What's the recipe for creating a niche coupe, using two of America's perennial top-selling sedans as a base? Lose the rear doors, craft an attractive rear end, and offer an optional manual gearbox to please enthusiasts. But unlike purpose-driven performance coupes such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, sedan-based coupes must capture the essence of the four-door original in order to carry its fan base. As recently as two years ago, the list of two-door iterations of sedans included entries from Toyota, Chevrolet, and Chrysler. Since then, however, the field of midsize coupes has shrunk to a number you can count on one hand. And with two of the standouts, the 2011 Honda Accord and Nissan Altima coupes, remarkably similar in terms of dimensions, horsepower, and price point, we decided to see how each manufacturer applies the tried-and-true formula.
On paper, the comparison between two midsize coupes shows the Altima sitting in the shadow of the Accord in terms of size, horsepower, and price. The output of their 3.5-liter V-6 engines is within one horsepower of one another (theoretical advantage: Honda), and their as-tested prices are within $100 (advantage: Nissan), save for our Accord's $2000 optional navigation system. A closer look at each car's driving dynamics and packaging, however, reveals that two fewer doors also gives each car a different character on the road. While the sedate sedan versions seem to pull at the same strings of America's pocketbooks, that's not as likely with the coupes.
Both coupes' exterior styling is clearly derived from their sedan siblings. The Accord's styling is smart and inoffensive, a careful adaptation of the sedan's squared-off lines. By contrast, the Altima coupe's design is an attempt to court low-budget aficionados of the Infiniti G37 coupe. It marries the staid front end of the Altima sedan with a sleek rear end, but some awkward lines make the sides look frumpy.