A white 2020 Ford Fusion is parked in an empty lot against a cloudy sky.

Battle of the Midsize Sedans: The 2020 Ford Fusion vs 2021 Nissan Altima

In boxing and in life, sometimes it’s just not a fair fight. Such is the case with the 2020 Ford Fusion vs 2021 Nissan Altima. Even with a model year advantage, it seems the Altima can’t take the heat from the stylish and highly fuel-efficient 2020 Fusion. It is sad that Ford has chosen to discontinue the Fusion model moving forward, but that doesn’t stop the 2020 Fusion from being a desirable model that is still steps above the competition.

The midsize sedan category is dwindling in popularity because of America’s obsession with crossovers and SUVs, but we think it deserves a second look. Sedans are extremely easy to drive, maneuver through tight spots, and – most important – they’re a breeze to park. When properly equipped, they deliver on style and luxury too. The sleek sedan body style is a welcome distraction from a boxy SUV, and in the midsize segment, they offer plenty of back-seat space and cargo capacity for busy families.

If you’re hunting for an alternative to the usual crossover SUV, an affordable, reliable, and roomy sedan just might be the answer. At first glance, the competition seems pretty stiff in this category, but upon further investigation, we’ve uncovered a different truth. When it comes to the 2020 Ford Fusion vs 2020 Nissan Altima, there is only one clear winner. It’s not just because of a singular benefit, like better fuel economy (although the Fusion wins there) or a roomier trunk (yep – you guessed it: the winner is the Fusion); instead, it’s about how complete the picture is from bumper-to-bumper. We dug out our magnifying glass and examined these two worthy options up close. The results might surprise you.

The Capability of the Sedan

A red 2021 Nissan Altima is driving on a city street at night.

Keeping with the boxing analogy, the 2020 Ford Fusion comes out swinging against the 2021 Nissan Altima, with five diverse and dynamic powertrain offerings (more if you include the available all-wheel drive, but we’re just talking engines here). There are three traditional gas engines, a hybrid, and a plug-in hybrid. The Altima? It’s gas-only all the way across the trim range. The benefits of hybrid technology are completely lost on the Altima, while the Ford Fusion in its plug-in form delivers 103 MPGe of fuel economy and up to 610 miles of driving range.

Three engines make up the 2020 Fusion’s line of gas-powered options: a base 1.5-liter four-cylinder, an upgraded 2.0-liter four-cylinder, both turbocharged and both featuring Ford’s EcoBoost engine technology, and a performance-oriented 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s available on the sporty Fusion S. Hybrid Fusions, both regular and plug-in, are equipped with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine.

The 2021 Altima offers two engines: one of them is a turbocharged version. The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is standard across the entire trim range, except the Altima SR VC-Turbo, which is outfitted with a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder VC-Turbo engine that puts out a touch more horsepower. Unfortunately, that trim isn’t top-of-the-line – the Altima Platinum is – so combining luxury with performance is a little harder on the Altima.

Thanks to a robust trim lineup and three different powertrain options, the 2020 Ford Fusion easily earns the performance and capability prize. While there is no comparable powertrain on the 2021 Altima, it’s helpful to note that the Fusion hybrid combines an 88 kW motor, a 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to deliver a top electric speed of 85 mph. The Fusion Plug-In hybrid goes even further, with a larger 7.6 kWh lithium-ion battery and a 103 MPGe fuel economy rating when in all-electric mode.

When comparing the two high-end trims, the Altima Platinum all-wheel drive and the 2020 Ford Fusion Titanium all-wheel drive, the Fusion wins again, delivering 245 horsepower against the Altima’s 182 horsepower. The Fusion also has a slighter better turning radius, which means maneuvering in and out of tight spots will be somewhat easier behind the wheel of the Fusion.

The real headline under the performance banner is the Fusion’s hybrid and hybrid plug-in trims. Buyers today want access to alternative-fuel vehicles, both for their superior fuel economy ratings and smaller carbon footprint. By expanding the trim to include hybrid capabilities, Ford has given the Fusion a clear advantage over its rival, the Altima, one that Nissan simply cannot overcome.

It’s Got to Have a Comfortable Interior

The 2021 Nissan Altima has a longer overall length than the 2020 Ford Fusion but less overall cabin space. In fact, passenger volume in the Fusion comes in at 102.8 cubic feet, while the Altima’s passenger volume is just 100.8 cubic feet. That’s because the Altima’s wheelbase – the measurement from the center of the front tires to the center of the rear tires – is about an inch smaller than the Fusion’s. Believe it or not, an inch makes a big difference for overall passenger comfort.

How much difference? Starting with the front seat room, the Fusion combines 39.2-inches of headroom with 44.3-inches of legroom and 55-inches of hip room to deliver a spacious front seat area for both the driver and the lucky front seat passenger. The trunk capacity blue ribbon also goes to the Fusion. 16 cubic feet of volume awaits in the Fusion, while the Altima lags behind with 15.4 cubic feet.

The Altima, by comparison, delivers 39.2-inches of headroom, 43.8-inches of legroom, and 54.7-inches of hip room. There’s more good news in the rear seat for Fusion buyers: the rear legroom is a far superior 38.3-inches, compared with the Altima, which sits (no pun intended) at a far less roomy 35.2-inches.

When comparing interior features, it’s always enlightening to look at the top-of-the-line trims of each model. The 2020 Fusion Titanium sits at the top of Ford’s Fusion lineup, while the 2021 Nissan Altima Platinum is Nissan’s high-end Altima trim. The Fusion comes standard with a 10-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar and a passenger seat with 6-way power. Seating is leather-trimmed, heated, and cooled in the front. A 60/40 split rear seat is also standard. The Altima’s front seats are 8-way power for the driver and 4-way power for the passenger, and cooled seats are not available.

A 12-speaker Sony audio system with built-in HD radio and Ford’s SYNC 3 operating system is standard on the Fusion Titanium. Meanwhile, the Altima Platinum’s standard Bose audio system offers just nine speakers. Both vehicles offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity via a dash-mounted infotainment touchscreen.

A black 2020 Ford Fusion is driving in a city as part of the 2020 Ford Fusion vs 2021 Nissan Altima comparison.

Safety and Reliability Is a Must

For the 2020 model year, Ford made its intuitive driver-assist safety suite standard across the entire Fusion lineup. Called Ford Co-Pilot360, this comprehensive range of safety systems includes a Lane-Keeping System, Automatic High-Beam Headlamps, Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking, and the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert.

What do all these systems do? They use radar, sensors, and cameras to constantly monitor the area in front of, beside, and behind the vehicle and alert the driver both visually and audibly to help mitigate crashes and avoid potential road hazards. They’ve become an integral component of a vehicle’s overall safety because of how effective they are at helping occupants stay safe. Whenever possible, buying a car that’s equipped with these features is a great idea.

The 2021 Nissan Altima offers a similar suite of driver-assist safety systems, called Nissan Safety Shield 360, but they’re not all available as standard equipment on all trims. For an extra $495, drivers can add the Driver Assist Package to the base Altima S and get Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Rear Automatic Braking. The standard systems include the Intelligent Forward Collision Warning and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection. If buyers want more features, they’ll need to upgrade to a more expensive Altima trim.

A Clear Winner

In a car market that’s seeing the midsize sedan segment continuously shrinking, it’s good to know there are still high-quality offerings for buyers that love the sedan body style. Given its myriad powertrains – including hybrid and hybrid plug-in versions – and impressive range of standard safety features, it’s no wonder the 2020 Ford Fusion beats the 2021 Nissan Altima in a head-to-head-lineup.

When you add up all the positives, the choice is indisputable. We hereby declare the 2020 Ford Fusion a clear winner over the capable but slightly less complete 2021 Nissan Altima. It was a fair fight, but the Fusion simply has more to offer across a broad spectrum of comparison data. From powertrain options to passenger volume, the Fusion has the Altima handily beat. Dare we say, it’s almost no contest.