- Strong engine performance
- Smooth and responsive continuously variable transmission (CVT)
- Quick steering
- Good-looking cabin with quality materials
- Coupe's sporty styling
- Stability control not available on four-cylinder models
- Mediocre backseat comfort
- Nissan's annoying structure of options packages
Ever since its 2002 revival, the Nissan Altima has been a very popular choice for consumers interested in a sport-oriented family sedan. In particular, the previous-generation car was known for its athletic handling and performance. Unfortunately, it was also known for its low-buck interior and excessive road noise.
When Nissan redesigned the Altima sedan last year, it focused on keeping the car's sporting credentials intact while simultaneously addressing its faults. The new Altima's significant dynamic and interior improvements contributed to a powerful five-seater that provided plenty of comfort and driving excitement for those looking for a lot more than basic transportation.
The 2008 Nissan Altima adds to this pedigree with an all-new coupe model. More than just a regular Altima with a pair of doors lopped off, it's very close to being a junior Infiniti G37, in both appearance and performance. The two-door features unique body panels (it shares only the hood), a shorter wheelbase and overall length, and a revised suspension for even sportier handling.
Both the coupe and sedan come with a long list of available luxury and technology features, but they are put into large, expensive packages that often must be lumped together with other packages. For example, if you want satellite radio on a 2.5 S Sedan, you must spend $1,200 for the Connection Package, which then must be ordered with the $500 CVT, the $3,850 2.5 SL package and $300 antilock brakes. The Technology Package on the 3.5 SE is $6,400. If you want to keep the price low, we'd normally suggest going light on options, but unfortunately, Nissan makes it just about impossible to do this. It's like going to a salad bar and being offered a choice of either dry lettuce or a 4-gallon bucket of Ranch.
Although its options pricing is a little shady, the 2008 Nissan Altima is now an even more versatile (and attractive) choice in the always competitive midsize segment. The Altima coupe competes closest with the new 2008 Honda Accord coupe. Both vehicles providing a compelling mix of sport and practicality that other midsize coupes don't come close to matching. Meanwhile, the Altima sedan continues to be a very desirable midsize family car, especially for those who want one with a good amount of sporting potential. Either body style should be near the top of a shopping list.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2008
An all-new coupe model joins the 2008 Nissan Altima lineup. It features the same set of powerful engines and impressive transmissions but offers unique exterior styling, sportier suspension tuning and slightly smaller proportions.
The 2008 Nissan Altima is available as a midsize sedan or coupe. The sedan is available in four trims, with the number indicating its engine: base 2.5 (by customer order only), 2.5 S, 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL. The base 2.5 comes with 16-inch wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry/starting, cruise control, a split/folding rear seat and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The 2.5 S adds air-conditioning, a CD player and MP3 input jack, a trip computer and intermittent wipers.
The sporty 3.5 SE comes with a sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, power-folding side-view mirrors with integral turn signals, a power driver seat, wood-tone accents and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The 3.5 SL goes the full luxury route with leather seating, a moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, Bluetooth connectivity, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, 16-inch alloy wheels, xenon HID headlights and a Bose audio system with CD changer and a choice of satellite radio providers.
The Altima coupe comes in only 2.5 S and 3.5 SE trim levels that are consistent with the sedan version. However, all coupes come with antilock brakes and sport seats with more aggressive bolstering.
The Premium Package on the coupe models and the 3.5 SE Sedan (it's known as the SL package on the 2.5 Sedan) includes essentially all the additional features of the 3.5 SL Sedan. Available on all but the base Altima sedan is the Technology Package that bundles a navigation system with real-time traffic and a rearview monitor, but it must be ordered with the Premium Package for an eye-bugging total of $6,400.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2008 Nissan Altima sedan and coupe feature a quiet, handsome interior constructed of quality materials. The coupe differs from the sedan by having a hand-operated emergency brake for all trim levels (CVT-equipped sedans come with a foot brake) and more aggressively bolstered front seats. Taller drivers will find the coupe a little tight on headroom, though. In addition, the coupe's shrunken proportions take a significant toll on the backseat's head and leg space, though it still offers seatbelts for three and the flat bench makes car-seat installation possible in a pinch. The front seats in both the sedan and coupe are excellent, offering a vast range of adjustment ¯ particularly in models with power seats ¯ and a good mix of comfort and support.
Front-seat side airbags and full-length side-curtain airbags are standard on every 2008 Nissan Altima. Antilock brakes are standard on the 3.5 sedan trims and all coupes, and optional on the 2.5 S sedan. Only the 3.5 trims are eligible for traction control (it's standard) and stability control (optional). In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the Altima sedan received a top five-star rating for its protection of occupants in frontal and side impacts.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The Nissan Altima is powered by 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). All but the 3.5 SL Sedan come with a six-speed manual transmission, while a CVT is standard on that trim and optional on all others except the base sedan.
The four-cylinder engine provides enough giddy-up for most buyers ¯ zero to 60 mph is achieved in the mid-7-second range. In our tests, a 3.5 SE sedan with the CVT ran to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, while a six-speed manual coupe we tested did it in 6.2 seconds. Fuel economy is impressive considering the car's power; four-cylinder/CVT sedans have a 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway rating. Nissan Altimas with the V6/CVT combination have an average rating of 19/27. Manual transmission fuel economy is virtually identical.
With its sporty suspension tuning (especially in coupe and 3.5 SE sedan guise) and quick steering, the 2008 Nissan Altima provides enthusiasts with one of the most enjoyable midsize coupes and family sedans available. Ride quality is still comfortable throughout the line, and road and wind noise are subdued.
Strong performance from the V6 models should more than satisfy those who like a kick in the pants when they boot the gas, and the four-cylinder provides perfectly adequate acceleration. A six-speed manual is standard, but its clutch engagement is abrupt and its shifter feels unsubstantial and moves through its gates with all the precision of a $10 Folex watch. We don't make this recommendation often, but we'd opt for the continuously variable transmission instead. Easily the best we've come across, this CVT does an excellent job of maximizing each engine's power, while responding rapidly to throttle inputs.
Braking is the one area in which the Altima could be deemed mediocre. Pedal feel is progressive, but during instrumented testing, we've measured stops from 60 mph in the 126-134foot range, which is only average for this class.
Thanks to its dashing style, entertaining driving dynamics and welcoming interior, the 2008 Nissan Altima is one of our top picks for a sporting family sedan or midsize coupe.