Full 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid Review
What's New for 2008
An all-new model last year, the Nissan Altima Hybrid receives no major changes for 2008.
Hate the grasp of foreign oil on your wallet? Want to stop Santa's Village from sinking into the melting Arctic? Do you still like to drive? If these questions apply to you, then you're probably familiar with the unfortunate trade-off required by hybrid vehicles. These vehicles are typically known for having great fuel economy but lackadaisical acceleration, sloppy handling and vague steering. Thankfully, this is not so for the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid. Although it will never be confused with a sport sedan, the Altima Hybrid is the perfect alternative for those who want their hybrid to feel like a regular car.
The Altima Hybrid came into being after Nissan, having dragged its feet on building its own hybrid the past few years, swallowed its pride and purchased the rights to use archrival Toyota's patented Hybrid Synergy Drive -- the current benchmark in gasoline-electric powertrains. The electric motor, battery pack and other components are subsequently very similar to those in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The main difference is that the Altima uses its own 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and one of Nissan's excellent continuously variable transmissions (CVT). The result is a powertrain that feels and performs better than the Toyota original. The Altima Hybrid accelerates quicker than the Camry, yet manages to achieve the same combined fuel economy.
And speaking of the hybrid raison d'etre, the Altima achieves 35 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. Urban dwellers should take note that that's a 12 mpg advantage in the city versus the four-cylinder Altima, although a mere 2 mpg difference out on the open road. Like other hybrid models, the Altima makes sense only if your driving habits mirror its capabilities. The Altima Hybrid also only makes financial sense if you're willing to pay extra for an environmentally friendly vehicle -- it will take about six years for the fuel savings alone to pay off the hybrid model's price premium.
While the Altima Hybrid comes with a decent amount of standard equipment, its options are encapsulated in three pricey packages that limit customer choice and make the MSRP rise faster than Dick Cheney's blood pressure at a Kennedy family clambake. For instance, if one wanted factory-installed satellite radio, it would cost $4,400 as it's part of the Connection Package. A navigation system effectively costs $6,400, because almost every other option available comes bundled in its package.
For the moment, the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid is our favorite among this growing subset of automobiles. Its blend of brisk acceleration, responsive handling and midsize sedan practicality with superior fuel economy is a very appetizing recipe. Unfortunately, everyone can't have a taste. The Altima Hybrid is only sold in the eight California-level emissions states, meaning folks in "flyover" states won't be able to save Santa and have a little fun doing it.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid is a midsize sedan. Standard equipment includes 16-inch wheels, a tilt/telescoping steering column, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, velour seats and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Convenience Package adds automatic headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, an auto up/down passenger window and a rear spoiler. The Connection Package adds the above items plus a sunroof, rear A/C vents, leather upholstery, heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, HomeLink, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio. The Technology Package includes all of the above items and adds a navigation system, a rear parking camera and a hybrid energy display.
Powertrains and Performance
The Altima's hybrid powertrain is essentially identical to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive in both design and function. It combines a modified version of the Altima's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (which makes 158 horsepower in this application) and an electric motor capable of 40 hp and 199 pound-feet of torque. A specialized CVT is standard. Both gasoline and electric aspects operate together or one at a time depending on driving conditions, to optimize fuel economy and power. Together, they combine for a maximum 198 hp.
In hopes of making its estimated fuel economy numbers more representative of real-world mileage, the EPA has revised the way it calculates mileage for 2008. Hybrids took a big hit compared to last year's numbers, and the Altima was not immune. Still, its estimated fuel economy of 35 mpg city and 33 mpg highway is on par with the Camry Hybrid and significantly better than non-hybrid midsize sedans. The Altima Hybrid qualifies as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle; in other words, it gets the cleanest rating possible for a gasoline-burning car.
Antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid. The Technology Package adds a rear parking camera. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the regular Altima earned a top five-star rating for its protection of the driver and passenger in head-on collisions. Side-impact testing resulted in a five-star rating for front passengers and four stars for those in the rear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Altima a top rating of "Good" in its frontal offset test.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Altima Hybrid features a spacious cabin with generous rear-seat legroom and plenty of soft-touch materials that are better than those found in the Camry Hybrid. A standard "Intelligent Key" keyless entry and start system allows a driver to get in and drive away without removing the key fob from his or her pocket. There are nine cupholders (for five passengers) and plenty of storage cubbies, including a fairly large one located in front of the gear shifter. Although a tilt/telescoping steering wheel is standard, it's awkward to adjust, as one must pull and hold the adjustment lever with one hand while pushing or pulling the wheel with the other. Generally, pushing and pulling something at the same time isn't the most efficient means of generating movement.
As spacious as it is, the Altima's backseat is not necessarily the most comfortable in the midsize family sedan class, as its low-mounted bench denies thigh support to taller adults. Additionally, foot space is tight under the front chairs and the head restraints are nonadjustable. Due to space taken up by the Hybrid's battery pack, the trunk measures 9 cubic feet in capacity, which is about 6 cubic feet less than the regular Altima.
A fun hybrid? The heck, you say. Well, the 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid isn't the ideal candidate for carving through a mountain road, but unlike every other gasoline-electric vehicle, doing so isn't a laughable proposition. Acceleration is similar to the four-cylinder Altima, and much of the regular version's above-average handling remains. The steering in particular is impressive, avoiding the detached, overly artificial feel of other hybrids' electric steering setups.