2023 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo Review: Discovering the ‘Why’ of Big Altima Energy

In the world of new car reviews, most manufacturers end up putting people or outlets on a sort of “blanket approval” system, in which you establish yourself as trusted and the brand will approve just about any vehicle loan you request. Nissan has approved several loans for me with no questions, including the new Nissan Z sports car. And yet when I asked about a 2023 Nissan Altima, the response was along the lines of “so um, what are you doing to… do with it?”

Nissan knows their Altima family sedan has a bit of a reputation. Big Altima Energy, if you will. The internet is full of memes poking fun at Altima owners for driving recklessly in perpetually-damaged cars. Damage is damage, but I had a theory that I wanted to test. Surely if these owners felt comfortable enough to swerve through traffic at extra-legal speeds, the Altima was actually decent to drive – right?

And it almost feels like Nissan is in on the bit. The speedometer is marked up to one hundred and eighty miles per hour. That’s not an “oh, well it can show km/h for Canadians” thing, the metric markings are there as well.

2023 Nissan Altima gauges

What Is It?

The 2023 Nissan Altima is the sixth generation of Altima, an evolution of the Nissan Stanza that brought me home from the hospital in the late 1980s. It competes against the Accord and Camry, and in the early 2000s established itself as a sporty option in the segment with not only a big 3.5 liter V6, but a six-speed manual transmission. Granted, Honda did the same thing, but Nissan had this edge about them at the time.

We are generations removed from that hot-girl Altima now, and the Altimas in between that one and this one became gradually less exciting, if no less competent in the chassis department. Naturally-aspirated four cylinders and CVTs were all Nissan offered. In this sixth-gen, the CVT is still all you get (boo) but a turbocharger is optional. The VC-Turbo engine is a turbo four that makes 236 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, and uses variable compression alongside the metal snail to make it happen.

2023 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo engine

Variable compression is as it sounds, a small motor can change the range of motion of the pistons and thus affect compression. In theory, you get more power when you’re gettin’ it and more fuel economy when you’re not. The 2023 Nissan Altima VC-Turbo is rated at 25 MPG city and 34 MPG highway – impressive.

Only the front wheels are driven, despite Nissan offering all-wheel drive on other Altima models. The turbo and/or variable compression setup occupy space where the all-wheel drive transfer case would otherwise go, so the most powerful Altima instead routes power through an open front differential and nothing else.

Suspension is unique to the VC Turbo, though, as Nissan is positioning the most powerful trim level as its sportiest. Spring rates and shock damping are both revised to help with handling, and the electronic power steering is retuned.

For 2023, the Altima got revised styling and the same 12.3-inch touchscreen with wireless CarPlay as the Nissan Armada SUV. The SR trim adds 19-inch wheels and a little trunk spoiler. Inside, contrasting orange-ish stitching adorns the seats and SR-specific floor mats, with paddle shifters tucked behind the flat-bottomed wheel should you want to ask the CVT for a specific ratio. It’s sharp.

2023 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo interior

I Get It Now

My week in the 2023 Nissan Altima began with some time in the city. Despite the big wheels with itty-bitty sidewalls on the tires, I and some friends all found the ride quality pretty good. It’s firm, yes, but pretty composed. Visibility was generally good, with a low dashboard, though I wished the seating position was a touch better for someone my height. Throttle response was the big letdown, with a giant delay programmed in to the pedal. Activating the hidden Sport mode – via an easy-to-miss button on the shifter marked only with a silver line – helped somewhat, but not enough.

Things were better on the highway, as the VC-Turbo engine slipped into its most efficient mode and I cared less about how quickly the skinny pedal responded. Engine and transmission tuning prioritize the turbo over lower ratios of the CVT, which means it’s easy to find yourself going faster than you think with the engine still hanging out around 2,000 rpm. Nissan’s famed “Zero Gravity” front seats were indeed comfortable over longer journeys, and the upgraded Bose sound system was good, though tuned to be almost hysterically bass-heavy in its “zeroed out” state of equalization.

2023 Nissan Altima SR VC-Turbo rear

I ended my week on some back roads, roads I normally use to test out sportier cars that pass through my hands. The Altima wasn’t, you know, perfect here, but it was indeed relatively good. Despite the turbocharger, it was more of a “momentum car” than anything, as the CVT didn’t want to work with me much for corner entry and exit. Regardless, the chassis was pretty composed and the steering, while not offering the most feel in the world, was accurate and appropriately weighted. It was easy enough to make the Altima rotate with a little bit of trail braking, though understeer would make itself known past a certain point. Overall though, confidence: instilled.

At this point, the Altima is long gone from my parking spot. I haven’t really thought about it much, I don’t miss it, and it’s not exactly an “enthusiast’s car” despite having a more sporty bent to it than a more base-model Altima carries. But I do think my theory was proven correct – the Altima is relatively composed and comes across as somewhat unbothered regardless of most inputs. It’s a good option in the midsize sedan segment, feels like a decent value at $36,000-and-change, and doesn’t deserve the unfounded hate that stems from those silly Facebook groups.

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