It's easy enough to be wooed by the svelte form of the Infiniti G37 coupe, but its $36,915 entry price isn't exactly an easy hurdle for all consumers to clear. Perhaps G37 fans on a strict budget may be intrigued by the 2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR Coupe. It's hard to argue that the two-door Altima isn't an attractive car, but does the midsize, front-wheel-drive coupe have enough substance to support its good looks?
Business In Front, Party In Back
Arguably, Nissan's designers played it safe when crafting the front fascia. Although the Altima Coupe shares only its hood with its sedan sibling, the rest of the front end almost passes for a carbon copy. Headlamps, grille, lower air dam, and front fascia are all unique to the Coupe, but only the fenders-which are slightly more slender and curvaceous than those on the sedan-look substantially different.
Move aft of the A-pillars, and it's another story altogether. Here the Coupe looks nothing like the Altima sedan, with a roofline that flows over chiseled rear fenders and terminates in a stubby tail. Apart from the taillights, the rear profile of the car is a dead ringer for the stylish Infiniti G37 coupe.
What Lies Beneath
In contrast to the swoopy styling and the spiffy interior, the Altima's underpinnings remain rather humble. The Coupe is built off the same Nissan D platform used in the sedan (along with the larger Maxima and Murano crossover), which means it sends power to its front wheels alone.
A 175-horsepower, 2.5-liter I-4 is standard in base Altima Coupe models, while the 3.5 SR models scrap the four in favor of a DOHC, 24-valve, 3.5-liter V-6. Shoppers looking for power befitting the sporty styling should skip the four altogether. Although Nissan's VQ V-6 is aging, the engine still cranks out a commendable 270 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. As is the case with the four-cylinder car, a continuously variable transmission is standard on the 3.5 SR, but if the wheel-mounted shift paddles don't offer enough involvement, a six-speed manual transmission is optional.
Opting for the stick shift isn't exactly as easy as ticking a single option box. On 3.5 SR cars, the six-speed manual also forces buyers to spring for the Premium Package and the Leather Package. The $2330 premium imposed by the manual may seem intimidating, until you consider opting for those two packages alone would normally cost almost $3500.
Suave Interior, Little Space
All Altima interiors are treated to nicely grained plastic, but metallic trim accents on the dash, steering wheel, and shifter bezel help set Leather Package-equipped cars apart from lesser Altima Coupes. Staffers were split on the ruby red leather seating; some found it a little overbearing, while others thought it offered a nice contrast to the charcoal interior.
In the transition from sedan to Coupe, the Altima's seating capacity goes from five to four, but pity those forced to squeeze their way into the rear seat. The fastback roof works wonders from a styling perspective, but it pinches headroom-rear passengers have 35.6" of headroom, but taller passengers will likely butt their heads against the rear glass. If nothing else, the rear seats offer some additional cargo room, an important consideration, seeing as the coupe's sinewy form leaves it with a short, shallow trunk.
How Does It Drive?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Coupe drives much like the Altima sedan, though this may disappoint those who expect it to perform like a G37. At low speeds, the car is rather benign, but any liberal application of the throttle results in significant torque steer. Steering weight is decent, but the steering is not exactly quick, a fact exaggered by the large, ovoid steering wheel.
To help curb body roll during spirited driving, Nissan gives the V-6 Altima Coupe stiffer dampers and anti-roll bars at all corners along with stiffer front springs. The setup is enjoyable over a long set of switchbacks, but only if they're constructed of flawless tarmac. On anything but glass-smooth surfaces, the Altima Coupe transmits virtually every imperfection in the road surface directly to the cabin. Several staffers noted the harsh ride is prone to creating random squeaks and rattles inside the car while traveling over Michigan's frost-heaved roads.
Although we love shifting our own gears, the six-speed manual fitted here left us frustrated. The shifter itself is lanky, its throws are long, and its feel is somewhat rubbery. We'd puzzled why Nissan would go to the trouble of adding a manual transmission-a low-volume option that only caters to pure gearheads-but not refine its action. That said, we're happy that engineers did design a parking brake lever for the coupe in lieu of the pedal-operated release used in the Altima sedan.
Perhaps our biggest issue with the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR is its price tag. Yes, opting for the V-6 and the manual transmission does net you a considerable amount of standard equipment, but it also carries a substantial $30,495 sticker.
That's a bit of a stretch for budget-minded enthusiasts, but it also knocks on the doors of some impressive alternatives. An extra $750, for instance, buys a base Nissan 370Z, and both the Ford Mustang and Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 can be had with a V-6 and manual transmission for thousands less.
If rear-wheel-drive isn't a priority but comfort and cabin space are, Honda's Accord Coupe also presents an interesting alternative. An EX-L V-6 with a six-speed manual transmission runs $30,055, and offers suspension tuning and a rear seat conducive to more comfortable journeys.
If you're sold on the idea of picking up a G37 lookalike for less, the Altima Coupe may be your best option, but the 3.5 SR isn't exactly cheap. We'd rather spend our money on something that drives more like the G rather than something that just looks like one.
2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR
Base price (with destination): $30,320
Price as tested: $30,495
3.5-liter V-6 engine
18-inch alloy wheels
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Traction and stability control system (ESP)
Vehicle dynamic control
Tire pressure monitoring system
8-way driver power seat
Leather seating surfaces
Heated front seats
Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls
Leather-wrapped shift knob
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Bose AM/FM audio system with 7 speakers
XM satellite radio
USB port with iPod connectivity
MP3/WMA playback compatibility
4.3-inch color display
Dual zone automatic climate control
Nissan "Intelligent Key" keyless access
Power sliding moonroof with sunshade
Auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass
Options on this vehicle:
6-speed manual transmission -- $2330
Floor & trunk mat set -- $175
Key options not on vehicle:
Technology package -- $1780
Rear spoiler -- $460
18 / 27 / 21 mpg
Size: 3.5L V-6
Horsepower: 270 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Curb weight: 3294 lb
18-inch alloy wheels
235/45R-18 Michelin Pilot all-season tires