2012 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR
If you were doing a word-association survey on “success” at Nissan, you’d probably get a variety of responses.
I think the overwhelming answer would be Altima.
I’d argue further that without the Altima, there might not be a Nissan today.
The Altima’s dependable best-selling numbers bought the company time to readjust through the downturn of the automotive industry a few years ago.
Its styling cues have become prevalent enough to spread throughout Nissan’s lineup, while the endurance of its styling appeal continues to confound competitors in the midsize market.
So, it’s easy to understand that when somebody came up with the idea of building on the Altima success with a two-door coupe version, the response was “Sure, go ahead.”
Coupes are not designed to be big moneymakers — they just bolster the brand image.
The result, unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2006, drew instant acclaim, spurring the 2008 Altima coupe production model that echoed the praises of the original concept for its singularity of style and design.
“Rather than just eliminating two doors from the Altima sedan, we gave the Altima coupe its own style, its own dimensions and its own interpretation of Nissan’s exhilarating driving pleasure,” said Ian Forsyth, director, corporate and product planning for Nissan Canada.
In fact, when you compare the coupe and sedan in terms of major body panels, the two cars share only the hood in common. All other panels, grille, headlights and rear combination lights are unique to the coupe.
The coupe is definitely different, uniquely styled, handsome from any angle, but especially from behind, and its shape is proportional with a shorter wheelbase, shorter overall length and lower height than the Altima sedan.
To be specific, the coupe has a 100-millimetres (four-inch) shorter wheelbase than the sedan, enabling maneuverability and a smaller turning radius.
Overall length measures 248 millimetres (9.8 inches) shorter, with reduced rear overhang, giving the car an aggressive wheels-to-the-corner stance. The coupe is also 53 millimetres (2.1 inches) lower for a sleek-flowing fastback profile.
There are four versions to choose from, based on engine size and transmission choices. The Altima 2.5 S ($27,698) starts with 175-horsepower, 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder.
Customers can step up to the Altima coupe 3.5 SR ($35,298) harnessing a 270-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 engine.
Both engines are offered with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or optional Xtronic CVT (continuously variable) automatic ($1,300).
I was driving a full-blown 3.5 SR model, loaded with all the bells and whistles and dipped in what a fellow automotive journalist once described as “arrest-me-red.”
The coupe comes with a healthy list of standard-issue equipment but this top-of-the-line SR model added upscale features like a leather interior, Xenon headlights, fog lights, rear-view monitor, and digital BOSE audio with XM radio and Bluetooth hands-free phone system, to name just a few.
It also added the Navigation package with 6.5-inch touch screen ($2,900) that, along with the added CVT tranny and a petallic-pearl ($135) paint charge, boosted this bottom line to almost $40,000.
Inside, the 3.5 SR is snug but comfortable with a handsome two-tone sweep of colour and texture that flows from the dash to the doors.
It’s an interior that accurately reflects the styling drama of the coupe’s exterior.
But, of course, life is full of compromises and inside is where you pay a price for the sexy, low-slung profile of the coupe.
Some would argue that function takes a back seat to form in this car — or, at least, it would if it could find room to do so.
There’s the usual 2+2 confined claustrophobia in back, barely a fistful of space between the two rows of seats and just enough seating room to make sure you’ll never be asked for a ride again.
But, as with most coupes, the back seat will tend to serve more as an occasional receptacle for bags and briefcases, or be flopped flat to increase the capacity of the 232-litre (8.2-cubic feet) trunk space, enough luggage room for the typical single commuter customer or power couple with no kids.
Taller drivers like me will brush their hair against the headliner and suffer occasional brain-bangers over the speed bumps, but average-sized owners will find adequate room along with plenty of comfort and amenities.
There’s little to complain about here, save for seat heaters that are slow and spotty in performance, more of a common Nissan complaint than something specific to Altima.
All is forgiven when you stomp the accelerator.
There’s always a nice V6 hum pulsing in the background as you drive.
The V6 lopes around town at an easy 1,000 r.p.m. but slap the stick into driver-select mode and the car senses your playful mood, dropping a few gears into a higher rev range (virtually, that is, since it is a CVT).
The chorus erupts into a satisfying confirmation of snarling power when prodded, with obvious evidence of the VQ engine DNA shared with Nissan’s Z sports car.
Economy-minded enthusiasts will probably be satisfied with the 2.5-litre four-banger and standard stick-shift in the lighter entry-level but the powerful V6 does feel like a nice fit in a car styled with sport performance in mind.
This V6 engine and automatic configuration is optimistically lab rated at 10.2/7.3L/100km (city/hwy). I managed 6.8L/100km on long highway stretches but my real world combined average worked out to a more realistic 10.8L/100km.
The Altima coupe is still a relatively young model, debuting for 2008, refreshed two years ago for 2010 but, sharing some of the fifth-generation sedan styling, the Altima lineup is undergoing a major revision for 2013.
At present, it is the lowest-price coupe alternative in the Nissan lineup, with more performance presence than the tarted-up Sentra SE-R sedan, but priced well below the Z coupe and Roadster — not to mention the lofty Nissan GT-R supercar.
It really shouldn’t feature in an apple-to-oranges comparison with rear-wheel-drive coupes like the Chev Camaro, Dodge Challenger of Ford Mustang but it is a viable alternative to front-wheel-drive competitors like the Honda Accord coupe.
And, for customers interested in a handsome driver-oriented coupe with performance options and unique styling, at press time, Nissan was offering the Altima coupe with a $3,500 factory rebate and a four-month no-payment program.
The 2012 Altima coupe 3.5 SR — an Altima with attitude.
And performance that lives up to the promise.