The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid provides yet another alternative in a growing list of midsize hybrid sedans that includes the new Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. But Nissan is hedging its bets. Not only does the Altima Hybrid trail the introduction of the gasoline-electric pioneers – Honda Insight and Toyota Prius – by several years, Nissan is also making it available only in those states that have adopted the more stringent emissions standards pioneered by California. So unless you live in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island or Vermont, the Altima Hybrid is maddeningly out of the average consumer's reach. The Altima employs technology developed by Toyota – the solidly-proven Hybrid Synergy Drive, which is used under license by Nissan.
YOU'LL LIKE THIS CAR IF...
The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid delivers an appealing combination of midsize sedan interior roominess with hybrid fuel efficiency, plus the athletic responses and braking performance that distinguish the Altima among its contemporaries.
YOU MAY NOT LIKE THIS CAR IF...
The Nissan Altima Hybrid's battery pack and other hybrid hardware add almost 400 pounds to curb weight and reduce trunk space by about 50 percent. And if you want a hybrid that can't be mistaken for anything else, such as Toyota's Prius, the Altima may not send a strong enough visual message.
WHAT'S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THIS CAR
Automatic locks are added to the standard equipment roster, as are four new exterior colors.
The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid shares the firm ride, brisk responses, limited body roll, precise steering and excellent braking that make all Altimas fun to drive, though some of that is mitigated by the extra mass that goes with the hybrid system. The Hybrid's electric motor gives it a power bonus versus the standard Altima, but the extra weight imposes some penalty on acceleration, so the actual performance differences between the two are small. However, as with all hybrids, prolonged heavy acceleration will exhaust the battery pack, whereupon the system falls back on engine power alone.
OUR FAVORITE FEATURES
Optional Power Energy Flow Display
This center-stack screen continuously monitors what the various elements of the hybrid system are doing when the Altima is in motion: When the car is operating on engine power alone, when the electric motor is adding a power boost, when regenerative braking is replenishing battery power and when the electric motor is functioning as a generator.
Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT)
Like other CVTs, this "gearless" automatic helps to optimize fuel efficiency and its operation is exceptionally smooth.
Nissan interiors had come under considerable attack in years past, but the 2009 Altima Hybrid effectively silences all critics. In addition to improved interior quality, the new Altima's instrument package is easier to read, and the Hybrid edition includes the option of a central readout that tracks the activities of the hybrid system; it's useful for owners who want to maximize economy and it's also entertaining to observe. The sporty front seats are exceptionally supportive and the glovebox is commendably roomy.
The latest Altima is slightly downsized from the last generation – 2.5 inches shorter, on a wheelbase that's been trimmed by almost an inch – but it looks sportier, thanks to a slightly wider stance, a windshield with a steeper rake and distinctive taillights. However, aside from a small badge on the trunk lid and aluminum alloy wheels specific to this model, there's little to distinguish the Hybrid from the rest of the Altima lineup.
NOTABLE STANDARD EQUIPMENT
Like most contemporary midsize sedans, even the basic Altima is well equipped, and the Hybrid is a little more so. Standard features include power locks with remote keyless entry, power side mirrors, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio and a steering wheel with tilt and telescope adjustment, plus spoke-mounted switches for the cruise control. Safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS) with four-wheel discs, dual-stage front seat airbags and front and rear side-curtain airbags.
Nissan Altima Hybrid options are grouped into three packages, which essentially build on one another. The Convenience package adds an eight-way power driver's seat and a one-touch up/down function to the front passenger window. The Connection package includes Convenience package features plus, power sunroof, side-mirror turn signal repeaters, leather trimmed seats (heated front) with driver's power lumbar support and a premium AM/FM/CD nine-speaker Bose audio system with XM Satellite Radio, plus Bluetooth phone connectivity. The top-of-the-line Technology package includes Convenience and Connection package features plus Nissan's navigation system, a rear-view camera, a hybrid power energy flow tracking display and XM Satellite Radio with real-time traffic reports. A power glass sunroof is the one standalone option for the S trim.
UNDER THE HOOD
Although the hybrid technology comes from Toyota, Nissan has adapted it to Altima powertrain hardware. The engine is the Altima's basic 2.5-liter four-cylinder, detuned slightly (from 175 horsepower to 158) and augmented on demand by a 40-horsepower electric motor. Power goes to the front wheels through a Nissan electronically continuously variable transmission (eCVT). Like other transmissions of this type, the Nissan eCVT does not shift gears as a conventional automatic transmission. This results in smooth acceleration that can be somewhat disconcerting until you become familiar with its operation. Like Toyota hybrids, the Altima is capable of creeping along on battery power alone, and its electric motor becomes a generator that renews the battery pack when the car is coasting.
2.5-liter in-line 4 with 105-kilowatt Permanent Magnetic Synchronous Electric Motor
158 horsepower @ 5200 rpm/40 horsepower@1500 rpm (198 net horsepower)
162 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2800 rpm/199 lb.-ft. of torque @0-1500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 35/33
Like other vehicles offering combination power sources, there's a price premium for the Nissan Altima Hybrid. At just under $28,000, the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is roughly $4,000 more than a basic Altima 2.5 S with a CVT. However, the Hybrid includes some standard features absent in the Altima S, such as antilock braking and steering wheel audio controls. The price premium for the Altima Hybrid is less than the difference between a basic Toyota Camry automatic and a Camry Hybrid, but it cannot beat the much smaller difference between the Saturn Aura XE and Aura Hybrid. Our New Car Blue Book link can give you specifics on what buyers are typically paying for this new model in its limited markets. In terms of resale value, the Altima Hybrid fares well over time, slightly trailing the Camry Hybrid and remaining just above the Aura Hybrid.