Nissan Altima, 2008: The Weekly Driver Car Review

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Nissan redesigned the Altima sedan last year and it received a good share of praise from buyers who liked its new sportier approach and improved comfort. With the 2008 Altima coupe, the improvements continue with more design changes.

The two-door features unique body panels that share only the hood. Additionally, the wheelbase and overall length has been shortened and it the coupe has an upgraded suspension.

The result is a Euro-styled machine that garners further attention from passersby and deserves even more consideration after its driven.

The 2008 Altima sedan will be available in four trims, but only the coupe is currently available in the new year’s model, and it has two options. My test vehicle was the 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder with 175 horsepower and a six-speed manual transmission. There’s also a 3.5-liter V6 option with 270 horsepower. A hybrid model will debut after the new year.

The V6, 3.5-liter Altima must be exceedingly quick, because my test vehicle also had plenty of spunk. Consumer Guide, the national review publication, rated the car in the standard 0-60 mph test at 6.4 seconds.

The red exterior-black interior combination is likely the most popular choice among sport cars drivers. My test Altima had a uniquely named “code red” exterior and black leather seating and console, and it only further adds to the car’s appeal. It’s a Nissan, but one national reviewer described it as a “junior Infiniti G37.”

The other major positive for the new Altima is its combined responsiveness and good gas mileage.

During my test week, I twice made round-trip journeys from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay area, including one trek in nighttime commuter traffic.  I also tested the Altima in a good share of city driving, and in every driving circumstance — lane changes to freeway on-ramps to sudden merging traffic — the new Nissan had plenty of quickness and sustained power. It’s rated at 23 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg in freeway driving.

The Altima’s base price of slightly more than $20,000 makes its even more attractive. But that’s when Nissan’s bottom line folks begin their jobs.

The Altima coupe’s Standard equipment list is plentiful: remote keyless entry and starting to power mirrors, windows and door locks and tire-pressure monitor to rear defogger on the base model. The S model adds air conditioning to and  AM/FM/CD player and digital clock to interior air filter.

My test vehicle had a great sound system, which was particularly attractive with its satellite radio. But the Bose system and satellite radio is only available via a $1,200 “Connection Package.” It also includes the 6-disc MP3/CD player and wireless cellphone link. Then there’s the “2.5 SL Package” It has a long list of options — antilock brakes to remote control windows and leather upholstery to woodgrain and metallic interior trim. It sets the buyer back $3,800.

The Altima coupe’s new design and responsive driving attributes still make it a good option when matched against the mainstays from Honda and Toyota. But to get the same features as the market leaders requires Altima buyers to select many of the option packages, and thus the base price is a long-forgotten financial reality.

Safety Features — Driver and front passenger dual-stage front, front-side and side-curtain airbags.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 24 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway).

Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles; 24-hour roadside assistance, 3 years/36,000 miles.

Base Price — $20,570.

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