By James Bergeron

Day 1:

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
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Well they are all the rage, or all the debate, depending on where you are. Of course, I’m talking about hybrids, and it is about time I get myself behind the wheel of one these technological wonders to see what the fuss is all about.

This week I am testing the Nissan Altima Hybrid, Nissan’s first foray into the world of alternative-power vehicles. I’m glad Nissan decided to do this with a mid-sized sedan rather than yet another small car that already gets excellent gas mileage. The Altima is a good-sized sedan that can seat four comfortably, with a fifth on the hump, a vehicle the average American is certainly looking for and a good portion of the Canadian population as well.

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
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The Altima Hybrid is powered by a 2.5-litre four cylinder engine producing 158hp and an electric motor producing 40hp for a total peak system output of 198hp. With the electric motor capable of producing 199 lb-ft of torque from 0-1500rpm, the Altima Hybrid feels nearly as quick as the V6 powered 3.5SE Altima — so you can have your cake and eat it too.

Except for leather and a sunroof this vehicle seems to be fairly loaded, including items such as: dual zone climate control, auto up/down front windows, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, traction control and vehicle dynamics control, cruise control, smart-key keyless entry and start system, aux input jack and more.

Of course there is a downside to the hybrid version compared to regular Altimas, and that is trunk space. The hybrid car’s batteries are stored behind the passenger seat, and as a result, the rear seat is a bench that cannot be folded, and the trunk is quite a bit smaller than a standard Altima’s trunk.

Transmission choice in the Altima Hybrid is also less exciting, with only a standard CVT available, meaning no 6-speed manual or even a shift-able CVT like other Altimas. I haven’t had much of a chance to drive it yet, but so far impressions are good — hopefully they last.

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
MSRP as tested: $34,398

For more information on Nissan and the Altima visit Nissan Canada


Day 2:

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
Click Image to Enlarge

Despite the fact that it was 33 degrees Celcius today, my drive into work and back home had to be one of the coolest I have ever experienced. I’m not talking about the temperature — although the air-con in the Altima is extremely strong — I’m talking about the fact that more than half of my journey was done on battery alone.

There is a very small but easily-readable display in the Altima’s instrument cluster that tells you when you are in “EV (electric vehicle) mode.” Although you can tell once in awhile when the engine starts or shuts down, if you aren’t waiting for it or thinking about it you, would not notice. I monitored this readout throughout my drive to and from work today and was amazed at how often I was in “EV mode.”

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
Click Image to Enlarge

For a lot of that time, I was cruising to a red light or “idling” at one, which makes me think having just the ability to start and stop the engine automatically could and would save a ton of fuel without the added complexity of the electric motor. But the motor gets you going while you would otherwise have to wait for that engine to restart again.

On the inside, the Altima is plain but functional and the automatic climate control works extremely well and is easy to understand and use. The steering wheel audio controls are a little odd, with the volume control being a left-right toggle rather than the typical up-down configuration, but owners should get used to this fairly quickly.

The seats are extremely comfortable and although they lack lumbar support they seem to be set up just right. One glaringly missing feature is telescopic steering; while I was able to get comfortable rather quickly I found this an odd omission.

Besides the smaller trunk, the hybrid version of the Altima isn’t much different than the standard Altima on the inside, with a good amount of leg and headroom and good visibility all around.

Day 3:

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
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I am not sure I have ever driven a vehicle as quiet as this Altima — perhaps I have and cannot remember, but I seriously doubt it. Take a mid-sized sedan that is quiet, add an electric motor that is nearly silent and you have the recipe for the ultimate stealthy car — perfect for … stalking or maybe arriving home a little late after a night out.

On the road, the steering is light but direct, giving you the sense you are driving a much smaller car than you really are. Pity about the tires though: they could use some upgrading. I suspect the tires were chosen out to provide the vehicle with a quiet and fuel-efficient ride, but any type of enthusiastic driving will cause them to cry out in pain followed shortly thereafter by huge amounts of understeer. This is odd on a Nissan vehicle, which are typically more sporty.

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
Click Image to Enlarge

As in other Nissans I have driven, the CVT (continuously variable transmission) works wonderfully in the Altima and doubly wonderful with the electric motor. The CVT allows the motor and gas engine to work in perfect harmony, keeping the revs low, allowing for smooth and quiet acceleration.

The instant-on torque of the electric motor provides a unique sense of acceleration and immediate response. While driving at speed the electric motor is typically helping the gas engine along, if possible, giving you that extra oomph. I’ve noticed at speeds at or below 65km/h with a light throttle application you can cruise in “EV mode” solely; if I am careful I can drive almost entirely on electric power.

Today on my drive into work as luck (good or bad; you decide) would have it, I got stuck in a rather long traffic jam. Bumper to bumper for about 15 min for two km. Now typically I would be fuming (especially when my drive to work is usually 10 minutes and now it was stretched to about 30), but driving the Altima kept me calm. The entire time I was laughing inside, thinking, “wow I’m not using any fuel right now;” remarkable!

Day 4:

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
Click Image to Enlarge

I really enjoyed my week in the Nissan Altima Hybrid. Part of it was because of the novelty of the Hybrid technology, part of it was because it cost me next to nothing in fuel and part of it was because the car is really well put together and drives great.

The advertised fuel mileage figures on Nissan’s website are: 5.6 L/100 km (50 mpg) City and 5.9 L/100 km (48 mpg) highway, this might be a bit optimistic compared to my experience this week, but on a really good day — downhill and with a strong tailwind — you might achieve those numbers.

I averaged 7.5L/100km, in mostly city driving with a small amount of highway — much higher than the advertised numbers from Nissan. Also, on Nissan’s website, the company mentions the ability to travel 1310 kilometres (800 miles) per tank; again, that seems like a stretch as the on-board computer was estimating approximately 750-800 kilometres in my tester.

If the government ever gets into gear (pun intended), you’ll be able get a $1500 rebate off the purchase price of the Altima Hybrid, making it pretty good value. My only concern with a vehicle like this is winter worthiness; no doubt the engine will be running more in the winter and the batteries won’t last as long, perhaps negating the Hybrid advantage I achieved this week in record high temperatures.

*Rating out of 5:

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
Acceleration 3half
Handling 2half
Comfort 4
Interior 3half
Audio System 3
Gas Mileage 4

*Rating based on vehicle’s classification

2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid
MSRP as tested: $34,398

For more information on Nissan and the Altima visit Nissan Canada

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