Nissan built a crazy tracked car – then let me find out how fast it could go
Nick is a freelance automotive journalist based in New York, and has written for the likes of the New York Times, Road & Track, Car & Driver and the New York Daily News.
Driving a family car isn't usually a recipe for Arctic adventures, or Q Branch-levels of engineering. Then again, few test drives of a practical sedan happen to include an example that's seemingly straight out of a James Bond film.
The Nissan Altima-te AWD was created to prove that Nissan either has a great sense of humor, or the company is plotting world domination and probably has a death-ray hidden in this Altima's cargo hold.
Nissan introduced this outrageous concept car primarily for the benefit of our neighbors to the north. First introduced during the 2019 Montreal Auto Show, the Altima-te was modified by a Quebec-based company, Motorsports in Action, and made the rounds of every major Canadian auto show.
From the outside, you'd expect very little of the original Altima to be carried over into this one-of-a-kind snowmobile. But much to my surprise, the bulk of the car remains stock and is based on the Altima Platinum trim level, sold here in North America for a starting price of about $34,000.
No, this isn't a fancy Altima body-kit fitted to a heavy-duty truck chassis. You can be forgiven for thinking that because, to be honest, I thought the exact same thing when climbing aboard for a drive.
The setting was the frigid Mecaglisse Circuit, located approximately 90 minutes drive north of Montreal. That morning's temperatures hovered somewhere between 'oh my god, close the door!' to 'yes, a twelfth cup of scalding-hot coffee sounds wonderful, thank you.' In hard numbers, it was about -10 degrees Fahrenheit (or about -23 Celsius).
The true nature of the visit was to experience the updated Altima, which is now available with all-wheel drive for the first time. Yet, when the afternoon activities include "hatchet throwing lessons" and "Altima-te AWD test drives", you know you're in for an especially unique workday.
"How fast does it go?"
That was my first question to Carl Hermez of Motorsports in Action, the man tasked with overseeing the mechanical transformation of the Nissan Altima-te AWD. I'd just pulled away from the track-side lodge, where most journalists were staying huddled and warm, waiting for icy test drives of the production version of the 2019 Altima AWD. In the States, this is a $2,000 option that's available on any trim, so long as it includes the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. In Canada, the AWD hardware is fitted as standard equipment on all four-cylinder models.
Hermez' response was surprisingly non-committal, apparently no one had established how fast this bizarre machine could go. "Want to find out?" was my devious response.
After navigating a series of tight corners, a straightaway provided the space needed to stretch the legs (ahem, the tracks) of the Altima-te. Power from the 182-horsepower four got us to about 55-60 miles per hour, before the next corner loomed and the brakes had to be applied. The steering wiggled in my hands as massive snowbanks on either side of the course loomed ahead. "Turn in early, early," offered Hermez, as we rounded the left-hand bend at about 25-30 mph. The advice led to a tidy line around the course, though I couldn't help wanting to really let loose in the car on truly deep snow.
To be honest, despite the 3-inch higher ride height and the massive drone of the tracks when setting off – trust me, a single-prop plane is quieter – the Altima-te AWD doesn't feel fragile or like some overly-precious concept car. In fact, from the driver's seat, the cabin is nearly identical to the standard Altima.
Once up to speed on the ice-packed course set within the Mecaglisse circuit complex, you quickly get accustomed to the noise of the treads as they grind their way into the snow. The tracks themselves measure 30-inches in height, 15-inches in width, and 48-inches in total length. Covering them are 7-inch wide front and rear fenders, which are hand-crafted and required 150 hours to complete.
With that in mind, I politely avoided the temptation to swing the Altima-te towards a towering snowbank to see how much air we could get between all four tracks and terra firma. Next time, Nissan, I can't promise I'll remain so well-behaved.
This isn't the first time Nissan has gotten into the game of throwing tracks and even skis onto its vehicles. Everything from the pedestrian Rogue SUV to the 370Z sports car has received some extreme wintry-footwear over the years. In the case of the 370-Zki (an eye-rolling name that's meant to be pronounced as 370-Ski), Nissan went so far as to base the concept on a convertible version of its long-running performance model. The result: A 332-horsepower, rear-wheel drive speed machine with tracks at the rear, and front skis that measured 12-inches wide and 56-inches in length.
The bad news is that there is no chance Nissan will build one of these for road-going use. The Altima-te AWD is meant to showcase this sedan's go-anywhere capability when fitted with all-wheel drive. The car is not street-legal, which meant our drive back to the airport had to be done in a standard Altima AWD.
At $600,000 per copy, the Juke-R had a mega price to match is mega performance. Photo Credit: Nissan USA
Then again, Nissan has a quirky record for bringing some truly insane cars to life. Remember the Juke-R? Powered by the same twin-turbo V-6 engine and all-wheel drive system used in the GT-R supercar, the Juke-R provided anywhere from 565 to 600 horsepower, when fitted with optional Nismo-tuned performance bits.
The price was a cool $600,000 per copy and, having driven one years ago on a track in Southern California, the short wheelbase and huge performance made driving sideways easier than proceeding in a straight line. In other words, it was fantastic!
See the Altima-te AWD in action in this clip: