Nissan Altima Hybrid

 By The Car Family

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Not for sale everywhere. Pity. This is the best hybrid you can buy for family usage. Unlike the competition it does not come fully loaded and so it is priced less than the high-line Toyota Prius with a MSRP of $25,000. Of course, it does not get the fuel mileage of the much smaller Prius, but it is quicker and sportier to drive.

The downside of the Altima hybrid is a spare interior with difficult to read gauges and front seats that could stand more padding. The engine can be a little rough, too, but with 36 mpg who cares? Another plus is that the Nissan comes with the same basic components as the Toyota’s Synergy Drive system, but sells for less. You also lose trunk space and the back seats don’t fold down due the battery pack and you are driving proven technology. In other words, the heart of this Nissan is Toyota.

Is it worth more than the regular Altima? Yes, for sure, if you don’t need the larger cargo carrying capacity and can scrimp on options. It is spunky with a soft ride and when you ask for acceleration you get plenty of it and right now. The Altima comes with a continuously variable transmission and regenerative braking and the brake feel is the best we have ever had in a hybrid.

Mom’s view: The back seats are wonderful. It drives like a luxury car, accelerates like a sports car, and gets fuel mileage that is astounding. Can you say 600 miles plus on a tank? You might want to upgrade the base interior a bit, but I loved the smart key that enabled me to start the Altima with a push of a button. The navigation system was well above average, but the radio reception was poor. The trunk is five cubic feet smaller than the regular Altima, which certainly diminishes its usefulness.

Safety wise the Altima Hybrid earned top safety marks and comes with standard traction control and a Vehicle Dynamic Control System as well as a tire pressure monitoring. The rear view camera is the best there is and you must have it if you park anywhere there are children or in a mall. Visibility is excellent in all directions. The Altima has dual-stage supplemental front airbags, side-impact airbags and a curtain side airbag.

For the money this is as good as it gets for a family vehicle. It runs clean, gets exceptional gas mileage, and is well priced. I like it better than the Toyota Camry, but that is due to the Nissan’s handling and good visibility. Don’t buy another hybrid without testing the Altima.

Young working male’s view: Altima Hybrid is boring. The interior is a let down even with a good voice-recognition system, Bluetooth hands-free calling interface, and responsive handling. If you get the optional Digital Bose Stereo with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and nine speakers you are lucky. The base unit sucks. The 6.5-inch touch-screen GPS is run by a DVD and has one terrific feature and that is a Where am I screen that even provides local traffic incident reports. The monitor also tilts to avoid sun glare, somewhat. Driving a car with a CVT is dull with very little feel when you demand some excitement. I’d pass on this one and wait for the next generation of diesel cars if you want fuel mileage and some pep.

Working woman’s view: There is plenty to admire in this rather bland looking vehicle. You have dual zone automatic temperature control, power windows and a driver’s trip computer and the hybrid’s standard audio system is an AM/FM single-disc CD player with six-speakers and an auxiliary audio input jack. Get the optional Bose system or you’ll be sorry.

Now for the sad part. Even though it uses the proven Toyota hybrid system, the past reliability scores for Nissan products isn’t the best. However, I believe this is changing and if they can get their sales and service people to perform as the Altima hybrid does they should be in excellent shape. I would take the risk.

Dad’s view: Nissan’s CVT is as good as Audi’s. The interior layout is easy to master with good quality materials, albeit with need for a bit more feel in the switches. The steering is too soft for me, but it makes parking a breeze and the suspension on the hybrid is stiffer than the regular Altima making cornering a bit easier, but not in the Maxima’s territory. The brakes are very good, but they are regenerative and so have an initial soft feel. They have a better feel than all other hybrids except the Lexus.

The 2.5-liter, 162 horsepower four cylinder is adequate even without the electric back-up, and you can take pride in knowing that the Altima has a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle standing and even meets the Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle requirements.

Family conference: Check it out. This is the best bargain in the hybrid field and we have tested them all except for those from General Motors.

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