Short Take Road Test: 2008 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coupe
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2012.
By Michael Austin of Car and Driver
A funny thing happened to the Altima on the way to becoming a coupe: The Pontiac G6 coupe came out. To be fair, the G6 predates the debut of the Altima sedan on which the new coupe is based, but the Pontiac's triangular taillamps, sloping roof, and C-pillar kink are recognizable to anyone who's seen a Nissan 350Z from closer than 100 feet. So, whether they knew it or not, Nissan designers were faced with the unenviable task of creating a coupe that looks like a Nissan but doesn't look like a Pontiac that looks like a Nissan.
Side by side, the G6 and Altima coupes do look similar, but the Nissan's stylish profile ultimately comes across as more authentic than the derivative lines of the Pontiac.
Creating the Altima coupe wasn't as simple as swapping four doors for two, because Nissan wanted to give the coupe a unique look. It's not obvious from the front, but the hood is the only body panel that is shared between the two Nissans, and inside, the dashboard is a common assembly. At the rear, the fast rake of the backlight leads into a bump in the trunklid that functionally provides more cargo space. Visually, the protuberance on the trunk makes the taillamps look lower and wider than they already are. Combined with the flat, angular bumper and the flared rear wheel arches, the Altima coupe looks pleasingly aggressive from behind. It's too bad the styling of the nose isn't as distinguished; at best, we can say it's inoffensive.
Underneath the skin, the Altima coupe rides on a shortened version of the sedan chassis. The wheelbase is chopped four inches, and overall length of the coupe is 7.3 inches shorter. The coupe also stands 2.6 inches lower than the four-door. Engine choices are the same as in the sedan: a 175-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 270-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed manual or a CVT. The 3.5SE we tested with a CVT made the 0-to-60 sprint in 5.8 seconds, or one tick quicker than the six-speed V-6 sedan we tested in December 2006. Coupe and sedan weight and skidpad numbers are almost the same, but the two-door required five fewer feet to stop from 70 mph, 175 feet in all.
Six-cylinder Altima coupes also have unique rear-suspension tuning compared with that of the sedan, and the ride is firmer but not jarringly stiff. The steering responds sharply to driver inputs, but there are compromises to any high-horsepower, front-wheel-drive car. In this case, Nissan has damped torque steer at the expense of steering feel, but we'll take smooth power delivery over wrestling the wheel under acceleration any time.
A base 2.5-liter Altima coupe starts at $21,115, and all trim levels come with keyless ignition and side and curtain airbags. Our $31,815 test car came loaded with the Technology and Premium packages, which include navigation, a rearview camera, leather, and xenon headlamps.
When it comes to coupes, we're still partial to the greater driver involvement of a rear-wheel-drive layout. Yet the Altima coupe can keep up with anything in its price range. Plus, its styling is sure to garner envious glares from G6 owners.
C/D TEST RESULTS:
2008 EPA city driving: 19 mpg