New car reviews

2008 Nissan Altima Coupe

All grown up

Marc K. Stengel, Wed, 26 Mar 2008 08:00:00 PDT

For 2008, two dowdy perennials of the automotive marketplace-the Chevy Malibu and the Nissan Altima-have total body makeovers to flaunt, and the results are spectacular. Visually, the Chevy sedan is transformed from a rental-fleet also-ran into a sophisticated stunner. Nissan's two-door rendition of the Altima transforms wallflower anonymity into party-time sizzle. Better yet, there's more than meets the eye where each car is concerned. Suddenly, there's new excitement in the mid-size car category-not because new models have replaced old ones, but because these familiar old ones have been born anew.

The Altima has been a singularly successful car for Nissan for 15 years now, and because no good deed even goes unpunished, Altima's ubiquitous familiarity has bred its fair share of contempt. Auto buffs in particular see this car as nothing more than an econo-commuter, so there's been nothing about it to lure those enthusiasts.

Until this 2008 model year, that is. With a bravado that will take many car-watchers by surprise, Nissan has sculpted a two-door coupe out of its Altima sedan, and the result is a streamlined bon-bon that's as spirited as it is affordable.

The silhouette speaks for itself: Altima's coupe is compact in its stance, but the flowing billow that sweeps from front to rear both elongates and lowers the car's appearance. Inside is seating for five; and, of course, rear access is tight in the manner of all coupes. But up front, the Altima two-door is roomy and spacious-just perfect for that stylish couple on a weekend's road trip.

The silhouette speaks for itself: Altima's coupe is compact in its stance, but the flowing billow that sweeps from front to rear both elongates and lowers the car's appearance. Inside is seating for five; and, of course, rear access is tight in the manner of all coupes. But up front, the Altima two-door is roomy and spacious-just perfect for that stylish couple on a weekend's road trip.

By far the most interesting mechanical innovation in the Altima coupe is its optional "Xtronic" continuously variable transmission (CVT). Although no longer a novelty, CVTs may well be said to have come of age in this particular instance. Gone is the "slipping clutch" feel of rival systems. In the Altima coupe, CVT acceleration is always in the sweet-spot of the powerband, since a CVT matches revs to peak torque. A subtle stutter seems to simulate traditional gear shifts, and downshifts are both prompt and well-timed-to assist with downhill braking, for example.

Unreformable traditionalists, of course, may still opt for a six-speed manual; and the bargain-minded will note the alternate version of this coupe, whose $20,570 sticker includes a 2.5-liter inline-4 rated at 175 hp and 23/31 mpg (versus 19/26 for the V6).

But the new look of new tech is what this 2008 Altima coupe is all about; and by all appearances, its future seems bright.

It's hard to overstate how significant is this radical updating of one of the automotive world's best-known nameplates. Everybody's heard of Malibu, of course, which dates back to 1964. For the last several years, however, Malibu was what you were left with after all the Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys had sold out. It wasn't a bad car, but it simply wasn't memorable. Even as the car gradually improved, mechanically, in the last few years, it still suffered the ignominy of being recognized as Chevrolet's Maliboo-boo.

For 2008, Malibu strides onto the seen like a cum laude graduate of finishing school. The style points are all European, despite that conspicuous Chevy "bow-tie" set into the grille. Underlying the new rounded silhouette and sensuous curves is a sedan platform shared with the Saturn Aura; but ultimately, both cars derive from GM's German division Opel. The Teutonic touch is everywhere apparent, from fit-and-finish quality and meticulous interior styling to the car's crisp ride and athletic handling. Leaving aside the beachy connotations of its name, Malibu renders European sophistication palatable to heartland American taste.

For starters, in its upscale "LTZ" version, Malibu boasts a 3.6-liter twin-cam V6 whose variable valve timing helps produce 252 horsepower. This engine, mated to a silky shifting six-speed automatic, results in a gutsy powertrain that excels at cruising the open road. Shift "paddles" on the steering wheel allow manual gear selection when the mood strikes, but these only work when the console shifter is notched over to "M-is-for-Manual" mode. In commuter traffic, Malibu can start-and-stop with the best of 'em, but a disappointing 17 mpg/city rating (with regular) suggests that this sedan is happier on the open road (26 mpg/highway).

Moreover, the Malibu's ride is nicely tuned for long-distance driving. At speed, the car feels well-planted and handles predictably, whereas the in-town ride character is biased more towards soft comfort than sporty firmness. What really distances Malibu from both its own past and its arch-rivals is its intimate, home-office-like interior. If you can peer beyond the dazzle of the LTZ's sumptuous two-tone leather upholstery, you'll notice a masterful cockpit layout for driver and front passenger in which dash and console sweep seamlessly from door to door. Controls and instruments are easy to use and understand, and the prevailing effect is one of calm competence in the management of devices as diverse as OnStar, GPS navigation, XM satellite radio and thermostatic climate control.

In LTZ trim, Malibu shows up in its finest frocks, so the $28,340 sticker (as-tested) should come as no surprise. It's not overstating the case, however, to say that this under-$30,000 sedan compares exceedingly well with Euro rivals approaching $35,000 and more. Keep in mind, however, that Malibu pricing actually starts at $19,345-with a 2.4-liter, 169-hp inline-4 that delivers 22/30 mpg. At both ends of its pricing spectrum, then, Malibu has plenty to offer and much to impress.

Sedan; 4-door, 5-pass.; 3.6-liter DOHC V6 w/ vvt; FWD, 6-sp. shiftable auto; 252 hp/251 ft.-lbs.; 17 mpg/city, 26 mpg/hwy w/ regular; trunk: 15.1 cu. ft.; base price: $26,345; as-tested, w/ 4-wheel ind. suspension & ABS disc brakes, AM/FM/CD/XM audio, OnStar, climate control, 18-in. wheels, sunroof, front/side/head airbags: $28,340

Coupe; 2-door, 5-pass.; 3.5-liter DOHC V6 w/ vvt; FWD, "Xtronic" shiftable CVT; 270 hp/258 ft.-lbs.; 19 mpg/city, 26 mpg/hwy w/ regular; trunk: 7.4 cu. ft.; base price: $25,390; as-tested, w/ 4-wheel ind. suspension & ABS disc brakes, AM/FM/CD/Sirius audio, HVAC, 17-in. wheels, front/front-side/head airbags: $26,180

 


2008 Nissan Altima Coupe on carlist.com


2008 Nissan Altima Coupe on carlist.com


2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ on carlist.com


2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ on carlist.com

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