The Altima Coupe is the sportiest-looking model to come out of Nissan's factory since the iconic 350Z. Nissan promises that the two-door version of its midsize sedan will deliver "true performance, true technology, true coupe." The last of these claims is irrefutable: with its raked fastback roofline and flowing shoulders, the Altima Coupe marks a bold styling departure from the staid lines of the sedan. Aesthetes may disagree over the car's bulbous rear-end styling, which, depending on your school of thought, is either a dashing, Infiniti-inspired touch of style or a flabby appendage that looks like an aftermarket body kit.
Test the tech: Tunitas Creek Road
The Altima Coupe may look like a sports car, but we had our doubts about whether the front-wheel drive model would actually perform like one. To settle the matter decisively, we set out toward one of our favorite proving grounds south of San Francisco by the name of Tunitas Creek Road. It is difficult to overemphasize the demands that this forest trail high up in the Portola Valley puts on cars during spirited driving. With its corkscrew corners, blind bends, and hairpin turns, the serpentine Tunitas Creek Road is less of a race track than a rally course--the perfect place to test the mettle of the Altima Coupe.
Driving Skyline at around 50 mph, we had a chance to see how the Altima Coupe responded to cornering at speed and short bursts of acceleration and braking. While were impressed with the ability of the punchy four-cylinder engine to get us up to speed quickly, and by the linear quality of the brakes when approaching a turn, we were underwhelmed with the Altima Coupe's handling ability on corner exits. The Altima demonstrated considerable understeer lunging into corners and requiring us to constantly overextend in steering to push the car through the bends.
In the cabin
The interior of the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe features a clean, sparse design with a neat arrangement of cabin amenities, including an as-standard Intelligent (remote) key with pushbutton start. Our car was optioned up with charcoal leather covering for the seats and door panels, which was offset by some stylish silvery trim for the door handles and storage compartment. On the downside, we were surprised at the lack of fit and finish for the car's spring-loaded center storage console, which when closed left a gaping gap between the plastic cover and the central console.
As part of our test car's heftily priced Premium package, it was optioned up with a number of impressive cabin tech features. For entertainment, we got an upgraded stereo with six-disc in-dash changer capable of handing MP3 discs and input from portable media players via its front-mounted line-in jack. We found the buttons and dials for the head unit to be intuitive and well-laid-out, and we particularly like the generic Display button that enables drivers to cycle through text information on album, artist, and song title names for MP3 discs, and XM station, category, artist, and track information for XM satellite radio.
For communication, the Premium package gives the Altima Coupe one of the most user-friendly Bluetooth hands-free calling interfaces on the market. After a straightforward pairing process during which car and phone find each other, all phone controls can be activated by voice using a command button mounted on the steering wheel. Throughout our time with the car, we were consistently impressed with the ability of the system to understand our spoken commands: as an added bonus, the Nissan's Bluetooth system allows drivers to cut in with a command without having to wait for the car to complete its list of options.
Under the hood
As we found in our canyon carving adventure on the Tunitas Creek Road and elsewhere, the Altima Coupe's base-level 175-horsepower 2.5-liter in-line four cylinder engine provides plenty of zip for a car this size, but for those who feel like an extra 100 horsepower, the coupe is also available with Nissan's flagship 3.5-liter V-6. Based on our driving experience in the 2007 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SE , we're not sure of the utility of the bigger engine in the front-wheel drive coupe, particularly seeing as we regularly managed to inadvertently spin the wheels off the line with the smaller engine.
In spirited driving, the throttle tip-in is well-suited to quick upshifts with the long-throw stick. One of the most enjoyable elements of driving the Altima Coupe is its midrange and in-gear acceleration. While its red line is at 6,500rpm, peak horsepower is up at 5,600rpm, which is where the car feels happiest and most responsive. Handling is firm and rigid thanks to a sport-tuned coil-over-spring front-link and multilink independent rear suspension and front- and rear-stabilizer bars. As of this writing, official EPA fuel-economy figures for the Altima Coupe were not available; however, in our week with the car, we observed an impressive average gas-mileage figure of 27.9 over nearly 300 miles of mixed freeway, city, and slalom-course driving.
Our manual-transmission 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe came with a base price of $20,570, to which we added a hefty $5,100 for the Premium package, giving us a power moonroof; leather-trimmed, heated seats; Bluetooth hands-free calling; the upgraded Bose audio system with an MP3-compatible six-CD changer; XM satellite radio; and some other minor cabin niceties.
The Nissan Altima Coupe is a car that will appeal to commuters and weekend racers who want a sport-tuned ride without the rawness of the 350Z or the price tag of the new Infiniti G37. Its bold styling, broad range of interior tech, edgy driving dynamics, and impressive fuel economy make the Altima Coupe a formidable competitor when weighed against other cars in the segment such as the Pontiac G6 GT Coupe and the Honda Accord Coupe, which gets a major overhaul for 2008.