2008 Nissan Altima Expert Review:Autoblog
Coldest day of the year. Single-digit, negative windchill cold. The rented Sony Digital Beta machine almost fits into the trunk of the newly minted Nissan Altima Coupe. The speakers for the Bose stereo hang down too low and block what could have been a glove-tight fit. Time for plan B. While the boffins at the video equipment rental house are watching from the window, I back the car into the middle of the parking lot to swing that big coupe door out as wide as it'll go. Okay, does the front seat lie flat? No... damn. The back seats do fold down and the front headrest is removable. Hmm. Front passenger seat slid all the way forward and reclined all the way back gives me *just* enough room to cram the big broadcast unit into the car where it has a cozy space to rest. That'll learn ya to buy a coupe. Expect scenes like this to be oft-repeated if you carry more than a messenger bag with your car.
Let's get this out of the way; the Altima Coupe is not a poor man's anything. Its looks certainly set expectations. There's plenty of Infiniti G37 in the lines of the Altima Coupe, but it can stand on its own considerable merits without basking in the halo of some other cousin with totally unrelated architecture. The 2.5S Coupe is more 912 than 911, more 318 than 335, which is not an entirely bad thing. It's shorter, lower and lighter than the sedan, and the happy vibes are served up in big portions.
All photos ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
Nissan's Altima Coupe has two different trim levels, the 2.5S like we drove, and a more premium 3.5SE that carries the excellent VQ six cylinder. The 3.5SE has 95 more horsepower, but chassis balance changes with the larger engine. Balletic poise aside, the 2.5 liter four's 175 horsepower is plenty. The big four isn't sonorous and snarly like the VQ, but it avoids the standard four-cylinder traits of thrashy and trashy. Nissan's 4 is well mannered, an especially neat trick when displacements push above 2.2 liters.
We were pleased to find a smooth-acting six-speed manual gearbox handling the ratios. Shifting slowly is the name of the game in standard-trans Altimas, because they tend to hang on to revs while you row the gearbox. Shifting lazily gives the engine management time to fiddle with the throttle, and as revs finally begin dropping, you can smoothly engage the next gear. A lot of cars do this, and it's not endearing. The drive-by-wire games keep the exhaust clean, and we'll gladly take a little behind the wheel aggravation for less smog. After just a short time with the Altima, you'll be snapping through gears like a pro. The clutch takeup is smooth and forgiving, and even though the pedals aren't exactly right for heel and toeing, the controls work together in a way that makes the Altima Coupe a joy machine. Equally pleasurable is the way the 2.5S settles down and uses its strong torque to cruise highways in a relaxed, quiet fashion while delivering 32 mpg on the EPA cycle. We saw combined average mileage in the high 20s and took great pleasure in watching the econ meter peg out while cruising the highway. Coffee drinkers beware, the 20-gallon (!) fuel tank in the Altima will laugh at your bladder; it takes a long time to run the tank down.
Although the chassis tuning of the 2.5S leaves you wondering what it could really do with more serious tires, it's a good compromise. The ride in the 2.5S doesn't pummel you and it's a good handler. Like the 318 and 912 we used earlier to illustrate its demeanor, the 2.5S is not the top dog, but serves up smiles with every clipped apex. The variable-boost steering could do with a little more heft, a little less speed off center, and some more communication, though. We found ourselves correcting mid-turn after over-turning on entry. That's about all we have to gripe about, besides the way revs hang. The Altima's platform is solid, and the shortening and hunkering the Coupe gets only serves to reiterate that point. At speed, things are quiet, and the tracking is relaxed. The Altima coupe knows where straight-ahead is, and the V6 models are actually a little less calm due to some extra starch in the suspension. The 2.5S is the way to go if you don't want to jiggle over surface aberrations. 175 horsepower is what sixes were laying down not too long ago, and with a hair under 3,100 pounds to haul around, performance is sprightly. Only if you're hung up on spec sheets would you feel the need for more underhood. A more forgiving ride is a higher priority for a daily driver than huge power that largely goes unused, anyway.
The interior materials are very good in this iteration of the Altima. Not slap-your-mama opulent like a Bentley, but things are on the good end of material and assembly quality. The dash graining is attractive, and the same material wraps the top of the door panels. It's soft to the touch, and further down the door panel is equally soft leather. The seats are well bolstered and supportive, and the heaters get nice and toasty. One overarching theme of the interior in our test car: black. Carbon nanotube, Smell The Glove black. The moonroof lets a lot of light in, though, averting the life-sucking potential of such a dark interior. Controls are well-placed and simple to use, and our car had the premium package, bumping the $20,490 base price by $5,100 and adding a big paragraph of equipment that most people want. Stepping up to the Premium Package nets you leather on the seats, wheel, and shift knob, 16-inch alloy rims, a Bose 6-disc audio system with XM and auxiliary input, Bluetooth for the phone, Homelink, heaters in the seats, dual zone temperature controls, automatic headlamps, auto dimming mirrors, and an extra level of spiff on the interior trim (either wood or metallic, depending on the interior's base hue).
Nissan insists on outfitting its cars with pushbuttons for starting, and it's annoying. Booting up takes a little bit longer than you'd expect, it's certainly less positive than twisting a key and hearing a starter obediently whirr to life. What happens is you get in, stow the fob in its hard to find slot by your left knee ( it usually latches on after the third try), step on the brake and clutch and press. Then you wait. Eventually, the engine starts, and you're ready for liftoff. Besides the pushbutton affair, the fob also enables keyless locking/unlocking. As long as it's on your person, you can just press the little black button on the exterior door handles and gain access to the car. It's nice not having to fiddle with a key to get in or out, so if that's the price we pay for the kitschy pushbutton, okay.
The interior has a lot of storage, and the Altima likely has the world's largest glovebox. The storage bin at the base of the center stack hides a 12 volt power outlet, and is big enough to store a lot of CDs for feeding the Bose stereo. If that's not enough space, the two-level storage box under the armrest is also humongous. Roominess is an ongoing theme in the Altima Coupe, at least for front seat passengers. The coupe loses a slice of length, however, which takes a whack out of rear legroom. We're not sure that an all-day comfortable rear compartment is that important to the typical coupe buyer, anyway. The mid-size form factor means there's a large trunk, and if that's not enough, folding the seatbacks opens up more room. Bulky items might require creativity to wedge through the trunk or door openings, but once that's figured out, there's a lot of useable space in the Altima Coupe.
The exterior is finely drawn, infused with a sense of forward motion. The rear quarter panels, for instance form haunches as the C-Pillars wrap inward. The backlight has a hint of Zagato from some angles, and the flanks are clean. There's a little too much ride height, leaving a lot of space around the wheels within the fenders, but that visual offense is offset by the supple ride. Come upon the car in the right light, and it can look a bit stubby too, but overall, Nissan's designers did a good job making a car that's attractive and won't look dated in four years. The taillights in particular shine like finely cut rubys, and the front end has been given a strong family resemblance to the rest of Nissan's lineup. We did miss foglamps up front, no matter how useful, they would've at least looked better than the blanking plates in our tester. Again, small quibbles are about all we can muster.
It's not a big surprise that the Altima Coupe is so satisfying. What started out as the replacement for the Stanza has grown in size and sales numbers to occupy a slot once inhabited by the Maxima. The amount of bases covered by the Altima has also expanded; it's a car that offers something for virtually every automotive desire short of a wagon, and wouldn't that be tasty? There are commodious sedans with miserly four cylinders, a burly V6 is available in all flavors, as are standard transmissions. Hybrid powertrains are even available in the Altima, though not in the coupe. The Altima sedan was also recently named a "Best Value" by Consumer Reports, and that moniker could easily be applied to the 2.5S Coupe we drove, too. It's a stylish, satisfying car filled with a bucketload of equipment, and it returns decent fuel economy, retains a level of usefulness, and rang up $26,380 tally on the sticker (though can be had in the low $20k range). Its most direct competitor, perhaps, is the new Accord Coupe, but the Altima is a little more compact than the Accord, which now is classed a "large car." The Altima also drives with a certain sense of joie de vivre that's not always a standard feature in cars from other makers, and that enthusiasm is probably its most endearing trait.
All photos ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Hybrid joins line of sporty sedans.All-new affordable sport coupe.
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. Honda has the Accord Coupe. Toyota has a coupe, the Camry Solara. Nissan? Well, now it has one, too, the 2008 Altima Coupe.
Not a two-door knock off of the Altima sedan, the Coupe shares but one body panel with its four-door sibling. More important, the Coupe departs significantly from the sedan's dimensions. And with positive results.
It's a tauter set up, focused more on responsive handling than plush ride. Interior space is cozier, as it should be to fit the coupe mold. As such, though, it's more of a two-person transporter than a family vacation vehicle or a carpool commuter.
Power-wise, the Altima Coupe tops both the current Accord and Solara, although the 2008 models of those two have yet to appear in dealerships and we're expecting an overhaul of the Toyota. But in the meantime, the Altima Coupe, which borrows its engines and transmissions from the Altima sedan, holds the crown. And that crown's jewels are a 175-horsepower four-cylinder and a 270-horsepower V6. Each comes with either a truly delightful, six-speed manual or an optional Continuously Variable Transmission, a decidedly less delightful, although nominally more efficient, gearless CVT automatic that optimizes engine power, fuel economy and emissions levels. Nissan is very good at CVTs, but we find shifting the manual more fun.
Much of the Coupe interior is borrowed from the Altima sedan, so the dash has been well de-bugged. The layout is comfortable, with gauges, audio and climate control heads and storage facilities where they should be and in the expected quantities. Front bucket seats are unique to the Coupe, however, with more aggressive bolsters than their counterparts in the sedan. The CVT has a foot-operated parking brake, while the manual gearbox comes with handbrake that obstructs access to the cup holders in the center console.
Assembly quality and most interior materials are above par, as is fitment of exterior body panels. The look isn't terribly original, enlisting cues borrowed in large part from the sedan and from sportier coupes Nissan sells in Japan but currently not in the U.S. Perhaps its strongest point is that it's clearly a Nissan, a goal the car maker has been striving to achieve with its recent products.
Depending on trim level, the tires are either 60-aspect on 16-inch wheels or a marginally wider 55-aspect on 17-inch wheels, neither of which put enough rubber on the pavement to make the most of the Altima Coupe's suspension capabilities. Brake performance, while in no way troubling, would likely benefit from more expansive footprints, too.
The 2008 Altima Coupe is not a great car nor is it a standout in the segment. So it's not likely to light some internal, unquenchable fire in a buyer to drive the wheels off of it. But it is a well-built, good-looking, nicely packaged and competitively featured and priced two-door coupe.
The 2008 Nissan Altima sedan is available with four-cylinder or V6 power, manual or CVT automatic transmission, four different trim levels, and a bewildering array of option packages.
Altima 2.5 ($18,230) is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque (170 and 175, respectively, in California). Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, 60/40 split fold-down rear seats, power windows and door locks, cruise control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, metallic-look interior trim, pre-wiring for an audio system, an intelligent key with push-button starting, and 16-inch steel wheels. ABS and EBD are standard. Air conditioning does not come standard. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, an automatic is not available.
Altima 2.5 S ($20,080) and 2.5 S automatic ($20,580) add air conditioning, six-speaker AM/FM/CD, trip computer, and a greatly expanded option list. The 2.5 S Convenience Package ($1,050) adds an eight-way power driver's seat, audio controls in a leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic headlamps, and other appointments from the higher-line models; Convenience Plus ($2,150) includes a power glass sunroof, alloy wheels, and the Convenience Package. The 2.5 SL Package ($3,850) includes leather upholstery and most of the 3.5 SL features except the V6 engine. Bluetooth and the premium stereo can be added with the Connection Package ($1000).
Altima 3.5 SE comes with a six-speed manual ($24,080) or automatic transmission ($24,580) and a 3.5-liter V6 rated 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SE also adds 17-inch alloy wheels, power-adjustable driver's seat, steering-wheel mounted controls for audio and trip computer, a combination of wood and metallic interior trim, automatic headlamps, heated side view mirrors and other features, including power windows that can be raised or lowered with the key. Vehicle Dynamic Control ($900) is optional and is packaged with a full-size spare tire. The Sport Package ($1300) adds sunroof, fog lights, and a rear spoiler; the Premium Package ($4200) adds the Sport Package and the Connection Package with HID xenon headlamps, heated leather seats, and other interior features.
Altima 3.5 SL ($28,280) comes with a CVT automatic and most of the SE features, though it comes with 16-inch alloy wheels. The SL adds leather upholstery; dual-zone automatic climate control; heated front seats (with power lumbar support for the driver); power glass sunroof; fog lights; Bluetooth hands-free phone system; Homelink universal transceiver; and a nine-speaker Bose 6CD/MP3/WMA sound system with RDS, speed-sensitive volume control, and XM Satellite Radio.
A navigation system, a rearview camera, and XM Satellite Radio are available in various packages. A rear spoiler ($370), fog lights ($310), and splash guards ($135) are available as standalone options.
Altima Hybrid ($25,070) comes with cloth upholstery and uses a mix of base, midgrade and upgrade trim levels. The Hybrid features a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and Toyota's proven electric hybrid drive, with a CVT transmission, Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, dual-zone automatic climate control, and 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels. The electrically powered air conditioning works even when the engine is stopped. It can be loaded with the Hybrid Connection Package ($4,400) with leather upholstery and every available Altima feature except the navigation system, which is included in the Technology Package ($6,400), making a Hybrid Technology Package the ultimate Altima.
Safety features that come on all models include ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, an advanced air bag system, with frontal and side-impact airbags in front, full side curtain bags, active head restraints in front, and a tire pressure monitoring system. VDC electronic stability control is available on V6 models. The 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe comes in two models, the S with a 175-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and the SE with a 270-hp 3.5-liter V6.
The S ($20,490) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, manually operated six-way driver seat and four-way front passenger seat, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, trip computer, outside temperature gauge, folding split 60/40 rear seat, P215/60R16 tires on steel wheels, Intelligent Key.
The base transmission is a six-speed manual; optional is a continuously variable automatic, or CVT ($500).
Option packages for the S model include the Convenience Package ($1300) with eight-way, power driver seat with manual lumbar; automatic headlights; extendable visors with illuminated mirrors; leather-wrapped steering wheel with spoke-mounted, secondary audio controls; several auto-windows functions; a wood trim interior finish; trunk cargo net; and alloy wheels. The Premium Package ($5100) builds on the contents of the Convenience Package with leather-trimmed seats, door panels and shift knob; heated front seats; automatic dual-zone climate control; nine-speaker, Bose audio system with MP3/WMA capability, three-month trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio, speed-sensitive volume and RDS; auto-dimming inside rearview mirror; universal, programmable garage/gate remote; tilt-and-slide, power moonroof with sun shade; upgraded interior finishes; Bluetooth phone system; and illuminated center console lighting. The Technology Package ($2000) adds a navigation system, XM traffic information (includes three-month trial subscription), steering wheel-mounted controls and rearview backup camera. Moonroof ($850) and fog lamps ($310) are available.
The SE ($24,890) has the V6 and adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, eight-way power driver seat with manual lumbar, moonroof, power-window functions, automatic headlights, fog lamps, and P215/55R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Option packages for the SE include the Technology Package listed above and a Premium Package ($3200) that adds xenon high-intensity headlights to the Premium Package features above.
Dealer-installed accessories for both models include a moonroof wind deflector ($100), five-piece floor and trunk carpet mats ($175), and aluminum door kick plates ($85).
Safety features that come standard include the mandatory dual-stage frontal airbags for the front seats, front seat-mounted side airbags (to reduce injury to the upper body in side impacts), front- and rear-seat coverage side curtain airbags (to reduce injury to occupant's heads in side impacts), active front-seat head restraints (to reduce whiplash-type injuries in rear impacts), and LATCH rear-seat child safety seat tethers and anchors. Antilock brakes (which allow the driver to steer the car during panic stops) come standard, along with electronic brake-force distribution (which apportions brake force front to rear to maximize stopping power in emergencies). Traction control is standard only on the SE. Optional exclusively on the SE is Vehicle Dynamic Control (which helps the driver maintain control) with a limited-slip front differential ($600).
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. In styling the 2008 Altima Coupe, Nissan steered clear of any radical departures from the brand's established design cues while drawing heavily from what's already passed the eye test in Japan. Thus, what the U.S. market sees looks remarkably like the front half of the '07 Altima sedan grafted onto the back half of the brand's Japan-only sport coupe, the Skyline.
Front view, then, and despite the company's protestations that the only body panel the coupe shares with the sedan is the hood, presents a familiar face, which isn't particularly inspired or inspiring. A grille filled with an elongated egg-crate mesh bearing an oversize Nissan logo affixed smack in the middle is surrounded by a chrome strip interrupted only by a small gap at the bottom center. A squared-off air intake fills the lower valance, with spaces for the optional fog lamps at the outer ends. Multi-element, angular headlamp assemblies are recessed flush with the leading curves of the fenders. The best part is the sleek, unadorned hood sweeping back to a slippery looking windshield.
Side look is pure sport coupe. There's good balance between the longish hood, greenhouse and short boot, or trunk lid, with just the right amount of sheet metal between the cleanly outlined wheel arches. Credit for these proportions goes to a wheelbase (distance between the tires front to rear) shortened by four inches from the sedan, which enabled a shortened overall length (from bumper to bumper). Side mirrors that are neither too big nor too small and house thin secondary turn indicator lights snuggle into the forward lower angles of the windows. Tight seams and smooth lines add a quality look.
The back end shows a bit of a pinched bustle shape, fed by the arc of the roof flowing down and in toward the center point of the boot. It no doubt makes for reassuring stability at socially irresponsible speeds, but at rest it looks almost plump. The backlight, or rear window, swells at the sides, reducing the impression of mass while promising improved rear visibility from the driver's seat. The trunk opening dips in the middle, offering a welcome lift-over height for heavy objects of a couple inches more than two feet. Sporty, twin exhaust tips sit at the extremes of a blackened cutout in the bottom edge of the rear bumper. The widely spaced tires complement the car's sporty character, but a wider tread would contribute a more substantial and planted stance.
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. While the exterior shares almost nothing with the sedan, the interior is imported largely from the four-door sedan. This is far from a negative, as many elements of that interior fit quite comfortably into the coupe's sporty motif. Still, there are compromises that a clean-screen start might have avoided.
The dash, the major piece imported from the sedan, is functional, without being boring, stylish, without being frilly. Round registers that would be better if they could be shut like the rectangular ones at each end of the dash can be sit atop the center stack. The control heads for base and up-level audio systems fill the middle of the stack with buttons, knobs and display that are friendly to the eye and fingers. These give way to a 6.5-inch screen when the optional navigation system incorporating the audio controls is ordered. Below this is the panel for setting and directing the air conditioner.
At the base of the stack is a hinged cover on a storage bin, tucked away deep inside of which is the only power point even close to being accessible for plugging in a radar detector, and it'll be a stretch for all but the longest coiled cord.
In front of the driver, a perfectly decent triplet of circles shows engine speed, vehicle speed and fuel level and coolant status. LCDs inset in the bases of the speedometer and conditional gauge display trip and various safety-related data and personalized settings. At the lower right corner is the big red button the so-called Intelligent Key system forces the driver to push to start and stop the engine. That same button, by the way, becomes nothing more than a colorful decoration when somebody drives away leaving the key fob behind.
The shift lever occupies the forward portion of the center console separating the front bucket seats. The CVT version has a foot-operated parking brake. Next to the shift lever for the manual gearbox is the handbrake, which even when unengaged sits up at just about the right height to trip the bottom of a coffee cup or soda as it's lifted out of or placed in one of the cup holders situated between the shift boot and the bi-level center storage bin. There are two more cup holders in the rear seat. The fixed pockets in each door are too small for maps but do have molds that fit half-liter water bottles, which, by contrast, are too small for the center console holders, readily flopping this way and that through the mildest maneuvers.
Seats are unique to the Coupe, with more aggressive bolsters better befitting the Coupe's sporty aspirations. There's adequate thigh support, and the front-passenger seatback gets a release lever on the inboard side for the driver to use for easing access to the rear seat. That access isn't particularly awkward, as in addition to the seatback folding, the front seat slides forward in its track. Only problem is, the front seat forgets its settings, returning to some pre-set, default position in its track and seatback angle. Seeing as how there are coupes costing the same and even less than the Altima with seats that manage to remember their settings, this is inexcusable.
Materials and finish are good quality, nothing special, but a step or two above mid-grade. Tactile feel isn't cheap, but neither does it suggest anybody stretched the budget. This is one of the few cars where the leather treatment is more inviting than the cloth, as the latter looked and felt as if it were picked by accountants rather than stylists. Still, seams and gaps were tight, and everything looked solidly assembled.
Against the 2007 Honda Accord Coupe and the 2007 Toyota Camry Solara, the '08 Altima Coupe takes a middle of the road approach. Front-seat head room trails the Accord by the merest fraction of an inch but tops the Solara by almost two inches; rear-seat head room trails both, although by less than an inch. Leg room, front and rear, splits the difference. As does rear-seat hip room, while front-seat h.
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. The Nissan Altima Coupe drives like a well-tuned front-wheel-drive car. There's a major front-end weight bias, ranging from 60/40 front/rear in the four-cylinder manual to 63/37 front/rear in the V6 CVT, but the relatively short wheelbase and uniquely tuned suspensions for each of the trim levels do a decent job of compensating. Buyers shouldn't expect sports car handling, though, as quick, left-right-left transitions set the relatively light back end to wallowing as it tries to keep up.
Steering is respectably responsive, not especially crisp, but with competent turn-in and feedback through the steering wheel. When pushed, understeer (where the car wants to go straight instead of turning) is the dominant characteristic, as expected. Power steering assist levels seem to differ between the S and SE, with the SE's steering feeling significantly lighter and the S the more comfortable on both straight-as-an-arrow interstates and squiggly two-lanes.
Of the two transmissions, the six-speed manual is the clear choice for fun driving. Six speeds seem to be overkill, as everyday driving requires but three or four, and the car isn't meant for race track duty. But the manual is more relaxed and manageable, and, quite frankly, a better manual transmission in terms of sharp, precise gear selection and tight shift patterns than even the six-speed manual in the vaunted BMW 3 Series.
The CVT, on the other hand, seems lazy and ill at ease, leaving the engines wandering about their power curves and often sounding as if they're straining even if they aren't. Which, in truth, most of the time they aren't, as the electronics managing the CVT attempt to keep the engines at their optimum efficiency levels vis-a-vis power output, fuel economy and emissions. It's just that they sound so uncomfortable, like over-worked, under-powered engines, that it's difficult to believe otherwise.
Yes, the V6 is the preferred choice of drivers for whom the most important measure of a car's desirability is being the first across the intersection from a stop light or attracting the attention of cars with flashing red lights. Given the reality check of today's gas prices, though, and the quite competent performance of the Altima's four cylinder, which in basic power ratings easily tops the class, there's little reason to pay more either now to the dealer or later at the gas pump.
Like the rest of the hardware, the brakes are competent, if not notably impressive either in pedal feel or stopping performance. Brake and accelerator pedal juxtaposition accommodates heel-and-toe downshifts, but it's a stretch, or a twist of the ankle, actually.
Powertrain sounds aren't significantly intrusive, save of course for the roaming whine and groans of the engine as it wanders seemingly aimlessly through the CVT's infinite ratios. There's little wind noise, but the tires will keep the occupants well informed of pavement quality.
As for how it fares versus the Accord Coupe and Solara, the former is better balanced, with a good blend of handling and ride, while the latter tends to emphasize ride over handling, making it the more comfortable vehicle over long distances.
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. The 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is a nice two-door coupe. Elements of its styling hint at what Nissan hopes it will do to brighten up the Altima brand. But it lacks the spark, in looks and performance, that's essential to give a coupe the personality to be an image leader.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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). Nissan Altima Coupe S ($20,490); SE ($24,890).
Smyrna, Tennessee; Canton, Mississippi. Smyrna and Decherd, Tennessee.
Options As Tested
Technology Package ($2000), including navigation system, rearview monitor and XM satellite radio. CVT ($500); carpeted floor/trunk mats ($175).
Nissan Altima 3.5 SL ($28,280). Nissan Altima Coupe S ($20,490).
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