2023 Nissan Altima 2.0 SR VC-TURBO First Drive: Not Your Average Rental Car

“Do you drive that? That thing looks like a rental car,” my friend said.
“Maybe,” I replied, “but it’s actually very beautiful.”

To be clear, my friend didn’t know that the car I was driving was revised for 2023. The Altima now has a bolder front fascia with LED headlights, and the SR trim comes with aggressive 19-inch wheels to match. Overall, the Altima may look like a rental car to curious onlookers, but in my initial impressions, it’s much more than that.

Altima SR trim apart from its engine others. Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 236 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. But the best part is that the “VC” designation in the trim level stands for “Variable Compression”.

This means the engine can vary its compression ratios to deliver optimal power and efficiency throughout the rev range. Essentially, you have the power of a V6 engine at lower compression and the fuel-sipping ability of a four-cylinder at high compression.

On the road, it’s hard to tell all this engine shenanigans are happening while you’re driving. But I can say that there is plenty of power and torque when needed. Although it takes a hot second to kick off as there seems to be a lull when the throttle is buried. I’m not sure if that pause could be from the turbo spool or the CVT.

Speaking of transmissions, I personally prefer a conventional geared transmission for sporty performance. But as long as you’re not trying to carve canyon roads like a race car driver, the CVT works just fine in everyday situations.

I imagine it’s much better than the base 2.5-liter engine, which is what you’ll find in a rental car version of the Altima.

Is the Nissan Altima VC-Turbo Comfortable?

2023 Nissan Altima | April

Interior and spacious. The leather-wrapped, NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats are supportive in all the ways you move, but I wish they had more thigh support. I also love the new 12.3-inch touch screen, it’s crisp, clear and easy to use. However, the 360-degree camera view looks grainy, but it’s still useful.

In addition, visibility from all four corners of the car is good, but the rear is a bit high, so seeing out the rear window can be a bit of a challenge for short drivers. It’s also interesting that my tester didn’t come with an auto-dimming mirror, something I’d expect a car around $37,000 to be equipped with—but maybe I’m being spoiled.

Is the Nissan Altima SR with the VC Turbo Engine the Best Trim Level to Buy?

2023 Nissan Altima infotainment system
2023 Nissan Altima | April

I haven’t tried the other trim levels of the Nissan Altima, but considering the SR trim level with the VC engine comes with everything you need, it seems worth the extra money. And by “everything you need,” I mean tech features like heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and wireless Apple Carplay/Android Auto. There is also an electric sunroof which is great for sunny days.

In the end, for an MSRP of $36,440, the Altima VC-Turbo is a comfortable, somewhat sporty ride that’s a great value—wish it came with a different transmission. One thing is for sure, though: the Altima in SR guise is definitely not a rental car.

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