2008 Nissan Altima Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 5, 2008

The 2008 Nissan Altima is a little sportier, though not less sensible.

The seasoned car reviewers at TheCarConnection.com have read the best competitive reviews on the new 2008 Nissan Altima to pull together this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com’s editors also drove the 2008 Nissan Altima to help bring you the most useful information on the Nissan and compare it with the many other mid-size sedan models.

The 2008 Nissan Altima is largely carried over, after the Altima bowed for 2007 with a sleek new body that rides on a wheelbase one inch shorter than the previous version. Underneath the hood, the Altima sports a 270-horsepower version of Nissan's well-regarded 3.5-liter DOHC V-6, making this generation the most powerful Altima ever. And the big V-6 can also be paired with a six-speed manual transmission, unlike the ritzier Maxima sedan, which shares the same running gear but comes only with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Standard versions of the Altima are powered, as before, by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower. This engine may also be teamed with the six-speed manual gearbox, or you can choose the Xtronic CVT.

With either of the engines, the Altima feels decidedly sportier than much of the competition. We especially like the "shiftless" CVT transmission, which operates seamlessly, reduces noise in cruising, and actually seems more responsive than a normal automatic. With a rather taut suspension, it feels especially sporty, yet rides well enough to soak up most bumps. The 2008 Nissan Altima has an interior that feels positively functional, rather than gimmicky, with neat, attractive styling and nice materials, but its backseat could be tight for taller adults.

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For 2008, standard equipment has been bolstered on the Nissan Altima. The Intelligent Key with Push Start Ignition--a system that allows you to keep the "key" in your pocket and use an ignition button to start the engine--is now standard. Bluetooth is an option, and a rearview monitor and navigation system are also available. Factory-installed XM Satellite Radio is another option on the 2008 Nissan Altima.

All model levels get front, side, and curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes are now standard across the line. Electronic stability control is still not offered on the four-cylinder models. The 2008 Nissan Altima has performed well in both sets of crash tests, with top five-star results in the federal tests and Good ratings from the insurance-affiliated IIHS--except for Marginal ratings in the seat-based rear-impact test.

8

2008 Nissan Altima

Styling

The 2008 Nissan Altima offers strong styling cues and a practical interior that give it a distinct flair.

Nissan's mid-size sedan, the Nissan Altima, underwent a redesign for the 2007 model year. It returns for 2008 with the same styling both inside and out that reviewers from across the Web find attractive and contemporary.

The 2008 Nissan Altima arrives in showrooms in four different trim varieties, though they feature few external differences. Edmunds lists the available trims as "base 2.5 (by customer order only), 2.5 S, 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL." Edmunds goes on to say that the external differences between the trims consist of 16-inch wheels on the 2.5 model, while the "sporty 3.5 SE" offers "17-inch alloy wheels" and "power-folding side-view mirrors with integral turn signals," and the 3.5 SL further adds "16-inch alloy wheels" and "xenon HID headlights." The exterior of the 2008 Nissan Altima has been trimmed somewhat from the older version, with Cars.com noting that, at "189.8 inches long, the Altima sedan is 2.5 inches shorter than the previous generation."

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that most writers feel that the smaller dimensions are a styling bonus, as Road & Track testers find that it allows the Altima Nissan's designers to add "more character...along the car's flanks." Kelley Blue Book raves about the exterior on the Altima Nissan, which is "rich in Nissan family cues, most notably in its grille, headlamp and taillamp treatments," but at the same time, it sports "a bit more aggressive edge than you'll find in the Sentra or Maxima." However, not all reviewers appreciate the sheetmetal, as Car and Driver laments "the way the front view gets into an argument with the side view when they meet in the front fenders" and points out that "there's nothing cautious about the Airbus-theme taillights either."

Interior styling was one of the biggest complaints about the previous car, so for the 2008 Altima, Nissan has made a concerted effort to improve the cabin. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that their effort has paid off nicely, with Car and Driver noticing that "although the instrument cluster still shows you three dials, the annoying, seemingly misaligned tunnels are gone, replaced by a single-lens grouping of much improved graphics." Mother Proof reviewers appreciate the "sound system that displays the radio station and time in easy-to-read, large characters," while ConsumerGuide praises the "large and legible gauges." ConsumerGuide reviewers also find that the "audio and climate controls are simple to operate in models without the available navigation system," though when equipped with the navigation system, it "isn't easy to program, and it absorbs and complicates audio functions," they write. Kelley Blue Book best captures overall reviewer sentiment by saying that "the Altima's airy cabin has a contemporary appearance" along with "logically arranged" interior controls that make driving in the 2008 Nissan Altima considerably more intuitive than in some other cars.

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9

2008 Nissan Altima

Performance

The 2008 Nissan Altima offers a fun driving experience in a practical, comfortable family sedan.

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."

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8

2008 Nissan Altima

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Nissan Altima offers a drastically improved interior and impressive cargo space, with only a few poor material choices.

For a sedan that is marked by significant all-around improvements over the last generation, perhaps the most noticeable upgrades on the 2008 Nissan Altima have come in terms of comfort and overall build and materials quality. While it is still far from perfect, the Altima Nissan has definitely taken a step in the right direction.

The interior seating arrangement on what Edmunds deems a "powerful five-seater" is characterized by "plenty of comfort" in both the front and rear seats. Cars.com finds that "even though its swoopy styling might suggest limited cabin space, the five-seat Altima has sufficient room," and even rear headroom in the Nissan Altima "should be adequate for most passengers." Car and Driver adds that rear legroom "is up 3.1" inches," but "the cushion sits low." For those riding in the front of the 2008 Nissan Altima, ConsumerGuide says to expect "good overall headroom and legroom" when sitting in the front seats, which offer "very good thigh and lumbar support." They also comment in their review that "the rear bench is reasonably comfortable for those under six feet."

For a mid-size sedan, the 2008 Nissan Altima certainly offers full-size storage space. Car and Driver finds that "trunk space is up 15 percent to 18 cubic feet, very large for the class," while for 2008, the Nissan Altima's "glove box has been enlarged to steamer-trunk dimensions." ConsumerGuide agrees, writing that the "trunk is generously sized and shaped," although one drawback is that "the split rear seatbacks don't fold completely flat." Other than the oversized glove box, ConsumerGuide says "interior storage is only average." While Cars.com writes that "the flip-down center armrest has two cupholders," testers at Car and Driver mention that the Altima Nissan's keyless ignition means "the bulky fob now takes up a cupholder" if you want to avoid inadvertently pressing a button.

Interior materials and build quality on the 2008 Nissan Altima are an improvement over previous Altimas, with a few noteworthy exceptions. On the positive side, Car and Driver testers feel that "the dash and door-panel textures are exceptionally classy" on the 3.5 SE they tested, and Edmunds observes that the interior features "quality materials." However, ConsumerGuide says that the Nissan Altima's interior "isn't quite as rich as its use of soft-touch, textured materials would lead you to believe," and they find the "use of budget-grade plastics in the center console area" to be particularly "disappointing." Interior materials vary somewhat between the trims, as ConsumerGuide lists the 2.5 and 2.5 S as having "cloth upholstery," and though the 3.5 SE keeps the cloth seats, it adds a "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/ radio controls," while the 3.5 SL offers standard "leather upholstery."

Aiding driver comfort are the interior acoustics of the 2008 Nissan Altima. Edmunds says that "road and wind noise are subdued" on all trim levels, and ConsumerGuide affirms this, adding that "tire, road, and wind noise are well controlled."

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8

2008 Nissan Altima

Safety

A strong crash-test record and great visibility are moderated by the 2008 Nissan Altima's lack of a standard antiskid system.

The 2008 Nissan Altima offers a mixed bag for safety-conscious shoppers. While the 2008 Nissan Altima performs admirably in crash tests, its list of safety features is not quite up to par.

One of the best determinations of a vehicle's overall safety is how well it performs in crash tests, and in this category, the Nissan Altima is an all-star. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that oversees government crash testing, awards the 2008 Nissan Altima a full five stars for both front and side impacts. Even more impressive is the fact that these ratings apply for both driver and passenger protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) confirms the NHTSA results, and in IIHS tests, the Altima performed equally well. The 2008 Nissan Altima has earned the IIHS's highest rating, "good," for both frontal offset and side impact collisions.

When it comes to safety features on the Nissan Altima, most of the usual amenities appear, but there are a few noteworthy exceptions. Beginning with what you'll find on the Nissan Altima, Edmunds writes "front-seat side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags are standard on every 2008 Nissan Altima." Furthermore, with the Altima, Nissan offers "antilock brakes" as "standard on the 3.5 sedan trims" and base 2.5, and "optional on the 2.5 S sedan." One of the omissions that reviews read by TheCarConnection.com noticed is that stability control is available only as an option, and only on the 3.5 trims, which leads ConsumerGuide to "wish Nissan would make an antiskid system standard on all models."

Another redeeming safety quality on the Altima Nissan is the driver's sight profile. Several reviews read by TheCarConnection.com praise the visibility from within the cabin, with Kelley Blue Book writing that the "Altima's generous glass area provides the driver with good sightlines to the outside world." ConsumerGuide adds, "visibility in sedans is very good to all directions."

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9

2008 Nissan Altima

Features

If you're willing to pay for it, the 2008 Nissan Altima can be equipped as well as any other car in its class.

The 2008 Nissan Altima offers a wide range of features, but some reviews read by TheCarConnection.com take exception with the way options are offered on the Nissan Altima.

Before addressing the options, it's worth looking at what comes standard on the 2008 Nissan Altima. Edmunds begins by saying that "the base 2.5 comes with 16-inch wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry/starting, [and] cruise control," and the other trims add on the features from there. Kelley Blue Book notes that the Nissan Altima "2.5 S, which accounts for the majority of all Altima sales, adds air conditioning" along with "an audio system with CD player." On the 3.5 SE Altima, Nissan incorporates a steering wheel with built-in radio controls, while Kelley Blue Book writes that the top-end "3.5 SL has leather, a Bose audio system, automatic up/down passenger's front window and standard CVT automatic."

The options list on the 2008 Nissan Altima is extensive, but Cars.com finds that "most popular options are grouped together in expensive packages." They say that while this method is "fine if you want everything in the package, you may not be as happy when you learn that it will cost $2,150 to add a moonroof to the 2.5 S trim level." Edmunds deems this business practice "a little shady," comparing it to "going to a salad bar and being offered a choice of either dry lettuce or a 4-gallon bucket of Ranch." Despite the atypical pricing practices, the Nissan Altima presents some very cool features in its options packages. Kelley Blue Book says some of the most noteworthy items include "a dual-zone climate control system, power moonroof, voice-activated navigation system," and "premium Bose audio system." Cars.com also adds that the Altima Nissan "is one of the few family-oriented midsize sedans that can have an optional rearview camera." Of course, it is bundled as part of an option package that they say includes XM Satellite Radio.

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