– Fairly good handling
– Great cabin ambience
– Solid engine performance
– Lacks ultimate sporting edge
– Limited rear-seat space
– Overly light steering
A car automatically becomes “sporty” somehow when it has two doors instead of four, even if said car is nearly identical to another model that happens to have two extra doors. In the “coupe” market segment, style is everything. Buyers buying such cars are ready to give up some practicality and some more cash, but not too much of either. Otherwise they’d all be in the market for expensive two-seater roadsters instead. The Nissan Altima Coupe straddles this no-man’s-land of car culture just like its rival, the Honda Accord Coupe.
The Coupe differentiates itself from the sedan with a shorter wheelbase and a swoopy roofline, and even goes as far as having a unique rear-end design. Stepping inside, the cabin is exactly the same as the in the sedan, except for one detail — the sedan’s three front cup-holders have been replaced by two cup-holders and a proper handbrake in the coupe. Of course, beyond the front seats, the rear is a different setup altogether.
As with the sedan, we liked the interior materials, including the soft rubbery dashboard and upper door-linings, as well as the faux-leather moderately-bolstered seats and the padded armrests. The overall dash design feels more upscale than the Accord, enhanced by the number of gadgets included with the Altima, such as the intelligent keyless entry with start button, in-dash CD changer, and the simple Bluetooth system integrated into the above-average Bose CD/MP3 stereo. And the strong digital dual-zone a/c is excellent, as in any Nissan. Of course, features like power windows, electric mirrors, xenon headlights, sunroof, tyre-pressure monitor, multiple airbags, cruise control and little cabin-storage areas are also there. There’s even a cassette player. Sadly, like the sedan, it also suffers from minor build quality faults, although feeling solid overall. Our tester had a loose inner-door plastic panel that occasionally jammed the passenger door, requiring a brute-force tug to open it. Annoying, to say the least.
Space is good up front, even with the minor loss of headroom in its sedan-to-coupe transformation. However, other aspects suffer. The rear is rather cramped, especially in terms of legroom, although adults can fit somewhat. Access to the rear is quick thanks to a manually-adjusted passenger seat, which relinquishes the electrical functions of the driver’s seat. The shallow luggage trunk is a good deal smaller than the sedan’s, although the rear seat folds down. In contrast, the Accord Coupe has a spacious back seat and a huge cargo area.
The 3.5-litre V6 is the only engine available with the coupe, and it remains a strong unit in this application. Mated to a rubbery CVT automatic transmission in our tester, it offers 270 hp at 6000 rpm and 349 Nm of torque at 4400 rpm. In our drag runs, we inadvertently left the traction control on, which led to a 0-to-100 kph time of 7.0 seconds. Turning the ESP off probably wouldn’t have made a difference, since we spun the front wheels like crazy anyway and the ESP still didn’t kick in. Which prpbably means it wasn’t quicker than our slightly-heavier sedan tester’s time due to the hotter April weather. The optional CVT remains a weird experience, with its responsive gearless operation as well as its manual “shifting” functionality, but leaving it to do its thing led to a fuel consumption figure of 12.9 litres per 100 km, which is either very good or our trip computer was broken, as it bettered the sedan considerably.
On the driving front, there is nothing really wrong with the front-wheel-drive Altima Coupe. It has well-controlled moderate body roll, has a balanced platform with a moderately firm ride, and offers moderate levels of grip until it starts to mildly understeer on cue at the limit. The thing is, it drives exactly like the V6 sedan, with its lifelessly-light steering, dead-soft pedals and 215/55 tyres on 17-inchers. The shorter Altima coupe may have slightly better body control than the longer sedan, but the people at Honda went further in differentiating the Accord sedan from its coupe sibling. The Accord Coupe has slightly less body roll, firmer steering and better pedal feedback, making it a better driving experience than the Accord sedan and even the Altima Coupe.
That said, the Altima is a reasonably comfortable cruiser, even with the slightly firm ride, which is acceptable for a “sporty” car. It is remarkably quiet on the highway in most cases, with some road noise noticeable only on rough surfaces, such as newly-paved roads. There is no real floatiness over bumps, and no real jarring over potholes. All-round visibility is manageable, and there is ample power for street driving. The combination of good disc brakes, stability control and ABS all keep things in control for novice drivers who don’t need the handling edge of an Infiniti G37.
It is interesting to note that both Nissan and Honda decided to launch the coupe versions of their bread-and-butter sedans in the GCC at the same time. It is arguable as to who copied whom, but it is always nice to see showrooms add variety to their offerings, unlike the sad outfits peddling basic Mazdas and Subarus. The Altima may lose out a bit in the total fun-practicality equation when compared to its main rival, but it wins in value and, in many eyes, style as well.