MINNEAPOLIS - Although the coupe market is viable, it is also volatile. From a manufacturer's standpoint, a coupe is a low volume high maintenance proposition. So why did Nissan create a two- door version of its highly successful Altima sedan? In a phrase, Nissan wants to ride the Altima's wave.
Nissan sold about 250,000 Altima sedans last year. That's a lot. And by creating a coupe version of the car, the automaker thinks it can increase sales by up to 20 percent. That would be as many as 50,000 units. Did we say that's a lot?
To attract the younger, professional buyers who will be mostly single, Nissan didn't scrimp. The only sheet metal the coupe shares with the sedan is the hood.
We found the Altima coupe's interior a bit spartan but we didn't think it cheap. However, once we started driving the car, we forgot all about what we thought were its sparse surroundings.
The Altima coupe is shorter and lower than the sedan. It also has a shorter wheelbase. Still, we found the car very sturdy on the road. What's more, it had two distinct personalities.
We first drove the model with the 2.5- liter four- cylinder engine. It made 170 horsepower and 175 pounds- feet of torque. Although this car could be equipped with a CVT transmission, ours had a six- speed manual gearbox.
The 2.5- liter was capable and the manual gearbox was easy to shift. The coupe responded well to driver input and it cornered nicely. Power was sufficient. Most of our driving was along the bank of the Mississippi River (yep, the Mississippi begins in Minnesota), then eastward into Wisconsin.
Although the gearbox was fine, we thought the only reason someone would opt for this model with a manual transmission, is that they just loved to shift gears. The 2.5- liter coupe struck us as a vehicle best suited for the ease of a CVT and everyday driving.
On the other hand, the 3.5 liter Altima coupe seemed to be made for the driver who wanted to have fun on the road everyday. Its 270 horsepower V6 could be equipped with a CVT but why do that when a six- speed manual gearbox is available? That's what we had and we found this car a great drive.
It had 258 pounds- feet of torque, great acceleration and it was really a thrill to drive on the flat, two lane country roads that dissect western Wisconsin's farm land. The only improvement would be to decrease rpm for the torque curve. Too many times, we found ourselves waiting for the car to gather speed to pass even though we had down shifted from sixth to fifth. We learned fast to drop it into fourth to get the oomph we wanted to get out and around slower vehicles quickly.
The Altima coupe had a bunch of creature comforts that are expected in today's automobiles. It could be equipped with a navigation system, a hands free phone system, glass sun roof, heated side view mirrors, rearview camera, push button start, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, an auxiliary audio input and a tire pressure monitoring system were among the equipment.
Because the coupe is based on the sedan, Nissan did not have to spend a ton of money developing the Altima coupe from scratch and that's reflected in its price. The Altima coupe 2.5 S, with a six- speed manual, starts at $21,115. The same car with the 3.5- liter V6 starts at $25,515. For $500 more, either model can be equipped with the CVT transmission.
We found the Nissan Altima coupe to be quite capable. The only question now is can Nissan cut through the clutter of automotive advertising so that the Altima coupe can find its place in the market?