2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid

Nissan seems pretty tentative about the whole hybrid thing, with a lone hybrid model that is only sold in a handful of states (CA, CT, MA, ME, NJ, NY, OR, RI, and VT, to be exact). The Altima's hybrid system is essentially the same as that in the Toyota Camry hybrid, although Nissan pairs it with its own 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. As in the Camry, a continuously variable automatic is the only transmission. The Altima hybrid would appear to be very much a me-too vehicle, but in many ways it's actually more satisfying than the Camry hybrid.

The first thing everyone wants to know about hybrids is their fuel economy, and the Altima's is quite good, with EPA ratings of 35 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, about on a par with the Toyota's 33/34 mpg ratings. With the steep hills in my town, I rarely get close even to the city mpg figures during the week I spend in a test car, but in the Altima hybrid I averaged an indicated 33 mpg.

There was no display to watch the energy flow amongst the engine, the battery pack, and the regenerative brakes (it's included with the navigation option, which this car didn't have), but I was able to monitor instant and average fuel economy via a readout in the gauge cluster; there's also a light that comes on to indicate when you're in EV mode.

Compared to the Camry hybrid, the Altima's powertrain corrals 11 more ponies, and they're saddled with about 200 fewer pounds, so acceleration is reasonably brisk. As with all hybrids, there's a brief shudder when the engine comes on or shuts down, and a bit of an electric whir, which is more futuristic-sounding than offensive. There's also a bit of surging and slowing as the batteries kick in and then lay off, but you're unlikely to notice it unless you drive at a steady speed on flat roads.

Like all hybrids, the Altima has electrically-assisted power steering, which can make for limp, lifeless steering, but Nissan has done an admirable job tuning this system. With its heavy battery pack located just behind the rear seat, the Altima hybrid's rear suspension exhibits a bit more up-and-down motion than other Altimas, but it's not as pronounced as in the Camry hybrid (possibly because of the Toyota carries more weight). Overall, though, the Altima manages to take the edge off bumps without the penalty of soggy handling.

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