Sep 07,2007 00:00
The Altima Hybrid is a roomy and attractive sedan sold in one well-equipped model with a base price of $25,015, which includes conveniences such as Intelligent Key push-button starting and six air bags. The test car included the Connection Package, $5,250, which created a comfortable environment featuring leather upholstery and other weighty things such as power, heated seats and a trunk-lid spoiler.
But Altima Hybrid has a government credit of up to $2,300, Perry said, which sweetens the price.
While the Altima Hybrid doesn't qualify for the high-occupancy-vehicle-lane, the payback may be in its use as a commuter vehicle. Trunk space is compromised by the battery pack, which sits behind the rear seat. Space is reduced from 15.1 cubic feet to 9.1. That's small if the family is packing up for vacation, but is of no consequence for the weekly commute, grocery shopping, etc.
Nissan buys the hybridization hardware from Toyota and adapts it to its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission. The 40-horsepower electric motor and nickel metal hydride batteries boost output to 198 horsepower. Nissan puts more emphasis on performance than extreme fuel economy, which makes the Altima Hybrid an enjoyable and responsive car to drive.
There's strong, battery-boosted acceleration when needed or pure battery power at speeds up to 30 mph to almost 35 mph, depending on how flat the road is.
The EPA reports fuel mileage ratings of 42 mpg city and 36 highway, but the best I could manage was 33.1. It's almost impossible to get maximum fuel economy because of hills, the inconsistent driving patterns of other drivers and gridlock.
But the benefit of a hybrid is in stop-and-go driving using the battery mode. There's no exhaust or engine heat - until the charge runs low and the engine fires up to keep me comfortable with air conditioning, radio, etc.
And all this from a car that weighs almost 300 pounds more than the gasoline Altima.
The Altima Hybrid is somewhat of an experiment for Nissan. The car is sold in eight states that have strict emissions standards: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Nissan is at work on its own hybrid system, which should be online by 2010, when more stringent government emission standards go into effect, Perry said. The hybrid system in development also is likely to use lithium-ion batteries, which weigh less and go longer on a charge than nickel metal hydride batteries.
This upcoming change in batteries may be a good reason to lease this hybrid - or any other.
In three years, the advancements in battery and engine efficiency will lead to hybrid vehicles that are lighter, cleaner and, possibly, will cost less. And the next hybrid vehicles could have plug-in electric capability and a longer driving range on battery power, Perry said.
"We're waiting for battery-technology breakthrough that says, 'Why do you need the gasoline engine at all?' " Perry said. "Hybrids are here because we haven't had the battery breakthrough for charging time and range."Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at email@example.com.