What's New for 2011
After a face-lift and interior refresh last year, the 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid is unchanged.
Four years after its introduction, the Nissan Altima Hybrid continues to set the pace for sporty gas-electric family sedans. Curvy sheet metal, taut suspension tuning and pleasing power make the Altima Hybrid less of a social statement and more of a declaration that a hybrid need not be a one-way ticket to Dullsville.
Through a licensing agreement with Toyota, the 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid shares a number of components with Toyota's Camry Hybrid. But at its heart is the 2.5-liter four-cylinder from the regular Altima, and it's joined to a 40-horsepower electric motor and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The end result is a quick sedan that outperforms the Camry Hybrid yet still earns the same impressive 34 mpg for the EPA's combined fuel-economy estimate. The Altima Hybrid's other EPA estimates -- 35 mpg city/33 highway -- also outshine its conventional gas-engine sibling's 23 mpg city/32 highway achievements. That said, the hybrid model adds a nearly $5,000 premium compared to a well-equipped Altima S. Tack on one or more of the tiered options packages and the Altima Hybrid quickly loses its price advantage to the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Camry Hybrid.
The other major downside is that Nissan only sells the Altima Hybrid in a handful of states. For most people, the Fusion Hybrid, which offers similar performance and gets better mileage (even if a second slower from zero to 60 mph in our testing) is going to be a better choice. You should also check out the all-new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima hybrids, which look to edge out the Nissan in terms of fuel economy. Overall, the Altima Hybrid is still a solid pick for a hybrid, but realistically its appeal is limited.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid sedan is available in just one trim level. Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, unique hybrid instrumentation and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
Options are combined into three major packages, with each package requiring the purchase of the preceding one. The Convenience package includes an eight-way power driver seat, automatic headlights, a rear spoiler, folding sideview mirrors with integrated turn signals, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls.
The Premium package adds a sunroof, heated sideview mirrors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear air-conditioning vents, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker Bose audio system with a six-CD/MP3 changer, an iPod/USB audio interface, satellite radio and a color display with a rearview monitor.
The Technology package adds a hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic information, digital music storage, Bluetooth streaming audio and a hybrid-energy and fuel-flow readout.
Powertrains and Performance
The Altima's hybrid powertrain combines a modified version of the base car's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (making 158 hp 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 one at a time or together, depending on driving conditions, to optimize fuel economy and power. Working in unison, they make 198 hp.
The EPA estimates the Altima Hybrid's fuel economy at 35 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 34 mpg in combined driving, numbers comparable to the Camry Hybrid but lower than the Fusion Hybrid. 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 on the road. In performance testing, we clocked the Altima Hybrid from zero to 60 mph in an impressive 7.6 seconds, making it the quickest of the class.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 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.
The Nissan Altima Hybrid has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedures. According to 2010 ratings (which aren't directly comparable to the new methodology) it earned the highest scores possible in all frontal- and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Altima Hybrid a top "Good" for both frontal- and side-impact protection. In the latter agency's new roof-crush test, the Altima scored a rating of "Acceptable," the second highest out of four.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Altima Hybrid offers a roomy cabin with first-rate materials on par with the Fusion's and better than what's in the Camry. Interior storage is plentiful, with several bins and large compartments.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, but rear seating can be awkward for taller passengers. The rear seat cushion is mounted fairly low to the floor and compromises thigh support for taller folks. Cargo space is also limited due to the hybrid's battery pack. Compared to the conventional Altima's 15-cubic-foot trunk capacity, the hybrid's capacity is reduced to 9 cubes.
The 2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid is a green car that doesn't completely suck the life out of driving. While it's no sport sedan in the conventional sense, it manages to keep much of the spirited acceleration and road-holding prowess of the gas-powered four-cylinder Altima. Enthusiasts will also appreciate the steering, which is notably precise for a hybrid car while providing respectable feedback.