2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid

Ann Arbor If the Accord Hybrid--Honda's quickest Accord--is the athlete of mid-size hybrid sedans and the Toyota Camry, with its technology-laden cabin and fuel-sipping efficiency, is the brainiac, then the new Altima Hybrid strives to be the multitalented golden child who pleases everyone. Everyone, that is, in the low-emissions states in which it will be sold: California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island.

Unlike the lavishly equipped Honda and Toyota, the Altima Hybrid sacrifices standard equipment to keep its base price at about $22,000. Since Nissan borrowed its hybrid components from Toyota, the Altima can accelerate to nearly 40 mph using only electricity (key words: pedal finesse), just like the Camry Hybrid. Yet the 2.5-liter gasoline four outpowers the Camry's, and an estimated EPA city rating of 41 mpg is tops in this class.

The Altima's chassis is compliant on smooth, winding roads, but with an extra 306 pounds of hybrid equipment to carry, the suspension stumbles over rough pavement and sometimes floats on the freeway. After some initial harshness at low speeds, the engine and the electric motors work in harmony with the slick, silent, planetary-type CVT, culminating in a surge of impressive passing power.

The Altima continues to make ground on the Camry and the Accord, but with borrowed components and a limited distribution area, the Altima Hybrid isn't exactly a tour de force.

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