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Midsize Sedan Showdown: 2020 Chevy Malibu vs 2020 Nissan Altima

A gray 2020 Chevy Malibu is parked in front of a white brick building.

Nothing is more ubiquitous than the luxury midsize sedan. These four-door wonders have been filling up highways and byways all across America since the birth of the automobile over 100 years ago. The reason being: they are very versatile. Two of the best and most affordable on the market come from Chevy and Nissan. But which has created the better sedan? We are going to explore this today by comparing the 2020 Chevy Malibu vs 2020 Nissan Altima.

Both of these midsize sedans seat up to five passengers and come front-wheel drive standard. They also both feature their manufacturer’s infotainment system on an 8-inch touchscreen, the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system on the Malibu, and the NissanConnect on the Altima. As a result, if you buy either vehicle, you will get such infotainment features as Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. But despite these similarities, there are some real differences in these two cars, and those are what we are going to look at now.

MSRP and Trims

Both the 2020 Chevy Malibu and the 2020 Nissan Altima have five different trims. However, there is a slight difference in price point. The base model of the Chevy is the Malibu L, with an MSRP of $22,095. This is followed by the LS for an MSRP of $23,220, the RS with an MSRP of $24,220, the LT with an MSRP of $26,620, and the top-of-the-line Premier with an MSRP of $33,320.

In contrast, the Altima starts at a higher price point, and the trims go up in price more rapidly as well. The base trim is the Altima S with an MSRP of $24,100. The SR follows this trim with an MSRP of $25,700, the SV with an MSRP of $27,880, and the SL with an MSRP of $30,240. The top trim is the Altima Platinum with an MSRP of $32,180.

As you can see, you can get a higher trim for a lower price on the Malibu than on the Altima, meaning you can get more for your money. The only comparable trim is the top level, with the Malibu still costing only $1,000 more than the Altima.

Outcome: Advantage 2020 Chevy Malibu

A man is walking towards a red 2020 Nissan Altima.

How They Perform

There are two engine options on both the 2020 Chevy Malibu and the 2020 Nissan Altima. The standard engine on the Malibu is a 1.5-liter turbo direct-injection 4-cylinder gas engine with variable valve timing (VVT) and is paired with a continuous variable automatic transmission (CVT). This 1.5-liter turbo engine produces 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The other option is a larger 2.0-liter Turbo direct injection 4-cylinder gas engine with VVT. This is also paired with a CVT transmission, although a 9-speed automatic transmission is available as well. The 2.0-liter engine produces 250 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.

On the other hand, Nissan’s standard engine is a 2.5-liter direct injection DOHC 4-cylinder gas engine, paired with an Xtronic CVT transmission. This engine can produce up to 188 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque. The premium engine on the Altima is a 2.0-liter variable compression turbo DOHC 4-cylinder gas engine. This is also paired with an Xtronic CVT transmission. It can produce up to 248 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.

Right off the bat, if you want the speed and pickup provided by a turbo, then you will have to spring for a higher trim on the Altima. But this is not the case with the Malibu where both engines are turbocharged. In addition, if you get the premium engine on the Malibu, you can choose to have more control with a 9-speed automatic transmission instead of the CVT transmission system. And on top of those significant advantages, the engines on the Malibu give you similar horsepower with more torque than their counterparts on the Altima.

Outcome: Advantage 2020 Chevy Malibu

A Look at Fuel Savings

One of the great benefits of having a well-engineered midsize sedan is having exceptional fuel economy. Both of these cars deliver on this score. The 2020 Chevy Malibu with the 1.5-liter engine provides 29 MPG in the city, 36 MPG on the highway, and 32 MPG combined. This drops slightly when you opt for the bigger 2.0-liter engine in your Malibu, with 22 MPG in the city, 32 MPG on the highway, and 26 MPG combined. These numbers are quite impressive, yet, still, the Nissan Altima manages to stand even on this front.

When equipped with the 2.5-liter engine, the Altima is estimated to provide 28 MPG in the city, 39 MPG on the highway, and 32 MPG combined. This also drops a little when going with the 2.0-liter turbo. The Altima with this engine will provide 25 MPG in the city, 34 MPG on the highway, and 29 MPG combined. With those numbers, if you are looking for great fuel economy, you really can’t go wrong with either car.

Outcome: Even

Inside the Sedans

A red 2020 Chevy Malibu is parked in front of a red brick building at night after winning the 2020 Chevy Malibu vs 2020 Nissan Altima comparison.

Drivers who want a midsize car often choose one in particular because of its interior space. They may have been put off by the often cramped quarters of a compact car, but either don’t want to have to pay extra for a full-size sedan or are uncomfortable driving such a large car. Luckily, these are not problems when looking at midsize sedans.

Passengers in the 2020 Chevy Malibu have a full 102.9 cu.ft. of interior space to enjoy. This is actually almost three cubic feet more than the 2020 Nissan Altima, which has 100.8 cubic feet of interior space. Although many of the interior dimensions are relatively comparable (for example, both have 39 inches of headroom in the front seat and 57.1 inches of shoulder room in the rear seat), there is a distinct difference where it comes to legroom. Rear seat passengers enjoy a very comfortable 38.5 inches of legroom in the Malibu. In contrast, the Nissan only provides a cramped 35.2 inches of legroom in the rear seat of the Altima. This may seem like a small difference, but really, it could be problematic when taking a long road trip.

In addition, there is more trunk space in the Malibu, with a full 15.7 cu.ft. compared to the 15.4 cu.ft. in the Altima. While this is a small difference, it is still a difference worth taking into consideration. Overall, it appears that the designers at Chevrolet were more efficient in apportioning the space on the Malibu than their counterparts at Nissan were with the Altima.

Outcome: Advantage 2020 Chevy Malibu

The Best Midsize Sedan

We have now gone over many different areas of importance to compare these two vehicles. So, which one is the best? Well, if it isn’t obvious after winning three out of the four categories, the Chevy Malibu is the better midsize sedan. The Nissan Altima is a great vehicle and is actually fairly similar to the Malibu, but there are just some differences that cannot be ignored. With lower prices, better performance, and more space, the Malibu has come out on top of this competition.

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