2023 Update Caraganza First Drive Review 2021 Nissan Altima SR: Sort of sporty



I’m an unabashed fan of all things James Bond; have been for most of my life. I love all things 007, the action, adventure, gadgets, girls, and of course the cars. Like many, I sometimes dream of doing Bond things: jumping from a plane into Dr. No’s lair; calmly walking away as a huge explosion behind me ends a threat to the entire world while Honey Rider waits in the passenger seat of a DB 5 with the top down.

The truth is of course that I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things. In fact, if I was suddenly thrust into a Bond movie, I wouldn’t be a double O anything, not even Q the gadget guy. No, I’d be one of the anonymous paper pushers working at a non-descript government issued desk way in the background. Maybe filing expense reports or something tedious and boring.

That’s true for most of us. Because for most of us life isn’t filled with spy stories and saving the world from some madman. Nor are all of our driveways filled with DB 5’s.

We are all bit players, living in the background in an otherwise mundane world.

Maybe that’s why sedans like Nissan’s Altima are so popular. The Altima has never been flashy, not in your face, nor even particularly noteworthy. It just exists in the background, doing what it needs to do to get the job done.

Nissan sent me a 2021 Altima for a recent week. I had a 2019 SV a couple of years ago. Sure, it was okay, but not really outstanding. That wasn’t a bad thing, not at all. The Altima did what was advertised, and not much more.

For this go-around I got a 2021 SR, billed as the sporty version of the lineup. I was curious then to see if it could somehow make the Altima a bit more noticeable. A little more power might be just what was needed to take the otherwise dull, but good, Altima to the next level, even if that level wasn’t really all that high to begin with.

The sixth generation of the Altima debuted in 2019. For 2021 the Altima variants gets tweaked. They’ve eliminated a few of the trim and powertrain combinations, the Platinum no longer can have a VC-Turbo, the 2.5-liter Platinum is all-wheel drive only, and the base S model is front-wheel drive only. So then my tester, the sportier SR model is now the only one available with Nissan’s 2.0-liter turbo engine and front wheel drive, leaving the top of the line Platinum with the base 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine.



On the outside, the SR gets 19-inch wheels, a dark chrome grill, a rear spoiler, black accents and a badge. Inside the SR there is an all-black décor with orange contrast stitching along with carbon fiber trim. The SR is nicely equipped with such things a keyless ignition, power-adjustable driver’s seat, 8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio along with safety features like a blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and parking sensors, and automatic braking.

The SR also gets the features in the optional SV Premium package including heated mirrors, a sunroof, a leather wrapped steering wheel and perhaps best of all Nissan’s ProPilot Assist system with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist which in my Nissan experience is very good.

Yes the SR gets a sport-tuned suspension and a transmission paddle shifter, but of course, when any model is advertised as sporty, one thing that really matters is what’s under the hood. While the rest of the lineup gets a 2.5 inline 4 with 188 horses and 180 lb-ft of torque, the SR has a 2.0 turbocharged inline 4 with 236 horses with regular gas and 248 using premium fuel with 267 or 273 lb-ft of torque.

There is however, one annoying problem. Nissan’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Now when I first drove a Nissan, I found the CVT (a transmission I normally am not a fan of) to be somewhat surprising. The Nissan CVT has a system that simulates stepped gear changes which allows the CVT to not feel like a CVT, which in my mind is a very good thing. However, when trying to do anything sporty, the stepped CVT just can’t keep up. Without the 8 or more speeds of a high-performance transmissions the sportiness under the hood just seems wasted.

Sure there is a bit more power, and that’s a very good thing, but without a proper way to deliver that power to the road, it seems kind of wasted. All of that is not to take away from a pretty good sedan, which is what the Altima is.

At the end of the day, the Altima is a decent affordably priced sedan that gets the job done. Dropping the CVT in favor of a normal transmission would certainly up the game for the SR. But for what it is, it’s pretty alright. A nice sedan for those of us in the background.

No the Altima isn’t a DB 5, nor will machine guns pop out from grill, but part of me secretly wishes there was at least an ejector seat.

2023 Update

Keeping the streak alive I guess, Nissan sent me a 2023 model to spend a week with in December of 2022. Having introduced the latest generation in 2019 (the first one I had followed by the 2021 a year later) for 2023 the Altima got a minor refresh. Appearance wise the chrome on the front grill is now gone, and the headlights were tweaked. Inside there’s a new 12.3-inch touchscreen standard on the SL and SR VC-Turbo and optional for the SV. It replaces the previous 8-inch option and adds wireless Apple CarPlay in the process (Android Auto still requires a wired connection). A wireless charging pad and Wi-Fi hotspot are available options as well.

The SR VC-Turbo is now the top of the lineup (the Platinum has been dropped) and combines everything the SR offers with the luxury and tech extras of the SL. I had that top of the line SR VC-Turbo and the engine now puts out 248 horses and 273 lb.-ft pounds of torque without the need for premium fuel.

The lack of chrome on the grill is nice, as is the bigger touchscreen, but is the tiny addition of a few more horsepower and a bit more torque worth the $37,060 MSRP? That is a questioned best answered by those looking to buy one.

2021 Altima (L) vs, the 2023

Interior of the 2021 Altima (L) vs. the 2023

The 2021 Nissan Altima SR (FWD)
MSRP: $ 30,650
MSRP (as tested): $32,905
Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder 236 hp (regular gas, 248 premium) @5600 rpm 267 lb-ft torque (regular gas, 273 premium) @3600 rpm
Transmission: CVT shiftable
Fuel Mileage (EPA): 25 city, 34 highway, 29 combined
Fuel Mileage (as tested, mixed conditions): 33 mpg
Base Curb Weight 3425 lbs.

Exterior dimensions

Wheelbase (in):  111.2 in
Length, Overall (in): 192.9 in
Height, Overall (in): 56.8 in
Width, Overall (in): 72.9 in

Interior dimensions

Headroom (w/o moonroof) Front 39.2 in back 36.9 in
Headroom w/moonroof Front 38.0 in Back 36.7 in
Rear head room    36.7 in
Rear leg room    35.2 in.
Legroom Front 43.8 in Back 35.2 in
Shoulder room Front 58.2 in Back 57.1 in
Maximum cargo capacity    15.4 cu.ft.
EPA interior volume    116.2 cu.ft.


Basic: 3 Yr./ 36000 Mi.
Drivetrain: 5 Yr./ 60000 Mi.
Roadside: 3 yr./ 36000 mi


Greg Engle