The first coupe version of Nissan's sporty sedan may be the next best thing for those who can't afford the Infiniti G37 coupe from Nissan's luxury Infiniti division.

While it's essentially an abbreviated version of the front-wheel-drive Altima sedan, the 2008 coupe looks sportier and is 2.5 inches lower and 7.1 inches shorter overall. Its agility is heightened by a firmer suspension, lighter weight and a 4-inch-shorter wheelbase.

The Altima sedan was revamped for 2007, but the coupe looks edgier, with such items as a steeply raked windshield. It shares no body panels with the family oriented sedan, except for an aluminum hood.

Style Over Practicality
The coupe has been styled mainly for younger (and youthful-minded) Americans who don't mind giving up the practicality of the sedan, which also comes in gasoline/electric hybrid form. Most Altima coupe buyers probably will be more interested in style and value than in practicality.

Although considerably different than the largely unchanged Altima sedan, the coupe doesn't give up much in the way of creature comforts or safety. However, a long-legged person behind a driver won't have as much legroom as a tall adult behind the front passenger.

Long, Heavy Doors
Long, heavy doors aren't for tight parking spots, but the interior is quiet and provides lots of room up front in deeply bolstered seats. Backlit gauges can be quickly read, and the large sound system and climate controls are well-placed for easy use. The interior looks good despite some marginal trim pieces.

The trunk has a rather high, narrow opening, but is fairly large. Its interior lid has no pull-down area or handle to help close it without getting hands dirty on outside sheet metal. At least the lid is lined to dampen road noise and avoid an unfinished appearance.

Pulling two release straps allows one to flip forward the rear seatbacks for more cargo space, but the pass-through opening between the trunk and rear-seat area is just moderately large.

Sleek Appearance
The car's front end looks rather blunt, despite its fairly aggressive-looking grille and fascia, but the sloping roofline and shapely tail provide an overall sleek look.

The coupe comes in a base, but fairly well-equipped $20,490 2.5 S trim level with a 6-speed manual transmission and 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with 175 horsepower. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is optional.

The higher-line 3.5 SE coupe has more equipment and a 3.5-liter 270-horepower V6 that shoots power through a manual gearbox or CVT. It lists at $24,890 with the manual transmission.

The CVT costs $500 extra for both S and SE, giving the top coupe a $25,390 list price.

World-Class Engine
I drove the 3.5 SE with the manual gearbox and V6, which is a smooth, world-class engine. It propels the coupe from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds with the manual, which shifts slickly and works with a light, but long-throw, clutch

The V6 provides an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway with the manual and approximately 22 and 28 with the CVT.

The 4-cylinder coupe is lively enough and provides 26 mpg in the city and 35 on highways with the manual. Economy with the efficient CVT transmission is about the same with either the 4-cylinder or V6.

Front-Wheel-Drive Drawback
The Altima tempts one to drive it in a sporty manner, but it looks sportier than it really is because its front-wheel-drive design gives it some torque steer and doesn't provide the balance of the Infiniti "G" coupe's rear- or all-wheel drive.

Still, the Altima coupe can be driven quickly-although its fast steering is rather numb, with excessive power assist in town and a synthetic feel at highways speeds. However, the steering design dampens most of the torque steer.

Good Roadability
The ride is supple, handling is sure and the brakes provide short stopping distances, with good pedal feel.

A prop rod holds the heavy hood open when fluid levels need to be checked in the nicely designed engine compartment.

The reasonably priced Altima coupe is a solid, no-fuss "daily driver" that shouldn't keep anyone awake at night worrying about monthly payments for it.

MSN Autos

© 2009 Microsoft

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