Based on this coupe's voluptuous looks, you expect it to drive like a bargain-basement Infiniti G37. In fact, it's much more similar to the Pontiac G6 coupe and the Toyota Camry Solara. That makes sense given that the Altima is, like those cars, a variant of a front-wheel-drive sedan, and not a de-contented hot rod built on Nissan's venerable FM platform.
That said, it's still rather disappointing to find out that such a good-looking car drives so plainly. The steering is lifeless and vague. The driveline reminds me a bit of its cousin, but that's not quite a compliment. Like the G37, the manual transmission is balky, with a clutch that's difficult to modulate. The 3.5-liter V-6 provides a familiar cacophony as it grinds and howls its way to redline. But whereas the G37's bigger V-6 at least rewards all that racket with strong performance, the Altima never really feels like it's packing its rated 270 hp. There was a time when the VQ engines were far and away the most powerful on the market, but nowadays many competitors provide similar performance with a lot less noise, vibration, and harshness.
I understand Nissan's quandary. The company wanted to capitalize off the halo of its G37, which enjoys near cult status among young people, without undermining sales of the more expensive car. The Altima coupe probably makes sense in four-cylinder form for folks simply looking for a dose of G-coupe style at a reasonable price. But our loaded tester is nothing short of a con job, costing nearly as much as a base G37 while providing none of the driving experience.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor