MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota - While many manufacturers have shunned two-door coupes in recent forms, especially in the midsize category, Nissan is going in the positive direction. As an early 2008 model, a new Altima coupe is joining the existing Altima four-door sedan.
Now in its fourth generation, "Altima is the power brand for Nissan," said regional product manager John Curl. A coupe is expected to "add incremental sales to the Altima brand," attracting "young customers especially." Other coupes on the market, Curl believes, are "not very good, or not very interesting." Nissan's main target is the Honda Accord coupe.
Nissan "started with a clean sheet of paper" for the coupe, Curl said. It's not merely a two-door sedan. The only body panel shared with the sedan is the hood. "Everything else is completely unique to the coupe."Wheelbase is about 4 inches shorter than the sedan's, and the roofline has been lowered by about 2 inches. Tiny rear quarter windows are installed, and the doors are considerably wider than those of a sedan. Overall, the coupe is 7.3 inches shorter than an Altima sedan, but widths are identical so the coupe gets a "wide, muscular stance" as well as interior roominess.
Powertrains match those of the Altima sedan. Placed on sale May 25, the Altima coupe has a choice of two engines: a 175-horsepower four-cylinder and a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Either a six-speed manual transmission or Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) may be installed.
Operation of the CVT is utterly refined, as demonstrated in a four-cylinder Altima coupe. This could be the best CVT yet. It's even snappy on takeoff, and as smooth as can be. There's no shortage of energy for merging or passing, either. Because the CVT is so masterful there's little tempation to use the manual-shift mode, which can run through a sequence of virtual "gears."
This coupe is quiet, too, even while accelerating. Altimas emit virtually no buzziness or sense of high engine revs - as in many CTV applications - waiting for the car to catch up.
Ride comfort also appeals. You can feel pavement separators, but they don't affect occupants much at all because the suspension fends them off so well. Steering feel is beautifully balanced: easy to turn and positive to control.
Snugly-bolstered front bucket seats seem appropriate for the sporty coupe. Illuminated gauges have big numbers, and are among the easiest to read.
Nothing is perfect, and the Altima sags at times in terms of sounds. Considerable tire noise (actually a buzz) occurs on certain surfaces; but on others, there's none to speak of. In some areas, a notable whine appears. Rear quarter windows don't help much with visibility, which isn't the best either rearward or over-the-shoulder.
Don't even try the backseat unless you're young and/or agile - or foolish. Not only is twisting needed to make your way back there, but leg space is minuscule unless front seats are pushed well forward.
A V6 Altima with manual shift delivers loads of exuberance, as expected, joined by an exceptionally swift-shifting gearbox and an easy-to-engage clutch. This suspension feels a lot tighter than the four-cylinder's on washboard surfaces and the like. In fact, you can expect nearly constant, annoying lumpiness on imperfect pavement.
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