2020 Nissan Altima vs. 2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Detailed Review, Specifications & Comparison

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Safety

For enhanced safety, the front and rear seat shoulder belts of the Nissan Altima have pretensioners to tighten the seatbelts and eliminate dangerous slack in the event of a collision and force limiters to limit the pressure the belts will exert on the passengers. The Volkswagen Jetta doesn’t offer pretensioners for the rear seat belts.

In the past twenty years hundreds of infants and young children have died after being left in vehicles, usually by accident. When turning the vehicle off, drivers of the Altima are reminded to check the back seat if they opened the rear door before starting out. The Jetta doesn’t offer a back seat reminder.

Over 200 people are killed each year when backed over by motor vehicles. The Altima SV/SL/Platinum has standard Rear Automatic Braking that uses rear sensors to monitor and automatically apply the brakes to prevent a rear collision. The Jetta doesn’t offer backup collision prevention brakes.

The Altima offers all-wheel drive to maximize traction under poor conditions, especially in ice and snow. The Jetta doesn’t offer all-wheel drive.

The Altima’s optional lane departure warning system alerts a temporarily inattentive driver when the vehicle begins to leave its lane. The Jetta doesn’t offer a lane departure warning system.

The Altima Platinum has a standard Around View Monitor to allow the driver to see objects all around the vehicle on a screen. The Jetta only offers a rear monitor.

The Altima’s driver alert monitor detects an inattentive driver then sounds a warning and suggests a break. According to the NHTSA, drivers who fall asleep cause about 100,000 crashes and 1500 deaths a year. The Jetta doesn’t offer a driver alert monitor.

Both the Altima and the Jetta have standard driver and passenger frontal airbags, front side-impact airbags, side-impact head airbags, height adjustable front shoulder belts, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability systems to prevent skidding, rearview cameras, available daytime running lights, blind spot warning systems and rear cross-path warning.

For its top level performance in IIHS driver-side small overlap frontal, moderate overlap frontal, side impact, rear impact and roof-crush tests, with its optional front crash prevention system, its “Good” rating in the new passenger-side small overlap crash test, and its available headlight’s “Acceptable” rating, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety grants the Altima the rating of “Top Pick” for 2019, a rating granted to only 88 vehicles tested by the IIHS. The Jetta was last qualified as a “Top Pick” in 2017.

Warranty

The Altima comes with free roadside assistance for 3 years 36,000 miles. Nissan will send help if you run out of gas, need a jump-start, lock your keys in or need any assistance on the road. Volkswagen doesn’t give free roadside assistance for the Jetta.

There are over 66 percent more Nissan dealers than there are Volkswagen dealers, which makes it much easier should you ever need service under the Altima’s warranty.

Reliability

A hardened steel chain, with no maintenance needs, drives the camshafts in the Altima’s engine. A rubber cam drive belt that needs periodic replacement drives the Jetta’s camshafts. If the Jetta’s belt breaks, the engine could be severely damaged when the pistons hit the opened valves.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2019 Initial Quality Study of new car owners surveyed provide the statistics that show that Nissan vehicles are better in initial quality than Volkswagen vehicles. J.D. Power ranks Nissan 7th in initial quality, above the industry average. With 27 more problems per 100 vehicles, Volkswagen is ranked 25th, below the industry average.

From surveys of all its subscribers, Consumer Reports’ December 2018 Auto Issue reports that Nissan vehicles are more reliable than Volkswagen vehicles. Consumer Reports ranks Nissan 2 places higher in reliability than Volkswagen.

Engine

The Altima’s standard 2.5 DOHC 4 cyl. produces 35 more horsepower (182 vs. 147) than the Jetta’s 1.4 turbo 4 cyl. The Altima’s standard 2.5 DOHC 4 cyl. produces 41 more horsepower (188 vs. 147) than the Jetta’s 1.4 turbo 4 cyl. The Altima’s optional 2.0 turbo 4 cyl. produces 101 more horsepower (248 vs. 147) and 89 lbs.-ft. more torque (273 vs. 184) than the Jetta’s 1.4 turbo 4 cyl.

As tested in Consumer Reports the Nissan Altima 2.4 4-cylinder is faster than the Volkswagen Jetta (automatics tested):

Altima

Jetta

Zero to 30 MPH

3.1 sec

3.6 sec

Zero to 60 MPH

7.6 sec

9 sec

45 to 65 MPH Passing

4.5 sec

5.5 sec

Quarter Mile

15.9 sec

17 sec

Speed in 1/4 Mile

92 MPH

87 MPH

Fuel Economy and Range

Regardless of its engine, the Altima’s engine automatically turns off when the vehicle is stopped, saving fuel and reducing pollution. (Start/Stop isn’t accounted in present EPA fuel mileage tests.) Volkswagen only offers an automatic engine start/stop system on the Jetta Auto.

The Altima AWD’s standard fuel tank has 2.8 gallons more fuel capacity than the Jetta (16 vs. 13.2 gallons), for longer range between fill-ups. The Altima FWD’s standard fuel tank has 3 gallons more fuel capacity than the Jetta (16.2 vs. 13.2 gallons).

Transmission

The Nissan Altima comes standard with an automatic transmission, for driver comfort, especially in the city. Automatic costs extra on the Jetta.

The Altima has a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT). With no “steps” between gears, it can keep the engine at the most efficient speed for fuel economy, or keep it at its peak horsepower indefinitely for maximum acceleration. The Jetta doesn’t offer a CVT.

Brakes and Stopping

For better stopping power the Altima’s brake rotors are larger than those on the Jetta:

Altima

Jetta

Front Rotors

11.65 inches

11.5 inches

Rear Rotors

11.02 inches

10.8 inches

Opt Rear Rotors

11.5 inches

The Altima stops much shorter than the Jetta:

Altima

Jetta

70 to 0 MPH

172 feet

191 feet

Car and Driver

60 to 0 MPH

118 feet

124 feet

Motor Trend

Tires and Wheels

For better traction, the Altima has larger standard tires than the Jetta (215/60R16 vs. 205/60R16). The Altima SR/Platinum’s tires are larger than the largest tires available on the Jetta (235/40R19 vs. 205/60R16).

The Altima SR/Platinum’s tires provide better handling because they have a lower 40 series profile (height to width ratio) that provides a stiffer sidewall than the Jetta R-Line/SEL Premium’s 55 series tires.

For better ride, handling and brake cooling the Altima SR/Platinum has standard 19-inch wheels. The Jetta’s largest wheels are only 17-inches.

The Altima has a standard easy tire fill system. When inflating the tires, the vehicle’s integrated tire pressure sensors keep track of the pressure as the tires fill and tell the driver when the tires are inflated to the proper pressure. The Jetta doesn’t offer vehicle monitored tire inflation.

Suspension and Handling

For superior ride and handling, the Nissan Altima has fully independent front and rear suspensions. An independent suspension allows the wheels to follow the road at the best angle for gripping the pavement, without compromising ride comfort. The Volkswagen Jetta has a rear torsion beam axle, with a semi-independent rear suspension.

The Altima has standard front and rear stabilizer bars, which help keep the Altima flat and controlled during cornering. The Jetta’s suspension doesn’t offer a rear stabilizer bar.

For a smoother ride and more stable handling, the Altima’s wheelbase is 5.5 inches longer than on the Jetta (111.2 inches vs. 105.7 inches).

For better handling and stability, the average track (width between the wheels) on the Altima is 2.5 inches wider in the front and 2.8 inches wider in the rear than the track on the Jetta.

The Altima Platinum handles at .91 G’s, while the Jetta R-Line pulls only .83 G’s of cornering force in a Car and Driver skidpad test.

The Altima Platinum executes Motor Trend’s “Figure Eight” maneuver 1.3 seconds quicker than the Jetta SEL (26.3 seconds @ .68 average G’s vs. 27.6 seconds @ .62 average G’s).

Chassis

The Altima SL/Platinum uses computer-generated active noise cancellation to help remove annoying noise and vibration from the passenger compartment, especially at low frequencies. The Jetta doesn’t offer active noise cancellation.

Passenger Space

Because it has more passenger and cargo room, the EPA rates the Altima a Mid-size car, while the Jetta is rated a Compact.

The Altima has 6.1 cubic feet more passenger volume than the Jetta (100.8 vs. 94.7).

The Altima has .7 inches more front headroom, 2.7 inches more front legroom, 2.3 inches more front shoulder room and 3.1 inches more rear shoulder room than the Jetta.

Cargo Capacity

The Altima has a much larger trunk than the Jetta (15.4 vs. 14.1 cubic feet).

A standard locking glovebox (which can’t be accessed with the valet key) keeps your small valuables safer in the Altima. The Jetta doesn’t offer locking storage for small valuables.

Ergonomics

If the windows are left open on the Altima the driver can close them all at the outside door handle. On a hot day the driver can lower the windows at the outside door handle or from a distance using the keyless remote. The driver of the Jetta can’t use the remote to operate the windows.

The Altima’s speed-sensitive wipers speed up when the vehicle does, so that the driver doesn’t have to continually adjust the speed of the wipers. The Jetta’s standard manually variable intermittent wipers have to be constantly adjusted.

Consumer Reports rated the Altima’s headlight performance “Good,” a higher rating than the Jetta’s headlights, which were rated “Fair.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts detailed tests on headlights for their range both straight ahead and in curves and to be certain they don’t exceed acceptable amounts of glare to oncoming drivers. The Altima’s available headlights were rated “Acceptable” by the IIHS, while the Jetta’s headlights are rated “Marginal” to “Poor.”

Both the Altima and the Jetta offer rear vents. For greater rear passenger comfort, the Altima SV/SL/Platinum has standard rear air conditioning vents to keep rear occupants cool in summer or warm in winter. The Jetta doesn’t offer rear air conditioning vents, only heat vents.

Economic Advantages

Insurance will cost less for the Altima owner. The Car Book by Jack Gillis rates the Altima with a number “1” insurance rate while the Jetta is rated higher at a number “3” rate.

According to The Car Book by Jack Gillis, the Altima is less expensive to operate than the Jetta because typical repairs cost much less on the Altima than the Jetta, including $426 less for a water pump, $326 less for a muffler, $363 less for a starter, $100 less for fuel injection, $147 less for a fuel pump, $173 less for front struts and $42 less for a power steering pump.

Recommendations

Consumer Reports® recommends both the Nissan Altima and the Volkswagen Jetta, based on reliability, safety and performance.

The Altima was chosen as one of Automobile Magazine’s “All Stars” in 2019. The Jetta has never been an “All Star.”

The Nissan Altima outsold the Volkswagen Jetta by over two to one during 2018.

© 1991-2018 Advanta-STAR Automotive Research. All rights reserved.

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