Do you mainly want a roomy four-door sedan with good comfort and plenty of features for the money? Or are you willing to pay a little extra for a sedan that’s sporty and distinctive, has a hybrid badge, or is especially tech-focused? While there are plenty of choices other than the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, asking that question might be a good start on which one to choose—and how to winnow down the list of possibilities.
MORE: Read our review of the 2017 Nissan Altima and 2017 Ford Fusion
We rate the Fusion as a 7.5, while the Altima, with its dowdier styling and lack of an available hybrid powertrain checks in at a 6.8. (Please note: we’ve changed the way in which we rate cars.)
But don’t automatically assume that the Altima is inferior; in fact, there are plenty of good reasons to shop for both.
The Ford Fusion, in its current form, as introduced back in 2012; and it’s a testament to the design that it remains fresh and modern in 2017—thanks to a very mild refresh. In its stance as well as in its side profile and all the details inside, the Fusion remains one of the most handsome and sporty-looking models in its class. Compared to the Fusion, the current version of the Altima has taken a much more conservative tack—simultaneously rather formal and emulating luxury sedans in some respects, at least from a distance. Last year, with the introduction of some re-sculpted fenders, and a new V-shaped grille, Nissan has given the Altima just a tease of the edgier design the automaker has migrated to with some of its latest models, like the Maxima sedan and Murano crossover.
Affordable mid-size sedans tend to offer plenty of variants to meet your desired balance of performance, fuel efficiency, and comfort, and these two models are no exception in this respect. The Ford Fusion definitely has more choices, with engines ranging from a base (and entirely adequate and refined) 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, to a 1.5-liter turbo four that’s slightly perkier and (in theory) more fuel-efficient, up to a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that offers performance on par with some V-6s.
The Nissan Altima has two main powertrain choices: a 182-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, or a 270-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 (actually making less torque than the Fusion’s 2.0T). Both are mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that most drivers are going to find just fine, although some discerning drivers who place a little more weight on performance may prefer the six-speed automatics offered throughout the Fusion lineup.
The Ford Fusion has a couple of other strong contenders in its lineup that aren’t at all rivaled by Nissan. In Fusion Hybrid or Fusion Energi (plug-in) form, this roomy sedan gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a planetary-gear hybrid system with two motors. Its EPA ratings range up to 44 mpg city, 41 highway for the Fusion Hybrid.
And if a hybrid powertrain isn’t an advantage to you, there’s also all-wheel drive available in some of the Fusion models—definitely a plus for those who live in snowy climates.
In ride and handling, we’d call the Fusion the winner because it offers the best compromise of the two, for most driving conditions; although if you tend to place the most priority on ride comfort the Altima might sway you. And in SR trim, the Altima is considerably sportier, albeit then at the sacrifice of some ride comfort.
Both of these models have very roomy interiors. Ford and Nissan have made slight improvements to both of these models over the past year or two, with the Fusion getting a thinner, space-improving seat design and the Altima getting more noise insulation. All said, both of these models offer good front-seat comfort and reasonably good back-seat space—possibly with a slight edge going to the Maxima (the Fusion can be tighter with the sunroof).
In safety, the Altima has a slight edge, because it’s now on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list, with top federal ratings, too; and you can add forward-collision warnings with automatic braking; a rearview camera; blind-spot monitors; and lane-departure warning systems. That said, automatic emergency braking is an expensive option on the 2016 Altima.
The Fusion’s ratings aren’t quite top-tier, although its available inflatable rear seatbelt system is a standout.
The Nissan Altima is a pretty good value within its class, and while its infotainment systems are refreshingly simple and easy-to-use, its options list is lacking the breadth of what’s offered on the Fusion. The Ford is priced and optioned a lot more like a European or premium car, with lots of trim levels a la carte possibilities and packages. It’s probably going to be more expensive, but you can get exactly the car you want.
Circling back, there are simply a lot more possibilities in the Ford Fusion lineup; from its Hybrid and Energi models to the sporty, European-flavored interior and driving characteristics, we tend to rate the Fusion a step ahead in most respects. Some might give the Altima more points for comfort and handsome styling, but it’s the Fusion that’s just edgy enough for nearly everyone to find alluring.