2008 Nissan Altima Review
Edmunds' Expert Review
- Strong engine performance, smooth and responsive continuously variable transmission (CVT), quick steering, good-looking cabin with quality materials, coupe's sporty styling.
- Stability control not available on four-cylinder models, mediocre backseat comfort, Nissan's annoying structure of options packages.
Thanks to its dashing style, entertaining driving dynamics and welcoming interior, the 2008 Nissan Altima is one of our top picks for a sporting family sedan or midsize coupe.
Ever since its 2002 revival, the Nissan Altima has been a very popular choice for consumers interested in a sport-oriented family sedan. In particular, the previous-generation car was known for its athletic handling and performance. Unfortunately, it was also known for its low-buck interior and excessive road noise.
When Nissan redesigned the Altima sedan last year, it focused on keeping the car's sporting credentials intact while simultaneously addressing its faults. The new Altima's significant dynamic and interior improvements contributed to a powerful five-seater that provided plenty of comfort and driving excitement for those looking for a lot more than basic transportation.
The 2008 Nissan Altima adds to this pedigree with an all-new coupe model. More than just a regular Altima with a pair of doors lopped off, it's very close to being a junior Infiniti G37, in both appearance and performance. The two-door features unique body panels (it shares only the hood), a shorter wheelbase and overall length, and a revised suspension for even sportier handling.
Both the coupe and sedan come with a long list of available luxury and technology features, but they are put into large, expensive packages that often must be lumped together with other packages. For example, if you want satellite radio on a 2.5 S Sedan, you must spend $1,200 for the Connection Package, which then must be ordered with the $500 CVT, the $3,850 2.5 SL package and $300 antilock brakes. The Technology Package on the 3.5 SE is $6,400. If you want to keep the price low, we'd normally suggest going light on options, but unfortunately, Nissan makes it just about impossible to do this. It's like going to a salad bar and being offered a choice of either dry lettuce or a 4-gallon bucket of Ranch.
Although its options pricing is a little shady, the 2008 Nissan Altima is now an even more versatile (and attractive) choice in the always competitive midsize segment. The Altima coupe competes closest with the new 2008 Honda Accord coupe. Both vehicles providing a compelling mix of sport and practicality that other midsize coupes don't come close to matching. Meanwhile, the Altima sedan continues to be a very desirable midsize family car, especially for those who want one with a good amount of sporting potential. Either body style should be near the top of a shopping list.
2008 Nissan Altima models
The 2008 Nissan Altima is available as a midsize sedan or coupe. The sedan is available in four trims, with the number indicating its engine: base 2.5 (by customer order only), 2.5 S, 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL. The base 2.5 comes with 16-inch wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry/starting, cruise control, a split/folding rear seat and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The 2.5 S adds air-conditioning, a CD player and MP3 input jack, a trip computer and intermittent wipers.
The sporty 3.5 SE comes with a sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, power-folding side-view mirrors with integral turn signals, a power driver seat, wood-tone accents and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The 3.5 SL goes the full luxury route with leather seating, a moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, 16-inch alloy wheels, xenon HID headlights and a Bose audio system with CD changer and a choice of satellite radio providers.
The Altima coupe comes in only 2.5 S and 3.5 SE trim levels that are consistent with the sedan version. However, all coupes come with antilock brakes and sport seats with more aggressive bolstering.
The Premium Package on the coupe models and the 3.5 SE Sedan (it's known as the SL package on the 2.5 Sedan) includes essentially all the additional features of the 3.5 SL Sedan. Available on all but the base Altima sedan is the Technology Package that bundles a navigation system with real-time traffic and a rearview monitor, but it must be ordered with the Premium Package for an eye-bugging total of $6,400.
Performance & mpg
The Nissan Altima is powered by either a 2.5-liter inline-4 with 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque (on the 2.5 trims) or a 3.5-liter V6 with 270 hp and 258 lb-ft (on the 3.5 trims). All but the 3.5 SL Sedan come with a six-speed manual transmission, while a CVT is standard on that trim and optional on all others except the base sedan.
The four-cylinder engine provides enough giddy-up for most buyers ¯ zero to 60 mph is achieved in the mid-7-second range. In our tests, a 3.5 SE sedan with the CVT ran to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, while a six-speed manual coupe we tested did it in 6.2 seconds. Fuel economy is impressive considering the car's power; four-cylinder/CVT sedans have a 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway rating. Nissan Altimas with the V6/CVT combination have an average rating of 19/27. Manual transmission fuel economy is virtually identical.
Front-seat side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags are standard on every 2008 Nissan Altima. Antilock brakes are standard on the 3.5 sedan trims and all coupes, and optional on the 2.5 S sedan. Only the 3.5 trims are eligible for traction control (it's standard) and stability control (optional). In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the Altima sedan received a top five-star rating for its protection of occupants in frontal and side impacts.
With its sporty suspension tuning (especially in coupe and 3.5 SE sedan guise) and quick steering, the 2008 Nissan Altima provides enthusiasts with one of the most enjoyable midsize coupes and family sedans available. Ride quality is still comfortable throughout the line, and road and wind noise are subdued.
Strong performance from the V6 models should more than satisfy those who like a kick in the pants when they boot the gas, and the four-cylinder provides perfectly adequate acceleration. A six-speed manual is standard, but its clutch engagement is abrupt and its shifter feels unsubstantial and moves through its gates with all the precision of a $10 Folex watch. We don't make this recommendation often, but we'd opt for the continuously variable transmission instead. Easily the best we've come across, this CVT does an excellent job of maximizing each engine's power, while responding rapidly to throttle inputs.
Braking is the one area in which the Altima could be deemed mediocre. Pedal feel is progressive, but during instrumented testing, we've measured stops from 60 mph in the 126-134foot range, which is only average for this class.
The 2008 Nissan Altima sedan and coupe feature a quiet, handsome interior constructed of quality materials. The coupe differs from the sedan by having a hand-operated emergency brake for all trim levels (CVT-equipped sedans come with a foot brake) and more aggressively bolstered front seats. Taller drivers will find the coupe a little tight on headroom, though. In addition, the coupe's shrunken proportions take a significant toll on the backseat's head and leg space, though it still offers seatbelts for three and the flat bench makes car-seat installation possible in a pinch. The front seats in both the sedan and coupe are excellent, offering a vast range of adjustment ¯ particularly in models with power seats ¯ and a good mix of comfort and support.
Most helpful consumer reviews
Features & Specs
NHTSA Overall Rating
- Frontal Barrier Crash RatingOverallNot RatedDriver4 / 5Passenger4 / 5
- Side Crash RatingOverallNot Rated
- Side Barrier RatingOverallNot RatedDriver5 / 5Passenger5 / 5
- Combined Side Barrier & Pole RatingsFront SeatNot RatedBack SeatNot Rated
- RolloverRollover5 / 5Dynamic Test ResultNo TipRisk Of RolloverNot Rated
More About This Model
Conventional prejudice says you can't put a transverse V6 in a big front-drive car and call it a sport coupe. But after 600 miles with the 2008 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coupe, we're going to rise above our car-geek heritage and do just that.
Of course we're speaking of passion, not precision. This is still a 183-inch-long, 71-inch-wide, 3,290-pound car with 67 percent of its weight riding over the front wheels. Said wheels are wrapped in unassuming 215/55R17 Bridgestone Turanza tires.
But there's a vitality to the Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coupe that defies clinical assessment. It likes going around corners. Its VQ-Series V6 likes being matched up with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Even if the Altima coupe isn't dynamically perfect, we like driving it.
Minus Two Doors, Plus One Mustache
Nissan's starting point here has been the Altima sedan, already an athlete among family-friendly sedans. Instead of dropping a coupe body onto a sedan chassis and installing a set of really long doors, Nissan lopped 4 inches off the sedan's wheelbase (now 105.3 inches) and designed a fresh set of body panels.
With its 3-inch drop in stature and fastback roof line, the Altima coupe draws immediate comparisons to Infiniti's G37 coupe. From the back, it looks a bit too much like the innocuous Pontiac G6, but wheel around front and there's a wisp of a chrome mustache to reassure you this car has the evil, funhouse flavor of the Altima.
We Choose Torque
As usual, there are degrees of evil. Not so threatening is the 2.5 S Coupe, which is motivated by a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and priced around $21,000. Nissan says this car will account for 60 percent of Altima coupe sales.
We're speaking here to the other 40 percent, however; the fiends who will spend upward of $26,000 on the Altima 3.5 SE Coupe. It has a 3.5-liter V6 rated for 270 hp at 6,000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Although a six-speed manual is available, most 3.5 SE Coupes will be sold with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), with which our test car has been equipped. Most will also have the $3,200 Premium Package — good for xenon headlights, leather upholstery, Bose sound and automatic climate control.
Our test car did without the premium luxuries. Antilock disc brakes and all the expected airbags were on board, but stability control costs $600 extra.
Quick by Numbers, Quicker by Feel
The lack of amenities went largely unnoticed, as the Nissan Altima coupe has other ways of making its driver feel energized.
It's not with overpowering speed, though. A 0-60-mph time in the 6.0-second range and a quarter-mile time just under 15.0 seconds no longer make anyone feel entirely special, not even in the sensible coupe class. Our CVT-equipped coupe ran to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, then laid down a quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds, a couple tenths quicker than the Altima sedan.
Nevertheless, it hasn't any edge over the Pontiac G6 GTP coupe, which gets to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and does the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds. Of course, the Altima CVT coupe is a smidge faster than the Mitsubishi Eclipse GT with a manual transmission, which takes 6.6 seconds to get to 60 mph and then does the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds.
But away from the test track, you'll be convinced this is a fast car. Partly it's the sweet power delivery of the VQ V6, which offers just the right balance of smoothness and personality in this grand-touring application.
Get With the CVT Program
Mostly, though, the Altima coupe's lively performance comes from the CVT, which makes good on the promise that a CVT is better than a regular automatic transmission. Instead of playing telephone with your right foot, sending a message to the engine through hydraulic fluid whirling around a torque convertor, the CVT responds immediately to changes in throttle input. So when the engine rpm soar, it's because you will it.
During instrumented testing, it made no difference in the numbers whether we left the CVT in Drive or used the manual mode. But on your favorite back road, there's good reason to call up a manual "downshift." Pull the central gearlever back as you're coming into a tight turn and you gain access to a usefully lower range of available gear ratios.
So enjoyable is the CVT that even hard-core drivers will prefer it to this car's manual gearbox. You see, apart from the pleasures of post-redline upshifts and heel-and-toe downshifts, the six-speed is a weak effort. The clutch engagement is abrupt and the shift lever feels limp through the gates.
The CVT also delivered pretty good fuel economy. The CVT coupe achieved 34 mpg on a pure highway run, although only half that during a workout on the two-lane — averaging out to 20 mpg. During the brief 200-miles time we had our hands on the coupe with a manual transmission, it returned 18 mpg.
Coupe in the Balance
Handling is another area in which the 2008 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coupe reaches out to its driver. Its 66.8-mph slalom performance and 0.81g grip on the skid pad are no better than the sedan's, but there's a psychological component to the coupe's compressed dimensions and slightly lower curb weight. Maybe it's just us, but the two-door feels hungrier on a curvy road.
And compared to the understeer-prone Eclipse and unresponsive G6, Nissan's new coupe borders on the ravenous when it comes to eating up the road. It's also much quicker through the cones on its skimpy 55-series 17-inch tires than either rival is on low-profile 18-inchers. The Altima has the edge in steering feel as well.
The Altima's braking capability is only average, though. A 127-foot stop from 60 mph brings it to a halt 10 feet shorter than the Pontiac, but still not up to the Mitsu's 124-foot performance. The Altima's brake pedal travel is short and there's lots of initial bite from the brake pads, but the tires just aren't up to it.
Because of the Altima coupe's shorter wheelbase, you feel the impact from highway expansion joints more sharply than in the sedan, so you'd better have a tighter grip on hot, splashy beverages. Overall, though, the coupe's ride quality is agreeable.
Functional Cockpit, Funky Seats
Just as in the sedan, the cabin of the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe has a vaguely industrial ambience, although it features simple, well-organized controls. The soft-touch plastic that trims the dash feels rubbery to the touch, and the action of the various dials feels grainy and unpleasant.
The coupe has less headroom than the sedan, of course, and the front seats now have considerable lateral bolsters to hold you around corners. Rush-hour comfort is debatable, though, as the driver seat combines a slightly odd overall shape with firm cushions.
The coupe's trunk space is minimal at just 7.4 cubic feet, but it's a useful space with a wide opening and the 60/40-split rear seats fold completely flat, providing a cargo area large enough to bring home an awful lot of dry-cleaning plus some groceries, too.
Best of the Front-Drive Coupes
When you set out to buy a midsize front-wheel-drive coupe, you have to be willing to make some tough choices. If you've got a specific craving for a more decadent rear-drive car like the Ford Mustang GT or Mazda RX-8, you shouldn't ask an Altima coupe to satisfy it.
But if you're willing to admit that ride comfort, fuel economy and interior spaciousness are important, then the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is one of the best options out there. Among the current population of V6 front-drive coupes, the 3.5 SE is by far the best drive.
Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
This car looks pretty good, doesn't it? It seemed kind of spindly at the introduction during the 2006 L.A. Auto Show last fall, but now this seems to be a surprisingly grown-up shape, muscular and expressive.
Yet the curse of Nissan lives on in this car's interior, as it's relentlessly crummy. Bad color values, ugly plastic, weak architecture. Of course the irony here is that the coupe configuration always seats you pretty low in the car, and as a consequence you're looking all that bad plastic right in the face every second. Do yourself a favor and order leather upholstery.
You'd think manufacturers would have learned from the Scion tC. Although the tC is pretty wispy as a car, a piece so poor in specification that it might as well be from Malaysia, it makes you feel good because the exterior paint shimmers with a mirror finish, while the interior furnishings seem both durable and fashionable. The Altima coupe needs some interior style to accompany its sophisticated sheet metal.
Although I've always liked the way the Altima drives (the new sedan with CVT is one of the best cars in America), the coupe didn't offer much pleasure on the road. As you'd expect in a coupe, the driving position is low and set to the rear, but the placement of the controls is designed for an upright sedan with a high seating position. Also, the Altima coupe just doesn't have its feet underneath it when you try to go quickly, as torque reaction from drivetrain and imbalances caused by shifting/throttle/braking inputs are accentuated by a squishy suspension, so everything feels as if it's working at cross-purposes.
What this car likes is cruising along the highway at about 80 mph, where V6's broad power band and the CVT makes it a terrific piece for slicing through traffic.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Used 2008 Nissan Altima Overview
The Used 2008 Nissan Altima is offered in the following submodels: Altima Sedan, Altima Coupe. Available styles include 2.5 S 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl CVT), 3.5 SE 4dr Sedan (3.5L 6cyl CVT), 3.5 SL 4dr Sedan (3.5L 6cyl CVT), 2.5 S 2dr Coupe (2.5L 4cyl CVT), 2.5 S 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 6M), 2.5 4dr Sedan (2.5L 4cyl 6M), 3.5 SE 2dr Coupe (3.5L 6cyl CVT), 2.5 S 2dr Coupe (2.5L 4cyl 6M), 3.5 SE 4dr Sedan (3.5L 6cyl 6M), and 3.5 SE 2dr Coupe (3.5L 6cyl 6M). Pre-owned Nissan Altima models are available with a 2.5 L-liter gas engine or a 3.5 L-liter gas engine, with output up to 270 hp, depending on engine type. The Used 2008 Nissan Altima comes with front wheel drive. Available transmissions include: continuously variable-speed automatic. The Used 2008 Nissan Altima comes with a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. basic warranty, a 3 yr./ 36000 mi. roadside warranty, and a 5 yr./ 60000 mi. powertrain warranty.
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Should I lease or buy a 2008 Nissan Altima?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.