Review: Nissan Altima Hybrid – Hertz Green Collection

By Jonathan Spira on 1 April 2010
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If you regularly drive a diesel (or gas-electric hybrid, for that matter), you may wonder what options for fuel-efficient rental cars exist when travelling.  In Europe, renting a diesel is the norm; an online search on Hertz’ Web site showed multiple diesel options including a BMW 118d, a Mercedes ML280 d, and a very expensive a Mercedes E220D.

For the rental period we listed (1-7 April picking up and dropping off in Munich), the 118d would cost E 314.88 and the gasoline-powered 118i cost E500.99.  The Mercedes, part of the company’s Prestige Collection, cost E2111.68!

In the United States, however, diesel-powered rental cars are virtually non-existent but hybrids are plentiful.  Both Hertz and Avis offer the Nissan Altima Hybrid in most if not all airport locations.  The Hertz Green Collection has 35,000 fuel-efficient cars distributed throughout the U.S. including the Toyota Prius and Camry Hybrid as well as the Nissan Altima Hybrid and customers can specify the exact make and model when making a reservation.

We specified the Nissan Altima Hybrid for a visit to Seattle, Washington recently.  This is where the fun began.  Since we were staying in downtown Seattle, it seemed logical to pick up the car at Hertz’ downtown location for the days when driving would be required.  The Hertz Web site allowed us to book the reservation at 4 p.m. on a Sunday and the reservation was confirmed via e-mail.

Arriving a few minutes after 4 p.m., however, on the day of the reservation, we found the Hertz location closed for the day.  The posted hours indicated that the station had closed at 4 p.m.  Bob answered our call to the Hertz reservations line and said that we should have come early to pick up the car.  He suggested calling the airport Hertz office and provided the number.  Unfortunately, no one ever came to the phone despite several calls.

Our second call to Hertz was answered by Dina.  We told Dina that we expected Hertz to somehow arrange for the car to materialize downtown for us and she stated that the only way of getting a car was for us to go to the airport, something that clearly undermines the benefits of having reserved a car at the downtown location.

Dina transferred the call to her supervisor, Matt, who reiterated the same story line and, at our request, transferred us to his supervisor, Barbara Copeland.  This is where we saw true customer service at work.  Barbara spent the next hour and a half trying to get someone at the airport station to pick up the phone, called us back several times with (lack of) progress reports, and finally called, her voice triumphant in having reached Jeff, the Seattle Airport station manager.  Jeff called a minute or two later and asked what time would be most convenient for him to bring the car downtown.  We agreed that between 9 and 10 p.m. would be fine and he drove the 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid directly to the Four Seasons Seattle, glanced at my driver’s license, and turned over the car keys.

Despite 24,000 miles, the car was in immaculate condition.  Aside from a few small emblems, other drivers would be hard pressed to distinguish our hybrid Altima from the standard model.

The Altima Hybrid has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is mated to a nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery and the car’s hybrid management system, producing 198 hp and fuel economy of 35 mpg in city driving and 33 on the highway.

The interior was spacious and the cloth seats were comfortable and provide good support.  Since the car received a mid-life refresh for 2010 and our rental was a 2009, I’ll concentrate on the driving experience instead of cosmetics.

The Altima was, for a hybrid, fast off the line but the engine was rough and noisy and the transition from battery power to gasoline engine could be jolting, something Nissan could improve upon since this doesn’t happen with the Toyota Camry, which shares the same hybrid system.

Despite the extra weight (the hybrid weighs 300 pounds more than the gasoline-only Altima), the suspension seemed reasonable taut and handling was nothing if not nimble.

The Altima can run (if one is careful) at up to 40 mph on electric power alone.  Fuel economy during the three days of our rental was excellent.  While we didn’t see reach 35 mpg, we did see numbers consistently in the low 30s.

For 2010, Nissan has added some flair to the Altima’s exterior with a more prominent power bulge on the hood as well to the interior with better fabrics and plastics than in our car.  The drivetrain remains unchanged.

2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid
Base price/price-as-tested $21,990/NA
Drivetrain Front engine, front-wheel drive
Engine 2.5 l/198 hp/gas-electric V-6
Transmission Continuously-variable (CVT)
Curb weight (lbs) 3482
Wheelbase (inches)

109.3

Length x width x height (inches) 189.2 x 69.6 x 58.1
0-60 mph (seconds) 7.1
City/highway fuel economy (mpg) 35/33