It’s the third high-profile midsize sedan launch in a year, and Nissan’s pretty confident that thisÂ â€” THISÂ â€” is the one that’s really going to turn the declining segment around. Or so U.S. chairman Denis Le Vot claims. In our first drive review of the all-new 2019 Altima, scheduled for Friday morning, we’ll ponder if this revamped sedan and its revolutionary new engine makes for a worthy challenger to Toyota’s segment-leading Camry and the somewhat lagging Honda Accord.
Meanwhile, north of the border, Nissan Canada is busy preparing its own launch. We’ve discussed some of the similarities and glaring discrepancies between the two vehicle markets before, but for the 2019 Altima, the gap between the U.S. vehicle and Canadian one is vast. Maybe it has something to do with optimism vs. realism.
The big news in the U.S. is twofold: not only will the 2019 Altima offer available all-wheel drive for the first time, it also arrives with an uplevel variable-compression turbocharged four-cylinder as a replacement for the previous generation’s 3.5-liter V6. Dubbed the VC-Turbo, this engine adjusts the pistons’ reach, and thus the engine’s compression ratio, on the fly, allowing it to operate at peak efficiency at a variety of engine loads.
Drinking premium fuel, the engine should generate 248 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque.
And that’s just what it will do. But only in the United States. Nissan Canada, however, has made the decision not only to not offer the VC-Turbo in the 2019 Altima, but also to make AWD standard on all Altimas, regardless of trim. Blame a buying public that clearly has had enough of most sedans.
Jenn McCarthy, Nissan Canada’s manager of product communications, said the decision to go this direction with the Altima came after deliberation that went through the company “from top to bottom.” At the car’s launch at the New York City Auto Show in late March, company brass still hadn’t pulled the trigger on a product plan. It was only after speaking with the public did Nissan Canada decide a “premium engine” wasn’t the way to go.
Camry and Accord remain top rivals, sure, but going the AWD route also positions the Altima as a Subaru fighter. Combine standard AWD (with up to a 50:50 fore/aft torque split) with Nissan’s long-established reputation for value, and it’s easy to see the potential draw here. The strategy soon coalesced, McCarthy said. Not only would offering the sedan with a simplified trim range (S, SV, and Platinum) and a sole engine (a 2.5-liter inline-four, now with direct injection), satisfy the need to be different and price-conscious, it would help distance the Altima from the slightly larger, V6-powered Maxima in the brand’s lineup.
Still, some of the deliberation centered on the possibility of Altima V6 buyers being turned off by the lack of VC-Turbo. Eventually it was decided that the sedan stood to gain more buyers than it would lose.
“That was a huge consideration,” McCarthy said. “[But it was decided that] we can’t blend into the crowd with this this. The segment is shrinking. If we’re going to do something, we have to do something different.”
The take rate for the previous-gen V6 model was already small in Canada, and slipping fast. “It was growing increasingly difficult to sell them,” she said of the uplevel Altimas. “Customers were gravitating to the Maxima. Sales stats showed we didn’t need it.”
Besides all-wheel drive, all 2019 Altimas sold north of the border will contain a 182 hp, 178 lb-ft 2.5-liter mated to a continuously variable automatic, with the cabin boasting an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth, Hands-free Text Messaging Assistant, and Siri Eyes Free/Google Assistant Voice Recognition. Standard safety features on all trims includeÂ Emergency Braking, Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, and Intelligent Driver Alertness. The new Altimas should hit dealers in the Great White North around the same time the snow starts to fly. Which is to say, at the end of November or beginning of December.
While the Altima retains a large slice of the brand’s volume in the U.S., that isn’t the case in Canada. Soon, McCarthy predicts the top five Nissan vehicles by volume will be utility vehicles. Though the Nissan brand’s sales rose 1.9 percent in Canada over the first eight months of the year, Altima sales slumped 13 percent. In terms of volume, the Sentra outsells the Altima by a ratio of 2:1. The top-selling Rogue crossover outsells it 7:1. In the U.S., that ratio is closer to 2:1.
Nissan Canada can’t do anything about the vehicle’s ride height, but perhaps the all-wheel traction so loved by Canucks will add some extra wind to the Altima’s sails.