2019 Nissan Altima AWD test drive: Double your pleasure

In the face of a market shift away from cars to trucks and utilities, Nissan is doubling-down on the Altima sedan. So to speak.

The all-new 2019 model is the first Nissan sedan available with all-wheel-drive, which gives it twice as many driven wheels as before. It’s one of only three cars in the segment that offer the all-weather option, along with the Subaru Legacy and Ford Fusion, which will soon be discontinued to make room for more SUVs.

Most midsize sedans don’t have it because most people don’t really need it, and the ones that do are often also looking for the added ground clearance they get in an SUV. Nissan is apparently hoping there are more than a few customers left in the snowbelt states who’d still prefer to keep a low profile.

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To drive the point home, it even turned an Altima into a snowmobile by putting a set of tracks on it. As of now, they are not on the accessories list.

(Nissan)

Seeing as how an All-tima costs just $1,350 more than a front-wheel-drive model, which starts at $24,645, it may be a safety-first no-brainer for everyone. You never know when you’re going to get transferred to Minneapolis, after all. Both versions come with a 182 hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and CVT automatic transmission standard. (A revolutionary 268 hp 2.0-liter turbo with variable compression is optional on some FWD trims.)

Aside from the cash, the only things you have to give up to get all-wheel-drive are a couple of miles per gallon, The AWD Altima is rated at 29/30 mpg combined, depending on the model, compared to the FWD’s 31/32 mpg. Those are excellent numbers across the board for the Altima’s class.

(Nissan)

The new Altima is a smidge bigger than the old one, which was already one of the largest “midsize” sedans. Rear legroom is generous, and the trunk is big enough to help make a case for it against a utility vehicle. The sharply-creased bodywork and floating roof effect are cribbed from the Maxima and Murano. Inside, it has a clean design, with simple controls, a tablet-style infotainment system and -- in the top of the line Platinum trim level I tested – a snazzy wood strip stretching from door to door.

(Nissan)

The Platinum cost $34,025, but comes fully-loaded with every Altima feature, including automatic emergency brakes, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, a 360-degree camera and Nissan’s ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous driving aid, which can self-steer the car within a lane as long as you have a hand touching the steering wheel. ProPilot Assist does a better job of keeping the car centered than most lane-keeping systems, but only works if there are clear lines for it to see and will quickly disengage if it doesn’t. So you’ll want to keep your eyes on the road too.

(Nissan)

Regardless of what kind of road that is, the Altima impresses. It’s smooth and quiet on the highway and can soak up bumps around town, but is still tight enough to take on a twisty mountain pass without making a mess of it. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate while I had it. Which is to say it was beautiful, so I’ll have to get back to you about how well the all-wheel-drive works in such situations. Nissan does make a lot of trucks and SUVs, though, so it's not exactly new to the concept.

What I can tell you is that the Altima feels much more solid and refined overall than the outgoing edition, which I’ve spent a lot of time in thanks to its ubiquity as a rental car. This one deserves a better fate, but I won't complain if a desk agent hands me the keys to one, even if I'm on a ski trip.

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2019 Nissan Altima AWD

Base price: $25,995

As tested: $34,645

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door, all-wheel-drive sedan

Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder

Power 182 hp, 178 lb-ft torque

Transmission: CVT Automatic

MPG: 26 city, 36 hwy

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