough. There is a bit of road noise at higher speeds, but not enough to annoy a driver or to distract from the upgraded Bose audio system in my test car.
Nissan equips the SR VC-Turbo with a unique suspension and sportier chassis tuning. That, combined with the added power of the VC-Turbo engine, makes this the best-performing version of the Altima. While handling in the snow with FWD and all-season tires was not optimal — all-season tires provided no traction on the ice and snow, not a fault of the car — once I found dry pavement, the Altima was quite fun to drive. The steering is precise, with good feedback providing impressive performance on the twisty roads outside of Seattle. The brakes perform well, slowing the car quickly and smoothly.
Is the 2023 Nissan Altima a Good Car?
Americans may prefer SUVs, but the mid-size sedan market is still very competitive, even if well-known models such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry dominate the segment. Additional family sedan rivals include the Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5, and Subaru Legacy.
The Altima brings a lot to the table (road) with a comfortable and roomy interior, an intuitive infotainment system, and the latest in advanced driver-assistance and safety systems. The improvements for the 2023 model year make this Nissan sedan even more appealing with its fresh exterior styling and tasteful updates inside.
With available AWD and two efficient engines — including the innovative and powerful VC-Turbo — the Altima doesn't make any sacrifices regarding drivability. Enthusiasts will be surprised at how enjoyable the SR VC-Turbo is to drive. I certainly was impressed. With a low starting price and a wide range of trim levels, the Altima is undoubtedly worth considering — even for those who think they want an SUV.