2008 Nissan Altima Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Nissan Altima

New Car Test Drive
© 2008 NewCarTestDrive.com

The Nissan Altima is a driver's car among midsize sedans. This fourth-generation Altima was all-new for 2007. It set record sales records, won the AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award for Premium Mid-Size Cars, and ranked highest among mid-size sedans in the J.D. Power and Associates APPEAL (Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout) study.

For 2008, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) is standard equipment. Indeed, the 2008 Altima comes loaded with safety features.

A gas-electric Hybrid version is available boasting an EPA-rated 35 miles per gallon City, extending its range past 600 miles between fill-ups. Rated as an Advanced Technology-Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), the Altima Hybrid is sold in states that have adopted California emissions regulations: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Whether four-cylinder, V6, or hybrid, the Nissan Altima offers performance, comfort, safety, economy, and looks. It feels powerful and luxurious. It's a couple of inches shorter than the Maxima on the outside, and gives up a little room in the rear seat; but offers comparable room up front, and very nearly as much luggage space. Fold-down rear seats allow the Altima's trunk to expand into the cabin for carrying big long things.

A well-optioned 2.5 SL offers the leather upholstery and other features of the luxurious 3.5 SL but with the improved fuel economy of the four-cylinder engine, and we found it delivers plenty of power.

The 175-hp four-cylinder rates 23/31 mpg City/Highway on Regular octane. The 3.5-liter V6 makes 270 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque and rates . The price for that power, however, is an EPA-rated 19/26 mpg appetite for Premium fuel. Best is the Hybrid, which rates 35/33 mpg along with better performance than the standard four-cylinder. Hybrid technology isn't cheap, however, and the Altima uses the best: from Toyota.

For drivers who appreciate sharp handling, the Altima excels. This is a car that inspires driver confidence, a car that a driver can really connect with. It's steady and predictable in extreme situations, including rough pavement. Its suspension is quite firm but isn't harsh.

A sporty new Altima coupe has joined the lineup. The coupe is a little smaller than the sedan, sprung a little tighter, and different enough in character that we have dealt with it in a separate New Car Test Drive review.

Model Lineup

Nissan Altima 2.5 manual ($18,230); 2.5 S manual ($20,080); 2.5 S automatic ($20,580); 3.5 SE manual ($24,080); 3.5 SE automatic ($24,580) 3.5 SL automatic ($28,280); Hybrid ($25,070)

Walk Around

The Nissan Altima looks quite stylish, especially for a mid-size car. The body was given a makeover for 2007, bringing a number of pleasing changes.

The Altima has enough Nissan design cues that, from the rear, you can see some 350Z in it. The deck is distinctively short, yet trunk space remains a useful 15.3 cubic feet. The fender flares are edgy and pronounced, allowing the rest of the body to be narrower and slip through the wind with less frontal area. The gap between the tires and flares was tightened. Altima presents a slippery 0.31 drag coefficient, thanks to many things, including the steeply sloped windshield.

The headlamps and taillamps are elaborate and appear almost exotic. The halogen headlamps are vertical irregular trapezoids with soft edges, with four bulbs inside for the high beam, low beam, turn signal and parking lights. Nissan calls the headlamp arrangement a multi-parabola, which means its coverage is all over the place. As for the taillamps, Nissan says they cost nearly as much as the headlamps, so don't back into anything, and they definitely do look expensive. They're covered with clear plastic like the headlamps, and contain a silver ray-gun looking cylinder with the red lamp, plus a round white beam for the backup light, and a big orange piece for the parking lamp and turn signal.

Interior

The Nissan Altima features a roomy, comfortable cabin. We've been in many luxury cars that didn't feel this classy inside. The available leather feels rich. Soft materials are used for touches like padded armrests, and the overall level of refinement is higher than in pre-2007 models. The four-spoke steering wheel has an original artistic design, with two spokes flowing vertically downward.

The seats are relatively large. They feel firm and longer and higher than in the previous models. They also have optional power lumbar support and elevate higher, something that most cars do nowadays, as people need a better view of the road, with all the SUVs out there blocking visibility. The gauges are arranged in the practical tripod design, with speedometer in center, tachometer on left, and fuel gauge and water temperature on right. The lettering is sharp, white on black, with red needles.

The center stack is neatly designed, with three HVAC (heating-air conditioning) vents at the top, audio controls in the center. Below, big, handy knobs handle HVAC functions. Usable storage slots are interspersed. The CVT shift lever is located in an ergonomically awkward position for using the manual mode.

The glovebox is huge; Nissan says its capacity is 0.46 cubic feet (or 13 liters, should you ever want to fill it up with Diet Coke). It locks, so you can store a laptop computer in there. Eight cup holders are provided.

The Intelligent Key that comes on all Altima models enables the car to be started with the keys in your purse or pocket. Many owners find these systems convenient, but you can wind up with a dead battery if you inadvertently press the ignition button two times instead of once to shut down the car. That leaves the system in the accessories mode, and drains the juice. We prefer traditional keys.

The touch-screen, voice-command DVD navigation system offers real time traffic information. Without the owner's manual we would not have been able to begin to figure out how to make it work. Not even with a passenger totally devoted to the challenge while we were stuck in traffic. So pay attention during the post-sale walkaround and study your owner's manual. Navigation systems are relatively new for Nissan.

We found the Bose nine-speaker system delivers rich sound.

Driving Impressions

Sporty handling and responsive engines make the Nissan Altima fun to drive. Yet this fourth-generation Altima is more refined than the pre-2007 model.

Fuel economy is aided by the CVT, or continuously variable transmission. Altima is EPA-rated 23/31 mpg City/Highway with the four-cylinder, 19/26 mpg with the powerful V6 (premium fuel required).

The Altima 2.5 S we drove had plenty of power from our perspective. Modern and refined, Nissan's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 175 horsepower. Called the QR25DE, this engine was refined for use in this fourth-generation Altima, with a larger intake manifold, increased compression ratio and reduced internal friction. It features continuously variable valve timing, microfinished crank journals and cam lobes, molybdenum-coated lightweight pistons, and an electronically controlled (drive-by-wire) throttle.

The 3.5-liter V6 makes a potent 270 horsepower and is a very close relative to the 3.5-liter V6 in the Nissan 350Z sports car. There's more than enough here, and it's awesome for passing. Its 6600-rpm redline is a blast. There's also 258 pound-feet of torque, which was very useful with the CVT transmission.

The 3.5 SL suspension is quite firm and we found it delivers responsive handling. There's no swaying in switchback turns, so the steering stays true. And it wasn't harsh over the jagged parts of the road. It took some good punches from potholes without flinching. Altima's stiff chassis helps keep noise and vibration down in the cabin, though we could hear the front wheels whacking bumps. The electric power steering, a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion, works well, and because it uses less power than a hydraulic system, it improves gas mileage by a touch. Torque steer in the Altima is extremely mild, which is saying something at 270 horsepower.

We drove a 3.5 SE with the six-speed manual gearbox, and the linkage didn't feel exceptional, which makes the CVT seem especially like the best of both worlds.

The CVT used in the Altima is the fourth generation of this continuously variable transmission, which doesn't have the separate gears of a standard automatic transmission. Nissan has been a leader in this technology. The manual mode makes allows shifting ratios, making it feel like a six-speed.

We love Altima's CVT because it's true to us. It's totally responsive and obedient. It did things that the manual mode in some expensive cars (Mercedes-Benz and BMW, to name two) have apparently never dreamed of. It listened to the driver. We challenged it by up-shifting all the way up to sixth gear at no more than 30 miles per hour, then downshifting back down, and it made every shift instead of ignoring them, unlikely as they would have been under regular driving conditions. So, when we used it in the real world, shifting the Altima like a 350Z on the road from the Golden Gate Bridge to Stinson Beach, it was beautiful. Downshifting with the CVT to slow down worked well, complementing the good brakes when rushing up to those downhill curves.

Brakes are vented discs in front and solid discs in the rear. All 2008 Altima models come with four-channel, four-sensor ABS with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), which optimizes the front/rear brake balance depending on load condition (passengers and cargo). A variable-ratio-pivot brake pedal provides a rigid feel at freeway speeds and less sensitive, more controllable operation in city driving.

The Altima Hybrid is EPA-rated at 35/33 mpg, an excellent fuel economy rating, comparable to the 34/34 mpg rating for the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

The Hybrid uses a somewhat de-tuned version of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, rated 158 horsepower at 5200-6000 rpm, and 162 pound-feet of torque at 2800-4800. Mounted in tandem with it is a permanent-magnet AC synchronous motor-generator that can produce up to 40 horsepower and 199 pound-feet, both at 0-1500 rpm. So, potentially, tha

Recently redesigned, the 2008 Nissan Altima is a midsize car with the performance and feel of a luxury sedan, at least when equipped with the V6 engine and a generous list of options. The Altima is roomy and comfortable and has stylish looks. The Altima is available with a strong four-cylinder engine, a gas-sipping electric Hybrid, or a powerful V6. The Altima offers a sporty alternative to the other midsize sedans and we think it's a good choice.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from San Francisco. John F. Katz reported on the Hybrid version from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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