2011 Nissan Altima Hybrid

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Review: 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid

This 2007 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2011.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8
Pros:
  • Can travel long distances between fill-ups
  • Spunkier feel than a Toyota
  • Retains Nissan styling
Cons:
  • Busy ride
  • Noticeable road noise
  • What happens if you have problems outside the 8 states?

Hybrid car shoppers in some areas have to go the extra mile to find Nissan's newest Altima.

You see, the 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid—the first Nissan gasoline-electric model, which uses hybrid technology licensed from Toyota and has the best fuel economy rating of any Nissan—is available only at Nissan dealerships in eight states.

The eight—California, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine—have the strictest car pollution regulations in the country, which prompted Nissan to introduce its Altima Hybrid there early in calendar 2007.

Other states are left high and dry, and this situation has sent some hybrid car fans searching for this rarest Nissan at out-of-state dealerships.

The appeal isn't just the lower emissions of the 5-passenger, midsize Altima Hybrid sedan. It also has been the 2007 government fuel economy rating of 42 miles a gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway. This is way better than the top 26/35-mpg rating that the 2007 Altima earned sans hybrid powerplant and with 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission.

(And yes, the higher city mileage rating on the Altima Hybrid is correct, because the car's supplemental electric power can come on more often in city driving than in regular highway driving to alleviate gasoline usage.)

Note that like those for most passenger vehicles, the 2008 fuel economy figures for the Altima Hybrid decline. But at 35/33 mpg, the 2008 Altima Hybrid still beats other Altimas in government-calculated fuel mileage.

Limited distribution for a reason
Nissan didn't want to offer the Altima Hybrid—which had a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of more than $24,000 at introduction all over the U.S. because the car isn't cost-effective to build and thus, isn't a profit-maker, according to one company official.

Volumes are expected to be small compared with the more than 200,000 regular Altimas sold annually in the U.S.

Consumers, though, don't care. With continued volatility expected in oil prices, they are making fuel mileage a higher priority.

Toyota or Nissan?
I wondered, since the Altima Hybrid uses a licensed version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system, why wouldn't consumers just buy a Toyota?

In online hybrid forums, some shoppers say they like the styling of the Altima Hybrid better than the Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry Hybrid. Basically, Nissan's midsize hybrid looks like a regular Altima on the outside, which many feel has a bit sportier appearance than the Toyotas.

Some shoppers say they prefer the Altima Hybrid because it has more horsepower—198—than either Toyota hybrid car. In fact, in my test drive of an Altima Hybrid, I noticed the easy power of the car. At times, it felt like it had a V6, rather than Nissan's 2.5-liter double overhead cam four-cylinder engine under the hood.

The spunky feel also comes from the fact the Altima Hybrid is a bit lighter weight than the Camry Hybrid so the instantaneous torque of up to 199 lb-ft right at startup is palpable.

And, the Smyrna, Tenn.-built Altima Hybrid is a bit lower in starting price than the hybrid Camry's more than $26,000.

Bigger tank, bigger range
But a less well-known benefit for getting the Altima Hybrid is how far it potentially can travel on a single tank of gas.

With a 20-gallon fuel tank instead of the 17.2- and 11.9-gallon tanks of the Camry Hybrid and Prius, respectively, the Altima Hybrid could go nearly 700 miles before a fill-up, if I maintained my 34.5-miles-a-gallon city/highway average in the test car.

Note that both Nissan and Toyota have basic, bumper-to-bumper warranties of three years/36,000 miles on their hybrids. Some hybrid components are warrantied for longer periods.

Many nice features
I liked the Nissan accoutrements in the Altima Hybrid. These included supportive seats, an easy-to-operate and colorful navigation system that can be tilted to reduce washout in bright sun (nav is an option) and spacious interior.

In fact, the Altima has more front-seat legroom and headroom than a Camry.

In the tester, there was even an informative display, like that in the Toyotas, in the center of the dashboard to show how power was being generated as I drove. It wasn't as colorful as a Toyota graphic, but it wasn't as cartoonish, either.

But where the ride in a Camry can feel compliant, the Altima Hybrid ride was stiff-feeling and, as a result, a bit busy for me.

Passengers felt many bumps, especially on patched pavement, and sometimes were jostled on rough road. There was more road noise coming into the cabin than I expected, too, though wind noise was at a minimum. The whole noise and ride combination in the Altima Hybrid reminded me of Honda's first, rather rough gas-electric hybrid, the Insight. The Insight no longer is sold.

Inside the Altima Hybrid, I could have done without the noticeable whir sound that emanated when the car was in what was supposed to be the quiet, electric-only mode.

Then, again, I didn't hear that whir when I had the radio turned up, and the sounds from the Bose audio system were impressively clear and strong.

Odds and ends
The electric steering in the Altima Hybrid is one of the best around. It has good on-center feel, and there's no sense of artificiality, like I've experienced in some other vehicles.

At slow speeds in all-electric mode, this car is so quiet, pedestrians often don't know it's near them. So drivers must be extra vigilant in parking lots.

The Altima matches the hybrid system to Nissan's competent Xtronic continuously variable transmission. A driver shifts it into gear like it's an automatic, but the CVT works a continuous band of gears to achieve the best fuel economy all the time.

All safety equipment is standard, including six airbags, front-seat active head restraints to reduce whiplash injuries, anti-lock brakes with Elecronic Brake Force Distribution for balanced braking as well as stability control and traction control.

Final note
Dealers in the eight states that sell this new Altima have personnel who are trained in servicing it.

For buyers who travel outside the eight home states, Nissan has been working on a system for emergencies, according to Brad Bradshaw, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Nissan North America.

Maybe this should give pause to out-of-state buyers.

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BB01 - 7/26/2014 12:43:01 AM