Review: 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2011.
If you haven’t heard of the Nissan Altima Hybrid, it might be because the car is only being sold in eight states: California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey. However, with federal tax credits dwindling or already gone for Toyota and Honda’s hybrids, drivers in those states might still be able to claim tax credits on Nissan hybrids for a good while to come.
The Altima Hybrid combines a four-cylinder 2.5-liter engine with an electric motor that gives the car muscular acceleration while maintaining the economy and emissions you’d expect from a much scrawnier car. The hybrid gets better fuel economy and produces fewer emissions than the non-hybrid four-cylinder version, while achieving the power (though at the price) of a six-cylinder.
According to EPA measurements — which have been updated for 2008 to reflect more realistic driving habits and conditions — the Altima Hybrid gets 35 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway. I personally got 27 mpg over the week that I drove it, although I did a lot of stomping on the gas to test the acceleration and show off for my occasional passengers. Not very green, I know, but very fun.
According to the EPA’s usage estimates, both the Camry and Altima will burn through 10.1 barrels of oil and exude 5.4 tons of CO2 each year. Choosing the Altima over the Camry may come down to personal taste, since the Altima projects a more aggressive attitude both inside and out. The sharper edges of the Altima’s body give it a more chiseled look.
Electrons in the Trunk
Inside, the Altima’s dramatic swoop of the dashboard is more daring, but less refined than the Camry’s. The only dashboard feature that distinguishes this Altima from its non-hybrid counterpart is a small digital screen below the speedometer which offers information on fuel efficiency and EV mode.
The Altima is quite gadget friendly. An input for MP3 players or other external devices sits on the face of the audio system, and there are power outlets in the compartment below the sound system, as well as in the storage area between the front seats. The optional nine-speaker sound package from Bose is well worth it if you care for high-quality audio.
On the Road
The Altima Hybrid’s great mileage comes from having its gas engine teamed up with a 40-horsepower electric motor powered by the trunk-intruding nickel-metal hydride battery. Because electric motors provide instantaneous torque, this helps get the car moving before the gasoline engine kicks in to take over most of the work at cruising speeds.
The trick with gas-electric hybrids is a seamless transition between electric- and gasoline-powered modes. Unfortunately Nissan has not yet mastered this. Especially with the Altima’s heater or air conditioner running, there can be a significant jolt when the gas engine kicks in. This makes an otherwise quiet engine very noticeable.
Bill Bosley, vice president of Nissan North America, said that “most drivers will never be aware of the transitions between the electric and gasoline power sources.” But based on my own experience with this car, this is still wishful thinking.
Where the Altima Hybrid does excel is in its pure EV mode; it can travel up to roughly 15 mph on electric power alone. This is a very satisfying feeling, and a sneak preview of the not-too-distant future when plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars are much more commonplace.
The only downside to this stealthy EV mode: On several occasions I shut off the car without first putting it in Park. This is an easy mistake considering the Altima Hybrid is almost silent when at a standstill. All told, however, the Altima Hybrid is a strong offering. Its flaws are more than made up for by its excellent mileage, strong handling, and insightful interior features.