If you want to enjoy the benefits of a hybrid's great mileage, there's a new way to do it-buy the new fourth-generation Nissan Altima.
A true midsize car now, the Altima would be a fine choice even without its fuel sipping ways and atmosphere friendliness. The previous model was a clean design that set in motion a complete redesign of the entire Nissan line. The new Altima takes the same smooth-sided themes and gives them a kick. The sculpted surfaces are bolder and the grille features the center drop section that is being phased in as a Nissan styling cue. The rear haunches are more pronounced and the taillamps extend way forward, resembling glass tubes of Christmas decorations. The look is clean, modern, and distinctive.
The hybrid part comes from Toyota, whose Prius is the "Kleenex" of the gas/electric world. Everybody knows what it is. Nissan was wise to recognize that and simply license the technology. They attached it to their own 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT). The engine and electric motor together generate just under 200 horsepower, so performance is pretty strong.
Hybrids like this work by combining a modest engine with an electric motor to power the car. The vehicle runs on pure electricity at low speeds on level ground as long as the powertrain senses no need for the engine to start up. At higher speeds and on hills, the engine and motor work together. During stops, the gas engine shuts down and immediately restarts automatically when the driver presses down on the accelerator. Braking sets up a regenerative process that fills the battery with electric charge. There is no reason or way to plug the car in.
With the borrowed Toyota's system comes a display screen that shows the flow of power from the engine and motor and also when the battery is being charged or powering the motor.
The EPA gives the Altima Hybrid mileage ratings of 42 city, 36 highway-not quite Prius numbers but still quite good. My actual mileage for the test week was 31.7 mpg, which is good but definitely lower. The 2008 model lists mileage as 35 City and 33 highway-much more realistic-because the entire industry uses a new measurement scale for 2008.
The EPA rates the Altima Hybrid as an Advanced Technology-Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), and awards it a 9.5 for the Air Pollution score and a 9 for the Greenhouse Gas score. That's the third best in the entire industry, just below the Toyota Prius at No. 1 and the much smaller Honda Civic Hybrid at No. 2.
My family went for a ride in the Dark Slate test Altima Hybrid to visit my son and daughter-in-law a couple of hours north of home. The Altima Hybrid proved to be a fine freeway cruiser, with power to pass and little wind or road noise to intrude on the serenity. Later, we fit all five of us into it with no trouble.
The car comes well equipped, with what people expect today on all but the most basic transportation unit--keyless remote, cruise control, AM/FM/CD, air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, intermittent wipers, window defoggers, and the like. Nice extras include dual zone climate control, an auxiliary audio jack, 16-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlamps, and chrome exhaust finishers.
The list of safety features includes power anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, vehicle dynamic control, traction control, and Nissan's Advanced Air Bag System. The car's computer keeps very busy monitoring all this life-saving high-tech stuff.
There are a few options, but the big one is the Technology Package, which, for $7,250, adds a huge assortment of goodies, starting with the Nissan Navigation System. You also get power-adjustable seats wrapped in leather and heated, XM Satellite Radio, a moonroof, rear spoiler, Bose audio upgrade, leather on the shift knob and steering wheel, and lots more. With that package, my car came to $32,365-not at all cheap. The base price is $24,400, and just for reference, a standard Nissan Altima sedan starts at $17,950 plus a $625 destination charge.
With proven technology and completely fresh styling inside and out, the Altima Hybrid is a welcome addition to the green way of motoring.