Full 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid remains unchanged from the previous year, except for standard automatic door locks and four more exterior color choices.
Hybrids and other green cars, though known for being economical and earth-friendly, have a reputation for also being rather slow, odd-looking and uninspiring behind the wheel. Bucking the trend is the 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid. Although it has the outward appearance and driving manners of a conventional sedan, the Altima Hybrid sips fuel while keeping harmful emissions to a minimum.
Borrowing heavily from rival Toyota's parts bin via a licensing agreement, the Nissan Altima Hybrid shares a fair amount of technology and components with the Toyota Camry Hybrid. It has a Nissan engine -- a revised version of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the regular Altima and a specialized continuously variable transmission (CVT). These improvements result in a more refined powertrain with better acceleration than the Camry Hybrid, while maintaining the same combined fuel economy.
On the subject of fuel economy, the Altima Hybrid excels, managing 35 mpg in the city and 33 in highway driving, according to EPA estimates. By comparison, the all-gas Altima four-cylinder gets only 23/31 mpg. While that's a hefty improvement for city driving, consider for a moment the Hybrid's higher price tag over the conventional Altima. It will take years of ownership to recoup the Hybrid's premium in fuel savings alone. At that rate, the Altima Hybrid would only appeal to those who plan on owning the car for quite a spell, or to the very eco-conscious.
Another drawback for the Altima, and indeed many of Nissan's models, is the structure and pricing for options. Unfortunately, options are not available individually, but bundled with other items into fairly large and expensive packages. Further complicating matters is that some packages are only available as supplements to supporting packages. This puts the Altima at a considerable price disadvantage compared to the Camry Hybrid.
Still, among the few green midsize sedans on the market, the 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid is our favorite, with its swift acceleration, sporty (for a hybrid) handling, miserly fuel consumption, comfort and practicality. Just make sure you live in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island or Vermont -- these are the only states where it is currently sold.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid sedan is available in just one trim level. Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a tilt/telescoping steering column, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, instrumentation unique to the Hybrid and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
Options are combined into three major packages, each package requiring the purchase of the preceding package. The initial options in the Convenience Package include an eight-way power driver seat, automatic headlights, a rear spoiler and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls. The Connection Package, which requires the purchase of the Convenience Package, includes turn signals integrated into the outside mirrors, leather seats, heated front seats, rear air-conditioning vents, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with an in-dash six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio. The Technology Package add-on includes a navigation system with real-time traffic information, a rearview camera and a hybrid energy/fuel flow readout. A sunroof is the major stand-alone option.
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. The gasoline and electric power plants 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.
The EPA estimates the Altima Hybrid's fuel economy to be 35 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 34 mpg in combined driving. These numbers are comparable to the Toyota Camry Hybrid's. Yet another benefit for the Altima Hybrid is its qualification as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, meaning it is one of the cleanest gasoline-burning cars. In performance testing, we clocked the Altima Hybrid from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 7.6 seconds.
Standard safety equipment for the 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags and front-seat active head restraints. In crash tests, the Altima Hybrid was awarded the highest scores possible from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (five out of five stars) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ("Good" ratings) for both frontal- and side-impact protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, the Altima Hybrid offers a roomy cabin with first-rate materials that better the Camry's equivalents. Interior storage is plentiful, with several bins and large compartments, but trunk space is limited due to the Hybrid's battery pack. Compared to the conventional Altima's 15-cubic-foot trunk capacity, the Hybrid's capacity is squeezed down to 9 cubes. Front seats in the Altima Hybrid are comfortable and supportive, but rear seating can be a bit awkward for taller passengers. With the rear bench mounted fairly low to the floor and limited foot space, thigh support is compromised.
The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid is a green car that doesn't compromise driving pleasure. While it certainly wouldn't be thought of as a canyon carver or a track-day candidate, this hybrid manages to retain much of the acceleration and road-holding prowess of the conventional four-cylinder Altima. Steering is notably precise, with ample feedback.