2008 Altima New Car Test Drive
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).