Honda has the Accord Coupe. Toyota has a coupe, the Camry Solara. Nissan? Well, now it has one, too, the 2008 Altima Coupe.
Not a two-door knock off of the Altima sedan, the Coupe shares but one body panel with its four-door sibling. More important, the Coupe departs significantly from the sedan's dimensions. And with positive results.
It's a tauter set up, focused more on responsive handling than plush ride. Interior space is cozier, as it should be to fit the coupe mold. As such, though, it's more of a two-person transporter than a family vacation vehicle or a carpool commuter.
Power-wise, the Nissan Altima Coupe tops both the current Honda Accord and Toyota Camry Solara, although the 2008 models of those two have yet to appear in dealerships and we're expecting an overhaul of the Toyota. But in the meantime, the Altima Coupe, which borrows its engines and transmissions from the Altima sedan, holds the crown. And that crown's jewels are a 175-horsepower four-cylinder and a 270-horsepower V6. Each comes with either a truly delightful, six-speed manual or an optional Continuously Variable Transmission, a decidedly less delightful, although nominally more efficient, gearless CVT automatic that optimizes engine power, fuel economy, and emissions levels. Nissan is very good at CVTs, but we find shifting the manual more fun.
Much of the Coupe's interior is borrowed from the Altima sedan, so the dash has been well de-bugged. The layout is comfortable, with gauges, audio and climate control heads, and storage facilities where they should be and in the expected quantities. Front bucket seats are unique to the Coupe, however, with more aggressive bolsters than their counterparts in the sedan. The CVT has a foot-operated parking brake, while the manual gearbox comes with handbrake that obstructs access to the cup holders in the center console.
Assembly quality and most interior materials are above par, as is fitment of exterior body panels. The look isn't terribly original, enlisting cues borrowed in large part from the sedan and from sportier coupes Nissan sells in Japan but currently not in the U.S. Perhaps its strongest point is that it's clearly a Nissan, a goal the car maker has been striving to achieve with its recent products.
Depending on trim level, the tires are either 60-aspect on 16-inch wheels or a marginally wider 55-aspect on 17-inch wheels, neither of which put enough rubber on the pavement to make the most of the Altima Coupe's suspension capabilities. Brake performance, while in no way troubling, would likely benefit from more expansive footprints, too.
The 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is not a great car nor is it a standout in the segment. So it's not likely to light some internal, unquenchable fire in a buyer to drive the wheels off of it. But it is a well-built, good-looking, nicely packaged and competitively featured and priced two-door coupe.
The 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe comes in two models, the 2.5 S with a 175-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and the 3.5 SE with a 270-hp 3.5-liter V6.
The Altima Coupe 2.5 S ($20,490) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, manually operated six-way driver seat and four-way front passenger seat, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, trip computer, outside temperature gauge, folding split 60/40 rear seat, P215/60R16 tires on steel wheels, and Intelligent Key.
The base transmission is a six-speed manual; optional is a continuously variable automatic, or CVT ($500).
Option packages for the 2.5 S model include the Convenience Package ($1300) with eight-way, power driver seat with manual lumbar; automatic headlights; extendable visors with illuminated mirrors; leather-wrapped steering-wheel with spoke-mounted, secondary audio controls; several auto-windows functions; a wood trim interior finish; trunk cargo net; and alloy wheels. The Premium Package ($5,100) builds on the contents of the Convenience Package with leather-trimmed seats, door panels and shift knob; heated front seats; automatic dual-zone climate control; nine-speaker, Bose audio system with MP3/WMA capability, three-month trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio, speed-sensitive volume and RDS; auto-dimming inside rearview mirror; universal, programmable garage/gate remote; tilt-and-slide, power moonroof with sun shade; upgraded interior finishes; Bluetooth phone system; and illuminated center console lighting. The Technology Package ($2,000) adds a navigation system, XM traffic information (includes three-month trial subscription), steering-wheel-mounted controls, and rearview backup camera. Moonroof ($850) and fog lamps ($310) are available.
The Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SE ($24,890) has the V6 and adds a leather-wrapped steering-wheel with audio controls, eight-way power driver seat with manual lumbar, moonroof, power-window functions, automatic headlights, fog lamps, and P215/55R17 tires on alloy wheels.
Option packages for the 3.5 SE include the Technology Package listed above and a Premium Package ($3200) that adds xenon high-intensity headlights to the Premium Package features above.
Dealer-installed accessories for both models include a moonroof wind deflector ($100), five-piece floor and trunk carpet mats ($175), and aluminum door kick plates ($85).
Safety features that come standard include the mandatory dual-stage frontal airbags for the front seats, front seat-mounted side airbags (to reduce injury to the upper body in side impacts), front- and rear-seat coverage side curtain airbags (to reduce injury to occupant's heads in side impacts), active front-seat head restraints (to reduce whiplash-type injuries in rear impacts), and LATCH rear-seat child safety seat tethers and anchors. Anti-lock brakes (which allow the driver to steer the car during panic stops) come standard, along with electronic brake-force distribution (which apportions brake-force front to rear to maximize stopping power in emergencies). Traction control is standard only on the 3.5 SE. Optional exclusively on the 3.5 SE is Vehicle Dynamic Control (which helps the driver maintain control) with a limited-slip front differential ($600).