Heading into its third decade of thrilling American drivers who still yearn for a roomy sedan that might add a little smile to your face when you compare prices with competitors, the 2023 Nissan Altima can tout value. In the case of the top-end Altima SR, it can also impress when you experience the new VC-Turbo engine.
The 2023 refresh is from top to bottom – a success. Nissan did several things to update the exterior to feel more contemporary, as well as adding some nice touches in the cabin to elevate the form and functional aspects.
The full refresh is front and center when you see the 2023 Altima. I really like the new fascia showcasing Nissan’s signature V-Motion grille. It’s bigger and bolder and it gives the car a performance feel. My tester was the top-end SR, which gets a black chrome grille that sets it apart from the rest of the lineup.
While the rear end is still pretty standard, the dual exhaust being the primary styling cue that felt sporty to me, up front the LED headlights are now standard on all models. These new LED running lights offer a distinctive look – especially at night. Look for four new wheel designs, as well as new exterior color options.
Built in Canton, Mississippi, the Altima is available in five trim levels: S, SV, SR, SL, and SR VC-Turbo. My tester was the top-end SR, which has replaced the Platinum trim. Altima prices start at $26,385 and ratchet up to $36,085 for the SR VC-Turbo.
Overall, I found my SR tester to be a very handsome sedan that featured a strong performance vibe on the outside and reflected those same attitudes under the hood. While turbocharged engines are a common feature of today’s vehicles, Nissan does shake the technology tree a bit with the introduction of its Variable Compression (VC) feature.
Nissan says the VC-Turbo is the world’s first production engine that uses variable compression, which provides the best of both worlds with more power coming from the lower compression ratio and a higher ratio delivering a better fuel economy.
Altima has two engine choices: The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder and the new 2.0 VC-Turbo option. The standard powerplant delivers 188 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque (FWD) or 182 hp and 178 lb-ft (AWD). The more powerful VC-Turbo engine that I tested on my SR is only available in FWD.
The VC-Turbo is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. One of the drawbacks of Nissan is its commitment to the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). While these transmissions provide efficiency that translates to better fuel economy, I haven’t met one that any manufacturer uses that captures the potential spirit offered under the hood. I found shifts to be better than average with the turbo, but there’s still a lag and some uneven shifts that feel like the computer is searching for the right tension ratios.
Here’s the payoff for the CVT, combined fuel-economy ratings for the less-powerful 2.5-liter engine range from 30 to 32 mpg, depending on trim and driveline. The combined EPA rating for the FWD-only Altima SR VC-Turbo powertrain is 29 mpg. This makes it almost as fuel efficient as the less powerful 2.5-liter version.
The first thing that grabbed my attention climbing into my 2023 Altima SR tester was the new 12.3-inch touchscreen display that is standard on Altima SL and SR VC-Turbo (optional on SV and SR trims). It looks sleek and fits right into the Altima’s contemporary interior styling.
I found it to be intuitive to use, especially with the Android Auto/Apple CarPlay feature and the standard wireless charging is always an appreciated feature. Climate controls are separate from audio, which really help aid quick access.
My SR VC-Turbo featured comfortable Zero Gravity seats featuring plenty of cushioning and bolstering in the sides and lower portion of the seat. On the SR, the leather trim is standard, and my tester looked great with its contrasted dual stitching on the seats, doors, and console.
The 60/40 split-folding rear seats were very roomy and comfortable. If you have larger items to move, these fold down to increase the trunk’s already decent space (15.4 cu.-ft.) to accommodate more.
If there were any cringe-worthy elements in the cabin, they were solely rooted in some of the cheaper plastics located on the door trim and lower dash. I supposed corners need to be cut even on Altimas, and if that’s the case, better here than in more prominent areas.
Safety Shield 360 is Nissan’s suite of advanced safety features that comes standard on the entire lineup. Featuring 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, this is a comprehensive offering that elevates the safety over last year’s Altimas.
My tester featured an adaptive cruise control system, ProPilot Assist (standard on SL and SR VC-Turbo, optional on SV) that utilizes cutting-edge tech, including a forward-facing camera, radar, and sensors, in order to keep the car centered in its lane while maintaining a selected speed. If the vehicle ahead of you slows, the Altima will maintain a set distance behind it, eventually slowing to a complete stop, if needed.
Overall, I found the 2023 Altima SR VC-Turbo to be a comfortable and accommodating sedan. While there is a bit of road noise at highway speeds, a flick of the volume on the very capable Bose audio system makes it all go away. For a family looking for something other than an SUV, this is a very intriguing choice.
My tester featured a premium Scarlet Ember Tintcoat paint that pushed the base $34,990 price up $395. Add in the standard $1,095 destination charge and my tester landed at a very reasonable $36,835.
• John Stein is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. He has more than 25 years of experience driving, testing, and writing about the automotive industry, its latest innovations, and vehicles.