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There’s quite an annoying issue with the 2023 Nissan Altima. No, it isn’t the slightly disappointing interior. It’s neither its low-resolution rearview camera nor its outdated infotainment software. It revolves around its drivetrain configurations and Nissan’s imagination with them. They’re not individually terrible or discouragingly average, but the sedan is missing its greatest potential performance spec.

2023 Nissan Altima drivetrain options

2023 Nissan Altima
2023 Nissan Altima | Nissan

In the S, SV, SR, and SL trim levels, potential buyers will get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder good for 188 horsepower and 180 pounds-feet of torque. With front-wheel drive and a continuously variable manual transmission (CVT), it’s more than plenty for everyday driving. For those who’d like more gripping ability, all-wheel drive (AWD) is available but drops the horsepower and torque to 187 and 178, respectively. Unfortunately, Nissan didn’t bless the base S with power to all four wheels.

There is, however, another trim level that doesn’t feature the desirable AWD. The range-topping, 93-octane-guzzling SR VC-Turbo doesn’t have it either. And that’s the most annoying thing about the 2023 Nissan Altima.

What’s the VC-Turbo?

2023 Nissan Altima
KR20DDET turbocharged 2.0-liter | Nissan

Nissan released the KR20DDET turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the 2019 Altima and its Infiniti QX50 second cousin. It impressed experts so much it won Ward’s “10 Best Engines & Propulsion Systems” award that year.

One reason the VC-Turbo is a clever engine is that it puts out the power of a V6. Despite that, the engine has the fuel efficiency and weight of a four-cylinder. Out of just two liters comes 248 horsepower and 273 pounds-feet of torque, primarily because of a then-revolutionary technology. Nissan partnered with engineering firm SAE International to build the world’s first “mass-producible” variable compression (VC) turbocharged engine. By altering the top and bottom-dead-center positions, the compression ratio can continuously change between a thermally efficient 14:1 and a torque-enhancing 8:1. Essentially, the engine can deliver lots of power without succumbing to the long arm of government fuel economy benchmarks.  

Why should the VC-Turbo Altima get AWD?  

2023 Nissan Altima
2023 Nissan Altima | Nissan

Most Altima trim levels are geared toward comfort, but overall, it’s a well-balanced car. Some may assert that the 2023 Nissan Altima’s handling doesn’t stack up against other segment competitors. Either fun is sacrificed for comfort or vice versa. Regardless, it has immense sporting potential.

In Car and Driver’s testing, the 2023 Nissan Altima SR achieved a 0.91 lateral g (gravity) rating around a 300-foot-diameter skidpad. One may mock a fairly average-looking number when the Altima stands alone, but not with other cars featuring an extra zero on the price tag. For instance, the McLaren 600LT is just 0.1 meters-per-second-squared grippier around the skidpad, Car and Driver demonstrates. It may not be the fairest comparison, but it gets you thinking.

Speculation about why the 2023 Nissan Altima didn’t get the AWD and the KR20DDET

2023 Nissan Altima
2023 Nissan Altima | Nissan

Although the Altima’s VC-Turbo powerplant boasts excellent fuel economy for the power, it’s hindered by AWD. According to EPA estimates, AWD decreases the Altima’s base engine by one mpg in the city and three mpg on the highway. The front-wheel drive Altima SR VC-Turbo will achieve 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. With added AWD, the lower figure could have kept potential buyers away, so Nissan may have played it safe. But the Altima could have been brilliant.

The Japanese four-door could have finally distanced itself from the middle of the crowded midsize sedan segment. It has the potential to compete with traditional, power-packed heavyweights from Germany, albeit with a bit of CVT sharpening. One can also speculate that the potent turbo-four and AWD would have boosted the Altima’s image. It could have stepped out from the Maxima’s shadow and become a family-friendly alternative to the Nissan Z. But we’ll never know. Therefore, and quite regrettably, the 2023 Nissan Altima has the appearance of a midsize sports sedan but not the heart.   


The 2023 Nissan Altima Is a ‘Perfectly Adequate’ Family Sedan