Nissan is following in the green-car footsteps of Toyota and Honda with the launch of its Altima Hybrid. Rather than developing its own hybrid system for the Altima's power train, Nissan is licensing Toyota's dual-mode Hybrid Synergy Drive system, which works in conjunction with the car's 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine. (Nissan apparently is working on its own hybrid technology, but that's not scheduled to go into production for at least a few years.)
We got a brief chance to drive the Altima Hybrid this week around the Hollister Hills in Northern California. Like many hybrids, the Altima displays a graphic on its in-dash LCD screen, giving a real-time picture of power flow between the battery, the generator, and the combustion engine. The instrument panel gives more clues to the car's "hybridity," offering a charge meter showing how much juice is in the onboard, 30kW, nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery, which can be recharged through regenerative braking.
Unlike other hybrids, the Altima Hybrid comes with very little onboard tech as standard. Those looking for cabin gadgetry face a whopping $7,250 addition to the sticker price for the car's technology package, which includes GPS navigation with XM NavTraffic, Bluetooth hands-free calling, an MP3-compatible stereo with an upgraded 9-speaker Bose audio system, and a list of other features that we would usually expect as standard on a high-tech car, including power front seats and a Homelink garage-door opener.
Nevertheless, the Altima Hybrid earns Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) status with its extremely economical drive train, delivering an EPA estimated fuel efficiency of 42 mpg city/ 36 mpg highway. We'll be getting an Altima Hybrid in at CNET Car Tech in the next couple of weeks, so look out for our full review soon.