In online forums, the new Altima coupe has been dubbed "the poor man's Infiniti G35." Nissan, not surprisingly, is happy to promote that moniker. "The G35 is a great-looking car," company representatives remind us. Yes, but more important, the G35 is a great car to drive.
Looks aside, the Altima coupe will not be confused with a true sport coupe such as the G35. Sure, its optional V-6 bristles with power, but as we've seen in the Altima sedan, 270 hp can overwhelm this front-wheel-drive chassis. Lay on the gas pedal, and wheel spin prevents you from making the most of what has long been one of the best V-6s out of Japan. It doesn't help that the clutch is springy and the throttle is hard to modulate. Strangely, the Altima's steering is way overboosted at around-town speeds, so it's difficult to duck smoothly into holes in the urban traffic stream, but as you wheel the Altima down a winding two-lane, the steering tightens up considerably, and it's easy to carve an accurate line. You're fighting torque steer all the while, though, which further betrays this coupe's sporting pretensions. So do the dampers, which are stiffer than the sedan's: they do as much to diminish ride quality as to aid handling.
We suspect, however, that the Altima coupe's target audience cares more about styling and value than front- versus rear-wheel-drive dynamics. Nissan's designers in California were able to ditch all of the sedan's body panels except the hood, which allowed them to carve out a sleek fastback shape with a rear trunk profile that practically screams "Infiniti." The coupe is seven inches shorter overall than the sedan, yet its wheelbase is only four inches shorter, so the overhangs aren't excessive. Still, the styling gets mixed reviews among our staff.
We like the cabin, though. Aside from a few chintzy trim pieces, our 3.5SE test car's leather-trimmed interior--replete with the same white start button you'd find in a G35, well-bolstered sport seats, dual-zone climate control, and an optional Bose stereo that makes the side mirrors shake--was hardly that of a poor man's car.
No, Nissan doesn't expect Altima coupe buyers to sacrifice much in the way of creature comforts or style. The real sacrifice comes when you try to drive it like a sports car. Infiniti-esque looks can be deceiving.