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2008 Nissan Altima ReviewThe Good
The roomy, economical, and well-equipped Altima offers a smartly styled, high value-for-price option in the midsize sedan segment.The Bad
Some find the Altima’s sporty ride harsh and want to upgrade interior components.
The CarGurus View
A nicely styled midsize sedan, the Altima provides sporty, economical transportation that can give the Honda Accord a run for its money.
At a Glance
Last year's more-refined fourth-generation Altima sedan set sales records and ranked highest among midsize sedans in a J.D. Power and Associates study. The 2008 edition sees ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) added to the standard equipment list.
The sleekly designed, front-wheel-drive Altima looks more like a sports coupe than a sedan. Its performance and overall feel also tend toward the sporty side compared to its top-ranked competitors, the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. The Altima is fun to drive, economical, well-built, reliable, and roomy.
Available in five trims, the Altima line-up includes the entry-level four-cylinder 2.5, the better-equipped 2.5S, the sporty V6-powered 3.5SE, the 3.5SL luxury six-cylinder, and the Altima Hybrid.
The Altima line-up includes three engines. The 2.5 and 2.5S are powered by a DOHC 2.5-liter, 175-hp four cylinder that gets 180 ft-lbs of torque and was refined with a larger intake manifold, increased compression ratio, and reduced internal friction for its 2007 fourth-generation upgrade.
The 2.5-liter four provides plenty of power for normal driving, with the added value of better fuel economy than the V6. Reviewers recorded mid-7-second 0-60 runs. The EPA rates the 2.5-liter engine/CVT drivetrain at 23/32 mpg on regular fuel.
Nissan’s award-winning 3.5-liter, DOHC 24-valve V6 – a close relative of the Nissan 350Z's engine - powers the 3.5SE and 3.5SL trims with 270 hp and 258 ft-lbs of torque. Reviewers report 6.6-second 0-60 runs with the 3.5SE CVT sedan (one hot driver did it in 6.3 seconds), and the EPA rates this drivetrain at 19/26 mpg on premium fuel.
The standard Altima transmission is a six-speed manual, which some reviewers find notchy and awkward-shifting. The optional transmission is Nissan’s Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual mode, which allows for six simulated gears, giving the driver a very responsive six-speed “manual” transmission experience. Overall, reviewers credit Nissan with making the best CVT-type transmission. They find it more responsive than a regular automatic and recommend it over the six-speed manual.
The Altima Hybrid's drivetrain borrows from the best, employing Toyota’s well-tested and highly rated hybrid technology. Nissan couples a detuned version of its 2.5-liter four, generating 158 hp, to a permanent-magnet AC synchronous motor-generator that produces up to 40 hp. Thus the Altima Hybrid puts out a total of 198 hp. The electric motor has enough low-end torque that it alone can get the Hybrid moving from a standing start. Once up to speed, the gas engine takes over as the electric motor shuts down, but it kicks in when required, such as during a passing maneuver. The Hybrid’s only available transmission, a CVT unit called eCVT, works with the master control system to determine the proper power outputs. Regenerative braking is also employed to recharge the 245-volt nickel-metal hydride battery – no need to plug anything in! EPA estimates are 35/33 mpg, comparable to the Toyota Camry Hybrid at 34/34 mpg.
Ride & Handling
Altima Sedans are highly rated for their sporty handling and responsive engines. One reviewer in a 3.5SL found the suspension quite firm and responsive through switchback turns with good steering feedback, though another review found the steering too light. In general, reviewers found no harshness over rough roads. They credit the Altima’s stiff chassis with keeping noise and vibration down, though they could hear bumps being whacked by the front wheels.
Reviewers love the Atlima’s CVT transmission because it does everything they command once set in manual mode. The Altima Hybrid shares these solid handling characteristics, though some reviewers claim it rides a little harder and is a little less agile due to its extra weight.
Reviewers agree in rating the Altima’s brakes as mediocre, with the car producing 60-0-mph stops in the 126-to-134-foot range, which is considered only average for this class. All 2008 models come with four-channel, four-sensor ABS and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD).
Cabin & Comfort
The four-door Altima sedan seats five in its roomy, comfortable cabin. Nissan upgraded the Altima’s interior materials last year, and reviewers responded enthusiastically, noting the rich feel of the optional leather appointments and the use of soft materials on padded armrests. Many reviewers comment on the new four-spoke steering wheel, which replaces the previous industrial-designed one, for its originality of design.
Front seats offer a good mix of comfort and support. Some were disappointed with rear-seat room and deemed it comfortable only for folks under six feet, but some reviewers were surprised at the roominess back there despite the Altima's offering less head- and legroom than its competitors. The rear seats split-fold 60/40 and open onto a 15.3-cubic-foot trunk.
Some reviewers compliment the dash design, center stack, console, and everything inside as integrating simplicity with the feel of quality in a midlevel sedan. The well-laid-out dashboard is populated with comfortable knobs and switches, all within easy reach. Three circular gauges face the driver: tachometer, speedometer, and gas and engine temperature. LCD readouts for trip and various safety and personal data appear in the bases of those larger gauges.
An Intelligent Key with push-button ignition is standard across the Altima line. This “smart key” system allows whoever has the key in his or her pocket to open the locked car with the push of a button on the door handle and start and stop it with the press of a big red pushbutton.
Storage spaces are sprinkled throughout the interior: The base of the center stack has a covered storage bin with a power point deep inside, two cupholders sit between the shift boot and the bi-level center storage bin, with two more in the rear seat, and there are storage bins in the door panels.
Nissan’s option packaging system has drawn strong criticism from some reviewers for forcing potential buyers into overly expensive linked option packages, instead of offering individual options.
The base 2.5 comes with only the bare essentials: cloth upholstery, power windows and door locks, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 16-inch steel wheels, and the intelligent key system. It has no air-conditioning or audio system, and only the six-speed manual is available.
The 2.5S adds air-conditioning, AM/FM/CD, a trip computer, and the optional CVT transmission, and opens the gates to option packages. For example, the 2.5SL Package includes most of the 3.5SL's features and leather upholstery, but not the V6 engine.
Moving up to the Altima 3.5SE brings a big jump in performance with the V6 and its standard six-speed manual or optional CVT transmission. This trim also adds 17-inch alloy wheels and a power-adjustable driver’s seat, among other options. It’s only at this level that the Vehicle Dynamic Control option is offered, as is a Sports Package.
The top-end trim is the 3.5SL, in which the CVT transmission is standard as well as most of the SE's features. It also includes leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a power glass sunroof, foglights, Bluetooth, a premium stereo, and more. A navigation system and rearview camera are also available.
The Altima Hybrid comes with standard cloth upholstery and mixes base, middle, and luxury trim features. It features Nissan’s eCVT transmission, Vehicle Dynamic Control, traction control, dual-zone automatic climate control, and 16-inch alloy wheels. There is a Hybrid Connection Package that includes leather upholstery and every other Altima option except the nav system, which can be added with the Technology Package.
Standard safety features on all Altima models include four-wheel ABS disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, frontal and side-impact airbags in front, full side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers, front active head restraints, and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Altimas are rated safe in government crash tests. The Altima sedan received a top five-star rating in front and side impact tests and a four-star rating in rear passenger side impact tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
What Owners Think
Owners give high ratings to both the four- and six-cylinder versions of the Altima sedan. Four-cylinder owners love the car’s economy, with a number of them reporting 30+ mpg, and V6 owners love the car’s performance. The CVT gets quite a bit of praise, and even the six-speed has positive comments. Styling is also a big hit among owners. Overall, owners praise the value and quality of the car, and the “smart key” system receives consistent praise.
On the negative side, some complain of a rough ride/stiff suspension, a noisy engine (especially the 2.5-liter four), and cheap interior bits, but the positive comments definitely outweigh these, with a number of owners saying they have no negatives to report.
by Albert A. Dalia
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