Gear up for speed, good looks, affordability with next year's Nissan Altima.
The new 2008 Nissan Altima coupe is a worthy addition to the slowly expanding sports coupe market, which was once considered nearly dead.
The new front-wheel-drive coupe is similar in some respects to the revised 2007 Nissan Altima
sedan -- but is quite different in many ways.
For example, both the sedan and coupe have the same engines, but the coupe shares no body panels with the sedan except for an aluminum hood and has a sleek fastback shape. The coupe has its own grille and front headlight design and bolder, better integrated taillights.
The coupe is 7.1 inches shorter than the sedan at 182.5 inches with a reduced rear overhang, and a height lowered by 2.5 inches to 55.3 inches. The coupe also has a wheelbase (distance between axles) reduced by 4 inches to 105.3 inches, giving it more nimbleness. It's also lighter than the sedan for a sportier driving feel.
The Altima sedan is handsome, but the new coupe looks racier, with such items as a large, very steeply raked windshield.
Styling is especially important with a sporty car, but you live in an auto's interior. Nissan once had some pretty marginal looking interiors, but the coupe shows the automaker can come up with pretty good ones.
Upscale, soft-touch materials are used in the quiet cockpit, which has easily read backlit gauges and user-friendly controls. Doors have pockets and bottle holders, and there are rear seatback pockets. The console bin is small but deep, and the glove compartment is large. Front cupholders are strategically positioned on the console and have a cover when not being used.
Exterior and interior door handles are easy to grab, but long, heavy doors are inconvenient in tight spots.
There's good room for two tall occupants up front in heavily bolstered bucket seats. The split/folding rear seat also is supportive and even its middle section -- uncomfortably hard in most cars -- is soft.
There isn't much legroom for tall occupants in the rear, except for the area behind the front passenger. That passenger's seat slides forward to allow easy entry to at least the right rear seat section. But it's best to flip down the rear seatbacks to significantly enlarge the rather modest cargo area.
Nissan doesn't figure the rear seat of sports coupes are used much for passengers, anyway.
The Altima coupe comes as the 2.5 S with a sophisticated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 175 horsepower or as the 3.5 SE with an even more advanced 3.5-liter V-6 generating 270 horsepower.
My test car's speed-sensitive power steering was quick and nicely weighted, with the right amount of power boost for spirited driving. Handling was good, although the car has sports coupe moves -- not the sharper moves provided by sports cars. The ride was firm but compliant, and stopping distances were short, with good brake pedal feel.
The 2.5 S has a list price of $20,490 with a six-speed manual transmission and $20,990 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 3.5 SE costs $24,890 with the manual and $25,390 with the CVT, which has an easily used manual shift feature via the floor-mounted transmission lever. (Push up for an upshift, pull back for a downshift.)
Nissan estimates that some 60 percent of Altima coupe buyers will opt for the four-cylinder, which should provide decent performance. I tested the 3.5 SE with the more potent V-6, which provides fast merging and 65-75 mph passing times.
Estimated fuel economy with the four-cylinder is 23 mpg in the city and 31 on highways with the CVT and 23 and 32 with the manual gearbox. Figures for the V-6 are 19 city and 26 highway with the CVT and 19 and 27 with the manual.
Premium grade fuel is recommended for the best performance from the V-6. The four-cylinder engine requires only regular-grade fuel.
Both coupe models are well-equipped, with such items as air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/CD, tilt/telescopic wheel, push-button starter, split-folding rear seat and power mirrors, windows and locks with remote keyless entry.
The V-6 model adds items including 17-inch (vs. 16-inch) alloy wheels with wider 55-series tires (vs. 60-series tires), sunroof, power driver's seat, automatic headlights, steering wheel audio controls and heated outside mirrors with auxiliary turn signals.
Safety items include front side air bags and side curtain air bags for both seating rows. The V-6 model has standard traction control and optional ($600) Vehicle Dynamic Control.
There are several enticing option packages, but they're not cheap. For instance, the Premium Package costs $3,200 with such things as heated leather seats, and the $2,000 Technology Package has such items as a navigation system and backup camera.
The trunk lid has a thick inside lining for a quieter interior and pops up well out of the way on hydraulic struts, although it has no interior pull-down area. Rear seatbacks sit flat when flipped forward for more cargo space after being released by trunk-mounted controls, which prevents thieves from getting into the trunk via back-seat controls.
The hood is held up with a long, rather awkward prop rod instead of struts. But it also has an interior lining for sound control. Fluid filler areas are easily reached without getting clothes dirty.
The Altima coupe is plenty fast with the V-6, but it is mostly about style and value.
2008 NISSAN ALTIMA COUPE
LIKES: Sleek. Fast. Upscale interior.
DISLIKES: Tight back seat. Long, heavy doors. Rather firm ride with available V-6.