The cars we loved.
The Nissan Altima has established a long history of being a sporty, fun to drive car. The only problem for some was that it was a sedan. As Nissan gradually grew the Altima to the larger end of the mid-sized segment, it stayed on the sidelines and watched Honda and Toyota whose Accord and Camry came in two door versions and sold well. Nissan’s last true grand tourer coupe was the 240SX, a car that had all the moves minus the power. Nissan product planners must have decided that the time had come for a car that was more comfortable than the 240SX, but would not impede on the sales of its other sporty coupe: the 370Z. The resulting Altima coupe seems to have the opposite dilemma of the 240SX: more power than poise when up against its natural rival, the Honda Accord coupe.
In 2006 Nissan showed a Altima branded coupe at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The G35 like shape suggested Infiniti performance at a Nissan price point. A year later it was being offered as a 07 model. It was based on the sedan, but with a shortened wheelbase. First name aside, the only thing the coupe actually shares with the sedan is the hood. True to the concept car from 06’, the actual car’ shape was inspired more by Infiniti as it resembles the more upmarket G35 coupe. The upwardly mobile theme continues inside with a simple, sporty almost elegant interior.
Like the sedan, the coupe benefits from upgraded interior materials, but is more driver oriented. The coupe was poised to fulfill the Altimas mission of being a bit sporty and fun while staying practical. The large rear hatch makes the coupe the most versatile Altima. To stay further grounded in Altima’s role as a mid-sized, mid-priced car, the coupe was available in one of two engine choices used elsewhere in Nissan’s product catalog. Base cars would use a rather large 2.5L DOHC 16V four-cylinder that produced 175 hp. Top models like the SR got the larger 270 hp 3.5L V6. Like the four, the six cylinder used a DOHC setup but with 24 valves. Both engines were efficient with the four getting around 30 mpg on the highway. A six speed manual transmission was available as was a CVT.
Most cars came loaded with standard high-end technology like push button starting, Bose stereos and a versatile touch screen navigation system which featured a hard drive based music system with a USB port. When the driver was not being amused with the creature comforts, they were treated to Nissan’s simple but effective control layout that follows the tradition of cars like the 240SX or Z cars. As nice as the new Altima coupe was, Honda’s revamped Accord coupe had become the sales leader. The Accord coupe is perhaps the Altima’s biggest competitor. When it was redesigned a few years back, Nissan found itself needing to refresh the Altima in 09.
The revamp included revised headlights, grille and tail lights. New standard features like Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control system was added to improve handling. 17 inch wheels were standard, but the optional 18’s on SE models looked especially handsome while improving ride and handling. Speaking of handling, the Altima’s performance was a bit lacking when compared directly to the Accord Coupe. It lacked the polish and refinement of the Honda inside and its ride quality. A 2009 test by Edmund’s magazine concluded that the Altima had a busy ride, imprecise handling and poor braking (60 to 0 in 135ft.). Harsh words for a car that promises so much in the way of performance (based on looks). To the Altima’s credit it has improved it’s braking performance and either of its engine choices offers plenty of get up and go when you need it, especially with the seldom ordered six speed manual. A V6 equipped manual can easily do 0 to 60 in 6.2 seconds. The mid-sized coupe field is rapidly changing with a new breed of rear wheel driven competitors. The Altima coupe has outpaced Toyota’s Solara, but the Accord is still its main nemesis.
While the Altima coupe may lack the poise of the Accord, it’s more practical than the Mustang or the Genesis Coupe. Then again those cars are in a different league altogether. The Altima will have to make do with chasing the Accord for now until the next redesign, which was rumored to be rear wheel drive. Like the 240SX before it, the Altima coupe is a comfortable car to drive. It is the semi-soft secretary’s car the 240SX was becoming and in many ways is its spiritual successor. For all its faults, the Altima coupe still comes closest to paying homage to the 91-94 sedan’s performance legacy more than any Altima in recent memory.