Nissan recently invited some journalists to test-drive some of their new and revised offerings, one of which was actually a little sports car. Maybe sports car is overstating it, but the fact is, I don't get drive the small and fast stuff too often in the world of trucks. The four vehicles were the all-new Nissan Altima coupe, the new long-wheelbase Titan (both the extended and crew cab models), the upgraded Pathfinder now with the big V-8 option, and finally, the mid-model-changed Armada now with a new, much quieter interior.
Our first drive route had us in wide variety of Altima coupes, leaving the downtown Minneapolis area and heading into the heartland of mid-America. Altima coupe buyers will have the same engine choices Altima sedan buyers have, with the 175-horsepower 2.5-liter I-4 as the base motor, starting at $21,115 with the 6-speed manual (add $500 for the manu-matic CVT), and the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 the optional choice, starting at $25,515 with the 6-speed manual, with, again, the CVT a $500 option.
The way Nissan explains it, there is a need for this vehicle in the marketplace, even if Toyota has decided to drop its Solara model because of falling sales. Main competitors will be the Honda Accord coupe, Hyundai Tiburon, and Pontiac G6, all of which the new Nissan entry beats on price in every similarly-equipped head-to-head price battle. Nissan expects the coupe to be popular with women, many of whom will opt for the more economical 2.5-liter I-4, which we were impressed with. In fact, Nissan expect a full 60-percent of the coupes they sell to be sold with the I-4 as fuel prices begin to climb. Nissan marketing gurus see the average buyer to be younger and not quite ready to take the dive into the more responsible and mature sedan or minivan market, as well as pulling in some older buyers who might want to exercise their "free-spirit" wings as their kids start leaving the house.
To refresh your memory, the Altima platform is front-wheel drive and design to relatively inexpensive to produce, especially when compared with the more refined and rear-wheel drive Infiniti G-series sedans and coupes. Make no mistake, even though they share a similar design look (one that we like), once you get behind the wheel, there will be no getting the two confused. On our drive route, where we had the chance to experience both the small and large engines with the CVT, power is far from overwhelming. Clearly, the CVT is designed to help get the best fuel economy possible; as a result, when left in "Drive", take-offs are predictably smoothed out. With that said, we give the CVT high marks for its ability to be shifted like regular manu-matic (thank you sophisticated software), making the driver feel like he's in control if your preference is toward spirited outings.
Although the only piece of sheet metal the coupe shares with the sedan is the hood, there are other similarities. All the interior gauges, HVAC controls, and center stack layout are shared with sedan, as one might expect. The overall size of the coupe is about 7 inches shorter, with the wheelbase smaller than the sedan by four inches.