9.30.2008

Nissan Altima Hybrid Review



In the past decade or so, I've probably driven 20 or more hybrids...ten of them Toyota Priuses. But the Nissan Altima Hybrid is the only one where someone stopped me...in traffic...wanting to talk about it.

We were at a stoplight and he and his wife motioned furiously for me to roll down the window. I thought maybe I had a flat...or a fire. Nope. They noticed the rather discreet "hybrid" badge on the trunk. It was a short red light, so a short conversation.

Until the next red light...when he had more questions. It took two more stoplights (by then I'd just left the window down) for him to get to the big question:

"What kinda mileage you getting?"

I blew his mind. I told him the truth. 35 in the city.

I think he may have driven straight to the nearest Nissan dealer. If I were in the market, I might do the same thing. The Altima Hybrid is the lowest-hype, least-gimmicky hybrid out there. If there wasn't a badge on the trunk and a discreet energy management display, you'd think you were driving a regular Altima sedan.

The window sticker showed an EPA estimated 35 city/33 highway. So I figured I might get 30 or 32 if I babied it. And then, because the car is so...normal...I drove it like any other car (yes, I play a Prius like a video game, trying to squeeze the mpg number ever higher).

Son of a gun. It got 35. And I wasn't being careful.

For most people, an Altima is about the right size for a sedan...so the hybrid option makes a ton of sense...improving the gasoline version's mileage by 35%...and at a reasonable price.

The sticker starts at $25,070. Loaded with leather, heated power seats, Bluetooth, A Bose 9-speaker AM/FM/XM/6-CD/mp3 audio system, rear passenger air conditioning vents and more, the bottom line was $30,375.

Yes, it's more expensive than the gasoline version comparably equipped...but not a lot more. And it's in line with prices for a well-equipped sedan. And you can spend that much on a loaded Prius, which is a much smaller car. Nissan's hit a serious bulls-eye here. Let's hope people (like that guy in traffic) notice.

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