2008 Nissan Altima HybridPosted on December 8th, 2008
By Nina Russin
Last year, Nissan rolled out a hybrid version of its Altima sport sedan. The hybrid, one of three Altima models, uses an electric motor to boost fuel economy and enhance power from the car’s four-cylinder engine. A nickel metal hydride battery recharges on the go using heat from the brakes, so the hybrid never needs to be plugged in.
While sustainability is always an admirable goal, some hybrids are better than others. In the hybrid universe, the Altima is definitely a top third contender. Its power is as good if not better than the other Altima models, and fuel economy is significantly greater: about 34 miles per gallon on average.
Engineers substituted an electric air conditioning compressor for a mechanical one. Since the compressor runs independently of the engine, it keeps the car cool when the engine cuts out at traffic lights. Kudos to Nissan for doing heat soak tests in Phoenix, where car interiors reach about 135 degrees in mid-July.
Maintaining and driving the car is virtually identical to the gas-powered Altima, except with fewer stops for fuel. Estimated range for the twenty gallon gas tank is seven hundred miles. The low compression engine runs just fine on 87 octane gas.
Starts with a whisper
One thing I love about hybrids is that they can run solely on electric power. Since I like to hit the trailhead super early to avoid the summer heat, it’s nice to know that I’m not waking up the neighbors when I turn on the ignition.
The Altima runs in electric vehicle mode during idle and at low speeds. When the driver accelerates beyond parking lot speeds, the gasoline engine takes over, and the electric motor shuts off. The electric motor restarts when power demands are high, such as accelerating onto a freeway, or powering up a steep hill.
Since electric motors develop peak torque at extremely low speeds, the Altima hybrid can accelerate extremely hard: a boon coming out of a crowded tollbooth. A power display in the gauge cluster tells the driver the status of the electric motors and battery charge.
A continuously variable transmission eliminates shift shock, providing seamless performance at any speed. One of the nicest things about the Altima hybrid is how pleasant it is to drive: it is as quiet and responsive as many more expensive sport sedans.
Engineers did an excellent job of balancing off the extra weight of the battery pack in the rear: front to rear weight balance feels identical to a gas powered car. The four-wheel independent suspension is compliant without feeling mushy, and the four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a smooth, linear fashion.
Ground clearance is just over five inches, enhancing the Altima’s high-speed highway performance, but making the car unsuitable for off-road driving. A smooth graded dirt road is as far off the beaten path as I’d want to take it.
Although the Altima is a front-wheel drive car, it shows very little tendency to oversteer. Response from the rack-and-pinion steering is excellent at all speeds, as is the car’s on-center feel.
The Altima suffers from the same thick rear pillar that plagues many current models. The side mirrors do a good job of compensating when the car is moving forwards, but the rear pillars create a unnecessarily large blind spot when backing into a parking spot.
Well equipped interior
The Altima comes with most of the features its buyers will want, and a few they might not expect. Keyless ignition is standard. The driver can unlock and start the car without removing the key fob from his pocket.
A tilt and telescopic steering column allows small drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbags. There are two, twelve-volt power points, and enough cup and bottle holders to drown an army of triathletes. Both rows of passengers get overhead reading lamps. Dual-zone climate controls keep both front passengers comfortable.
The glovebox is large enough to stash a purse or small pack. There are two other large storage bins up front: a two-piece bin in the center console, and a covered bin for storing compact discs at the base of the center stack.
A premium package on the test car adds leather trim, heated front seats, a six-way power driver’s seat, satellite radio, MP3 and Bluetooth compatibility, redundant steering wheel audio controls, rear air conditioning vents, automatic headlamps, heated side mirrors, and speed-sensitive volume ($4400). Base price on the hyrbid is $25,070. Options and delivery charges bring the sticker on the test car to $30,375.
I was impressed with the amount of head, shoulder and legroom in the second-row seats. Though the tunnel through the floor limits legroom in the center position, tall men should be quite comfortable in the outboard seats. Though the lumbar isn’t adjustable, I found both the front and outboard rear seats to have excellent lower back support.
Very small cargo area
The Altima’s cargo area is its Achilles heel. While the gasoline models have a huge trunk with a pass-through for extending the floor, the hybrid has a barely adequate trunk. Because of the battery placement, the trunk has ten cubic feet of cargo space: enough to hold a couple of average sized pieces of luggage or some groceries. Needless to say, it does not meet our bicycle friendly standards. Towing capacity is a thousand pounds: well below our ALV minimum.
The Altima hybrid received five-star frontal and side impact crash test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Standard safety features include front, side and side impact airbags, front head restraints, four-channel antilock brakes, vehicle dynamic control and traction control.
The Altima Hybrid is currently rolling off the lines at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tennessee assembly plant.
Likes: A spacious sport sedan with seamless performance and excellent fuel economy. Driving range on a tank of gas is about 700 miles.
Dislikes: Trunk is too small for many buyers with active lifestyles.
Model: Altima Hybrid
Base price: $25,070
As tested: $30,375
Horsepower: 158 Hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 162 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
0-60 mph: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 35/33 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $625 delivery charge.
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