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Old 04-17-2008, 10:04 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Review: 2008 Nissan Altima 2.5 S, CVT

2008 Nissan Altima 2.5 S

+ Efficient CVT
+ Comfort
+ In-Dash Gadgetry

- Keeps Getting Bigger Every Re-design
- Funky Starting Procedure
- Option Package Mayhem

Introduction: The recent facelift to the Altima created, essentially, a smaller version of its big Brother, the Maxima. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference – which reveals the story of how the average family sedan has plumped-up like a Thanksgiving Turkey. The techno-savvy dash with trip computer, Continuously Variable Transmission, and premium sound system was a nice touch. The seats were supportive and quite comfortable, but the rear seat looked cramped. Huge trunk, though. To get the basic equipment, if often takes unwanted (and costly) option packages to get the single item you want. There's even an Altima Hybrid expected soon.

It was the last vehicle from which to choose, so I went for it. Then came the effort of starting it. It’s dark and the key fob is in the cupholder. No metallic key, per se. OK, where’s the slot to get this thing going? (Searching). Can’t find it. The instrument panel has a picture of a foot on the brake and a down arrow.

OK-done. Now the Start/Stop button lit-up and said “LOCK”. Ah – a wireless key, duh! I pushed the button, and off it went. In the daylight, there’s a placeholder deep on the left side of the knee panel to place the key if you don’t have pockets or whatever. Soon, I learned, this starting procedure was a pain in the kiester.

On the Outside: The new sedan is quite athletic in appearance. As stated, it looks very much like a downsized Maxima, especially from the front. The “S” sports 16-inch steelies with wheel covers – which is odd for a mid-level option. Higher levels offer a 17” wheel.

The flowing roofline suggests a low Cd, but isn’t confirmed. For this test, it was side-streets only. Views of the rear of the car show it to be tidy in spots, and busy in others. The dual exhaust outlets are neat looking, while the taillamp assembly is rated in the eye of its beholder. The “Modified Altezza” look that was popular among the tuner crowd has evolved into red and amber lenses wrapped in a clear, plastic housing. I guess the advantage is a cheaper alternative to sculpt the rear corners.

On the Inside: Things have actually improved in there. Build quality is up, materials and colors are pleasant, and the feature content is enhanced. Interior noise is quiet, and the driving position optimal. The cruise control button placed on the tilt/telescoping wheel handy.

This model features a trip computer with an instant FE meter (which is refreshed every 1/10th of a second, it seems). That causes it to bounce around a bit, but gives you the exact FE at that moment. Better than slower refreshes, I suppose.

This attention to detail and sporty nature may persuade Accord and Camry buyers to the direction of Nissan. The “upscale” key fob and push-button start make it feel more expensive than it actually is. Standard fare is a decent radio system with auxiliary input and 18 presets. For those stints of performance driving, a “slap shift”-style gear selector will hold the transmission in 6 different, “non variable”, sequential ratios. The aircraft-style checklist to start it proved to be “interesting”. It was a challenge to master engine-off stops in neutral or on the roll – more on that in a moment.

I see a potential problem with the wireless fob system. Already, some rental agencies have warned renters to keep the fob away from cell phones, or it could become erased. Further, it’s possible to stop the car in neutral and walk away. In the meantime, the dash is blaring a “PARK!!!!” message. I can foresee the fob getting lost, or locked in the car – unless you get in the habit of using the fob holder. I just kept the fob in my jacket, which was always with me for a drive. The only time I needed it was to pop the trunk for my work bag or luggage. On errand running, just approach the car, press the black button to unlock the driver’s door, twice for all doors, hop in and start it. I guess that’s the appeal. Then on exit, just press the lock button and you never have to see your key again!

Safety: Safety is top notch – 5-star front and side impact ratings. ABS, front, and side-curtain airbags are standard on all trim levels. Braking feel was VERY touchy, free of fade, but didn’t slow the car as quickly as one would expect. Stability control is not available in this trim level (thumbsdown).

Efficiency: I drove essentially the “tall and broad” version of this drivetrain and platform in the Nissan Rogue (LINK). The sub-zero temps didn’t bode well for the CVT or FE.

However in the case of the Altima, the CVT is the saving grace of warmer climes. With FE identical to that of a manual, the transmission can keep the engine turning as low as 1300 RPMs while cruising around town. This takes advantage of the high-load, low-RPM equation for good FE. With cold starts and heavy city traffic, a healthy 24.6 MPG was attained (on par with the guess of 24 by the EPA). I’d like to see what this does for highway mileage.

The Drive: For the non-EOC hypermiler who requires an automatic, this is an excellent choice. The ride was compliant, handling sporty, and acceleration excellent. On full throttle, the CVT holds the engine right at its most powerful revs to achieve sub-7-second sprints to 60. The driving position, controls and wheel are placed well.

The frustration lied in the ignition switch. So you want to turn the car off? It seemed that certain speeds did not allow this to occur. Perhaps the brake needed to be depressed. Honestly, I wouldn’t EOC this car due to the complexity of the CVT; however, at long lights it benefits the operator to shut down.

Putting the car in park is a pain when you are shut down in stopped traffic – when performed skillfully, you have plenty of brake reserve pressure to hold the car in place in neutral. Here’s the trick to “not starting it”: Pop it into neutral and keep your foot on the brake. Press the On/Off button until it finally shuts off. Release the brake and press the on/off button twice (if releasing the brake is not an option, use the foot e-brake -- the hand-brake is only available on the coupe). This cycles to ACC and ON. Now your signals, radio, etc. are functional. Now the foot can go back on the brake (or kept there, and the e-brake released). Wait out the light, train, what-have-you. One quick press of the button starts it, shift to D and off you go. This combination was “interesting” to learn – it took some practice.

For the Energy Conscious: Bottom line, this enlarged iteration of the Altima nameplate is an efficient city cruiser with high-tech looks and features. For what it is, there’s really not much to complain about. There is also an Altima Hybrid to be released at an expected 35 City / 33 Highway. But…

Consider the size and your needs in a vehicle. This is a fairly large car with reports that rear seat passengers may be uncomfortable. There may be better, more fuel-efficient options that satisfy this requirement. If you must have one, definitely opt for the 4-cylinder. If you like rowing gears and EOC-ing, go for the manual (and also for expected reliability). For about $500 more, you get a state-of-the art CVT that manages power and efficiency very well.

Others to consider in this Class: Accord, Camry, Fusion/Milan, Malibu, or smaller…

Raw Data:
Model: 2008 Nissan Altima
Trim: 2.5 S
EPA Class Size: Mid-Size Sedan
Transmission: Continuously Variable, with 6-manual gear hold selections
Engine: 2.5 L, Inline-4 cylinder, rated at 175 HP @ 5600 and 180 ft-lbs of torque @ 3900
Drivetrain: FWD
Curb Weight:
EPA: 23/31
EcoModder Tested Mileage: 24.6 MPG
Speed Avg: 19.3 MPH
Time of Operation: 1.7 hours
Distance Driven: 26 Miles
Ambient Outside Temp: 55-70F
Seating Capacity: 5 (snug) at 2+3 or 4 more comfortably at 2+2
Price as Tested: $20,000 USD (April, 2008)
Test City: Columbus, Ohio


“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research” ― Albert Einstein


Last edited by RH77; 04-17-2008 at 10:12 PM..
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