LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- With a zippy whine from the juicy VQ-series V6 engine and the swish-swish sound of Michelin tires clawing for traction on hard-knotted curves, the sleek two-door coupe variation of Nissan's mid-size Altima sedan in the Class of 2011 frolics on Route 167, a sand-swept asphalt strip which slithers across the stark Nevada desert east of Las Vegas.
This is an impressive vehicle: It's downright glamorous in styling of the body, strong and stiff in the construction of the steel structure, stuffed with high-tech electronic controls for agility and safety, then saturated with cockpit amenities to forge a luxurious set of wheels.
And it comes with a choice of powertrains -- one that's rather thrifty at the fuel pump and another that puts a surprising kick in the go-pedal.
Fresh exterior styling for the coupe variation of Altima appears crisp and uncommonly smooth, yet also aggressive in shape with one long door studding each flank.
Taut skin stretches over muscular shoulders and flat side panels interrupted by bulging fenders. Sleek lines from the arching profile flow down to the exaggerated prow fixed with a chrome-edged grille, broad two-slit air scoop and large lamp clusters containing projector-beam headlights.
A broad windshield cocks back at an extreme angle and the low roofline tapers to the curt tail where lamps define back corners in streaks of red.
Two new paint shades mark the 2011 Altima coupe editions: Metallic Slate and Brilliant Silver.
The Altima nameplate traces back in Nissan's line to the first-generation Altima sedan of 1993, the designated replacement for Stanza, Nissan's venerable compact car. A second generation in 1998 expanded Altima's package to the mid-size category, while the third generation of 2002 drew the wheelbase seven inches longer before a fourth generation of Altima in 2007 actually choped the length of the wheelbase by almost an inch to enhance maneuverability.
The two-door coupe variation of Altima, spinning from the 2007 Altima sedan platform with wheelbase pared some four inches, debuted at the 2006 Los Angeles International Auto Show and reached the North American marketplace in the summer of 2007 as a 2008 model.
Altima the coupe for 2011 carries fresh body styling acquired in 2010 and skews to two trims -- 2.5 S and 3.5 SR -- which differ by the type of engine, size of wheels and tires, and contents of the passenger compartment.
Altima 2.5 S stocks a dual-cam aluminum four-in-line engine which displaces 2.5 liters and adds continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) plus a silent chain drive and balancer system to negate engine vibrations.
The four-cylinder plant generates 175 hp at 5600 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm.
Altima 3.5 SR scores Nissan's aluminum VQ-series V6, with twin cams and four valves per cylinder plus CVVT.
Output climbs to 270 hp at 6000 rpm with 258 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Both engines work with either a six-speed narrow-gate manual transmission or Nissan's Xtronic continuously-variable transmission (CVT).
Select the manual gearbox if you're a hands-on kind of driver who likes to make shifter decisions for yourself, or pick the CVT if you don't want to be bothered by the chores of shifting.
The Xtronic CVT never shifts from one gear to another because it eliminates step-ratio gears of a conventional automatic transmission as well as the resultant shift shock. Instead, two variable diameter pulleys and a strong steel belt work to match the engine's output with the vehicle's speed, ultimately producing seamless acceleration.
With Altima's V6 engine on tap, Nissan installs a two-wheel limited-slip differential (LSD).
Mechanical hardware mounts on Altima's stiff front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform, such as the independent suspension system consisting of front struts with coil springs and a rear multi-link arrangement plus front and rear stabilizer bars.
Steering, feeling firm despite a power boost to the rack and pinion device, responds quickly to the driver's input, requiring only a light effort at low speeds but making a firm feel at higher speeds.
The brakes consist of power-assisted vented discs in front and solid discs in back for every edition.
The computer-controlled anti-lock brake system (ABS) adds electronic brake distribution (EBD) to modulate the force of braking against various load factors.
Further, every Altima carries a traction control system (TCS) and Nissan's vehicle dynamic control (VDC) device which checks lateral skidding on slippery pavement.
Other safety systems include a sturdy steel cage surrounding the passenger compartment and plenty of air bags concealed in the passenger compartment. The collection includes dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags mounted in the roof above front and rear outboard seats.
Altima's cabin, with bolstered bucket seats up front and a rear bench for up to three, is a plush space with chrome accents on dash and doors plus Fine Vision Gauge instruments with white illumination.
Standard gear on Altima 2.5 S ranges from 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with Continental ContiProContact 215/55R17 tires to a remote keyless entry system, power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, air conditioning and a six-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD.
Upgrades for Altima 3.5 SR 6MT include 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels capped in Michelin 235/45R18 rubber, a dual-zone automatic climate system, power sliding-glass moonroof, rearview monitor, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, XM satellite radio and a seven-speaker Bose stereo with AM/FM/AUX plus MP3/WMA compatibility and speed-sensitive audio volume controls.
Optional gear clusters in packages, such as the 2.5 S Convenience Package, 2.5 S Premium Package, Leather Package, 3.5 SR Premium Package and a Technology Package with Nissan Hard Drive Navigation System, 6.5-inch video monitor, 9.3-gig Music Box hard drive for digital music storage and playback, a DVD player and Bluetooth Streaming Audio.
Nissan creates a tiered price structure for the 2011 Altima coupe.
Entry point is the Altima 2.5 S 6MT, which shows a MSRP of $22,940, or Altima 2.5 S CVT for $23,440.
V6-powered editions are the Altima 3.5 SR CVT listing at $27,770 and top-trim Altima 3.5 SR 6MT for $30,100.