The 2008 Nissan Altima's major competitors, such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, are not particularly sporty vehicles, even in their most aggressive trims. With the Altima, Nissan offers a stark contrast, and though it might not be quite as comfortable as those other sedans, it provides a much more exciting ride for the performance enthusiast.
The 2008 Nissan Altima is offered with a pair of engine options, which are denoted by the number on its decklid. Edmunds describes the available engines as "either a 2.5-liter inline-4 with 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque (on the 2.5 trims) or a 3.5-liter V6 with 270 hp and 258 lb-ft (on the 3.5 trims)." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that either engine is very capable of moving the Nissan Altima with ease, but reviewers are particularly impressed with the six-cylinder found on the 3.5s. Car and Driver testers posted some of the best acceleration times in their Nissan Altima 3.5 SE, "getting from 0 to 60 at 5.9 seconds" on the stopwatch. Edmunds says "strong performance from the V6 models should more than satisfy those who like a kick in the pants when they boot the gas." In terms of the lower-output four-cylinder on the Nissan Altima 2.5, there are still plenty of positive terms thrown around. ConsumerGuide says that the "conventional 4-cylinder models" are "sprightly from a stop and show good highway passing response," and they rate the 2008 Nissan Altima 2.5 S above the class average in terms of acceleration.
Enthusiasm for the engines available on the 2008 Nissan Altima is moderated slightly by the transmissions that they are paired with. ConsumerGuide finds that "a 6-speed manual transmission is standard on all but the 3.5 SL," which features a standard "continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT)" that the Altima Nissan offers as "optional on all but the base 2.5" version. For its part, the CVT, which features simulated gear ratios, scores well with reviewers; Cars.com considers it "about as good as they come in terms of responsiveness." Additionally, Road & Track testers say that the transmission felt "like it was returning downshifts a bit snappier than most sequential-shift automatics." However, the six-speed manual doesn't quite live up to the performance bar set by the engines. Edmunds says that the "clutch engagement is abrupt and its shifter feels unsubstantial and moves through its gates with all the precision of a $10 Folex watch." Car and Driver writers agree, noting "the shifter clunks through its prominent detents," making the Altima "no BMW in this regard; no Honda, either."
Choosing a CVT has typically meant sacrificing the driver involvement that a manual offers in exchange for slightly better fuel economy. On the 2008 Nissan Altima, fuel economy is virtually identical between the two transmission choices. Cars.com observes that, "compared to the manual transmission, the CVT's gas mileage estimates are slightly worse with the four-cylinder," and the EPA estimates that the CVT will return 23/31 mpg versus the manual's 23/32 mpg. For the six-cylinder engines, the EPA estimates that drivers can expect 19/26 mpg with the CVT and 19/27 mpg with the manual. These fuel numbers are "impressive considering the car's power," according to Edmunds, and ConsumerGuide also mentions that the Nissan "Altima has a 20-gal fuel tank, among the largest in the midsize-car class."
Handling and ride characteristics of the 2008 Nissan Altima provide another opportunity for reviewers to heap praise upon the car. Edmunds opens by writing that "with its sporty suspension tuning" and "quick steering," the 2008 Nissan Altima offers "one of the most enjoyable" enthusiast driving experiences available in a family sedan. Other reviews of the steering and handling indicate few complaints. Cars.com praises the "predictable responses" afforded by the "power rack-and-pinion steering system," although ConsumerGuide adds that steering can be "a bit light." Handling has been improved due to some design changes that Car and Driver says make the Altima "unruly no more," thanks to the minimization of the old model's "nasty" torque steer. The brakes on the 2008 Nissan Altima are acceptable, with Cars.com finding that the "all-disc brakes have a natural feel," but Edmunds points out that "stops from 60 mph" are "only average for this class."