Nissan becomes the last major Japanese auto manufacturer to enter the hybrid market, with its 2007 Altima Hybrid. While the Altima's Hybrid's technology is licensed from Toyota, the four-door ecosedan is very much a Nissan, with exterior and interior styling and a driving experience all its own.
With a sportier profile than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, the Altima Hybrid delivers a zippier--if a little rougher--ride than its main competitor. Unlike the Camry Hybrid, the base-level Altima is stripped down in terms of cabin tech, and those wanting gadgetry will find themselves paying dearly for the option. Those who do make the investment will not be disappointed, as the Altima Hybrid borrows some of the high-end technologies from Nissan's luxury Infiniti marque, including an outstanding voice-recognition system, a great Bluetooth hands-free calling interface, and an excellent Bose stereo.
On the down side, if you live outside of California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Vermont you are in for a long drive home from the dealers, as the model is initially being sold only in those eight states.
Test the tech: Bluetooth pair-off
While its (Toyota-sourced) dual-mode drive train is the headline technology in the 2007 Nissan Altima Hybrid, the car does boast some impressive cabin gadgetry if optioned up with the hefty Technology Package. Among the 25 or so line items that this package offers is Bluetooth hands-free calling with voice-activated dialing, a system that we found to be one of the most intuitive and easy-to-operate to date.
Using the Altima Hybrid's in-dash touch-screen LCD display, users can prepare the car for cell phone connection with the minimum amount of effort (a welcome change from many Byzantine systems that other automakers install in their models). To do justice to this user-friendly Bluetooth interface, our tech test in the Altima Hybrid was to find a cell phone that was equally easy to pair.
For our sample set of phones, we went to CNET cell phone editor Kent German, who provided us with handsets from five different phone manufacturers. The test would be to determine which of these phones was the easiest to pair and use hands-free in conjunction with the Altima system. To prepare the car to pair with each of the phone, we had to go through the simple Bluetooth setup process, involving the following steps on the touch screen: Setup> Phone> Bluetooth setup> Pair phone. With the car thus enabled to search for phones, we then concentrated on the handsets themselves.
1) LG DM L-200: The LG model required a relatively straightforward process to get to its Bluetooth menu (menu> toolbox> tools> Bluetooth> add device), followed by a 15-second search to find the Altima Hybrid's Bluetooth connection. The phone remained connected when we turned the car off and then on again, and our outbound test call got through the first time.
2) Samsung SGH-D807: The Samsung handset required a similar five-step process to activate its Bluetooth search function, and a shorter, 10-second wait for the phone to find the car. Unlike the LG phone, however, the Samsung did not manage to reconnect to the car after it was restarted and the phone required a separate setting to be activated ("authorize device") for car and phone to automatically connect. Like the LG phone, the Samsung worked the first time for outbound calls.
3) Nokia 5700: This was the easiest phone to connect to the car, thanks to the Bluetooth icon on its main menu. A three-step process sets the phone to look for devices, and after less than 10 seconds the phone had found the car. Upon discovery, the Nokia phone asked us whether we would like to connect automatically to the car--a better option than either connecting without asking (not ideal for security reasons) and having to proactively search out the "authorize device" option on the Samsung handset. With phone and car connected, the Nokia made outbound calls the first time using the car's voice dial interface.
4) Palm Treo 750: One of two "smart" phones in the test, the Treo was easy to pair initially thanks to the Bluetooth icon on its main menu screen, and the device found the car without any trouble. However, that's where the good news ended. The Treo was not able to reconnect to the car when the ignition was turned off and then back on, and we had to spend a couple of minutes manually reconnecting. The Treo also displayed a disappointing response when attempting outgoing calls: having dialed via voice command, we had to wait nearly 20 seconds for the phone to connect.
5) HTC S710: This phone was the worst Bluetooth device of the bunch. While it was initially straightforward to pair the HTC S710, the smart phone was unable to call out. Having dialed a number, we waited for around 15 seconds before the phone showed us that we were connected, but there was no sound from the other end of the phone. Despite showing a full signal, the HTC S710 was simply unable to connect via the Altima's hands-free interface.
In the cabin
The interior of the 2007 Nissan Altima hybrid is entirely a case of pay to play. For the base-level model the cabin is cleanly designed with good-looking materials and appointments, but from a tech perspective it is stripped down, with the only noteworthy features being a smart key and a single-disc CD player.
For those willing to shell out for one of the three hefty options packages, however, a world of gadgetry awaits. The $7,250 Technology Package, with which our $24,400 test car was equipped, is less of a package and more of a trim level. It includes GPS navigation with XM NavTraffic; Bluetooth connectivity; a nine-speaker Bose audio system with six-CD/MP3 changer and satellite radio; a rear-view monitor, a hybrid energy display; leather seats; a power moon roof; and over a dozen other minor features. Two separate Connections Packages (one with XM Satellite radio, the other with Sirius) are the next cheapest option at $5,250, and deliver many features that would be considered standard on other midmarket sedans, such as HomeLink, an autodimming inside rearview mirror, MP3/WMA compatibility, Radio Data System (RDS), speed-sensitive audio volume, and illuminated console lighting. More substantial features of the Connections package include Bluetooth hands-free calling, the upgraded Bose speaker system, and factory-installed satellite radio, but even so, the package is pricey for what you get.
Having stumped up the cash for the Technology Package, drivers of the Altima Hybrid can at least rest assured that they will be getting a well-designed and tastefully integrated tech features. Most of the digital systems on the Altima Hybrid are controlled via the car's in-dash touch screen LCD display--an Infiniti-inspired system that we prefer immensely to the jog stick arrangement that we saw in the 2007 Nissan Maxima and the Nissan Pathfinder. Menus for navigation, digital audio, and hands-free calling all feature large, bright, well-laid-out buttons, making them very easy to program on the move.