I sing the coupe eccentric;
The doors of those I love engirth me, and I endure them;
They will not let me park till I deal with them, wrestle with them;
And do not ding them, and close them with solid sound unknown by Kia Soul.
It wasn’t that long ago that I recorded my generally favorable opinion of the outgoing Nissan Altima during an impromptu trip to Nashville and parts south. That car was obsolete even as I was reviewing it, supplanted by a zoomy and flame-surfacey new sedan. As of yet, however, the corresponding new Altima coupe has only appeared in renderings and rumors. Therefore Nissan has returned the old two-door for a very limited 2013-model-year engagement. It’s available in one trim level (S), with one drivetrain (2.5 four-cylinder/CVT) and at a relatively steep price ($25,230).
As a child of the Seventies, I have a not inconsiderable attachment to the idee fixe of the mid-sized coupe. The Altima Coupe is the natural successor to the Cutlass Supremes and Monte Carlos that prowled the neighborhoods of my youth. For some time I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to rent a new one; that quest came to a successful conclusion when I stepped off the plane in Houston Friday night and found a 2013 Altima Coupe with just 1,400 miles in my assigned stall.
My purpose in making the trip was to compete in the third round of the Texas Rally Sport championship and to cover said event for a certain print magazine which can be readily found at your local airport bookstore. I know it can be found there because I’ve been there, surreptitiously signing copies of the April issue while pretending to leaf through them. “Don’t Stop Believin’! Your homeboy, JB II” is what I usually write, although sometimes due to the angle at which I have to hold the magazine to do this unobserved it looks like “Don’t Start Bleedin’! Your Homo Boy, JB ill”. Those will be the Billy Ripken Fleer cards of the year 2089, trust me.
My rental Altima was black inside and out and it still smelled new. As I backed it out, I noticed that rear visibility was not very good at all and that the mirrors seemed a little small. Over the course of the next few days, I would repeatedly reconfirm those findings, particularly while doing lane changes. The Altima’s mirrors simply don’t cover enough ground to make up for the C-pillar blind spot. Be careful. I kid you not. I haven’t “not seen” a car in the next lane since I was an indifferent teenager but on the Texas freeways with their wide disparities in closing speeds I nearly caused an accident two separate and distinct times, after which I learned to swivel my head in all directions before moving laterally as I used to with my similarly sail-paneled 1980 Marquis Brougham Coupe.
My personal motto regarding out-of-state travel was mostly stolen from Tony Montana and runs like so: “First you get the luggage, then you get the rental, then you get the women.” My luggage consisted of nothing besides my Impact! Carbon Air Draft, a toothbrush, three sets of underwear, and a pair of Angry Birds pajama pants identical in design to a pair owned and enjoyed by my son, so that was easy. The Altima firmly under my command, it was time to complete the third task, so I fired up the “Neverlost” GPS and entered in the address of the Snow Queen.
When I first met the Snow Queen, during some random race-related Texas trip, I was very much under the spell of another woman and she was very much under the spell of… nothing in particular, really. She doesn’t get emotional about men. She has what the psychologists call a flat affect and she has a truly improbable body, lean and muscular with a nice rack, hot to the touch. I quite like her and I flatter myself that she quite likes me and best of all I don’t foresee anybody getting terribly emotional about anything.
The Snow Queen was amused by the Altima, correctly guessing that it wasn’t a very expensive car. At the time I didn’t know much they were asking for the thing but now that I do I have to wonder if it isn’t overpriced by a few thousand bucks. The 2013 Accord EX has more equipment and a more upscale look both inside and out. It costs the same and you can have it with a manual transmission, if you’re so inclined. I’m of the opinion, however, that the Altima has the edge on looks, even with the dopey standard-equipment wheels and the lack of brightwork that’s part of the “S” trim level. I hate to say it, but I think it’s better-looking than the current Infiniti G Coupe, if not the original one, and the rear trunk detailing and Kamm tail are just plain nice. Inside, of course, it’s the same equipment as the sedan but the lower roof and repositioned seating make it far more intimate.
After a supremely indulgent two-hour dinner at the Pappas Bros Steakhouse I piloted the Altima back to the Snow Queen’s place. The Hertz nav is almost deliberately stupid, taking a solid three minutes to boot and refusing to automatically select the previous destination. If you start the car moving at any point before it’s fully awake, you can’t do anything with it until the next time you come to a halt. “This is, without a doubt, the worst fucking nav system ever,” I fumed.
“Why’d you buy it then, if you hate it so much?” my companion queried.
“I didn’t buy it. It’s part of the rental.”
“Are you sure?”
“IT SAYS ‘HERTZ’ ON IT!”
“No it isn’t, because it comes from Hertz.”
“Oh… Are you going to tell your readers I said what I just said?”
She’s been a TTAC reader for a long time so she had some concerns about that. She was also unhappy about her proposed nickname, “Snow Queen”.
“Why do I have to be the Snow Queen?”
“I don’t know… you’re a little distant and very pale and well, you bought me a bottle of Snow Queen vodka.”
“It makes me sound frigid.”
“Aren’t you a little bit frigid? I mean, we’re in bed and we aren’t doing anything right now.”
“That’s because you’re wearing Angry Birds pajamas.”
“My son likes them! He has the same pair! We wear them together!”
“Is he here?” She had a solid point. In the end, she proved to be a good sport about everything, adjusting her schedule to meet my rallycrossing demands and even posing for a slightly risque photo at the “Twin Peaks” restaurant we went to the following night. I’ve included it in the gallery below if you’re interested. It’s almost work-safe most places.
Where were we? Oh, yes. The Altima Coupe. There’s something really upsetting about the ease with which the Japanese manufacturers have driven our domestic players off their home ground. This is a reasonably priced, lightly equipped, stylish-looking two-door version of an established sedan, made in Tennessee and available in a rental fleet near you. Back when the Snow Queen was a little flaxen-haired snow princess, the Americans owned that segment. Defined it. Created it. Sold a million units a year into it. And now the best “American” mid-sized sedan is built in Mexico and the prospect of a coupe version is slightly more distant than Alpha Centauri and this Nissan is more American than the American cars, it’s a 1974 Colonnade for modern times.
I swear to God it’s like the effing Descolada, you know? Ford and Chrysler and particularly feckless General Motors sit on the sideline, afraid to do a product like this, and Nissan cheerfully keeps the old car around just for hell of it because they have that kind of power, people will still buy the old coupe with the new sedan sitting next to it in dealerships. Honda Accord coupes prowl the freeways of the Midwest like angry doorstops, driven by secretaries and angry middle-aged dads and friendly old people, and GM’s answer is to suggest that somebody buy a Camaro that weighs five hundred pounds more and looks like a cartoon. Since when did Americans retreat from the Japanese? The answer is: 1941, then not for a long time, and then continuously.
But you aren’t thinking about that, and you aren’t thinking about the Snow Queen, stretched across her Stearns and Foster like a teenage boy’s dream rendered in hot flesh, awake and annoyed while I drunkenly snore away in my Angry Birds pants. You’re thinking about that Pinto. Alright, you win. It’s owned by a fellow named Drew, who is six foot nine and who bolted an aluminum race seat flat to the floor so he would fit in it. Cologne V-6. Factory three-speed auto. Diamond Racing wheels in a massive offset. Sounds like thunder on the move, goes sideways constantly, throws the front wheels into the air on a bumpy rally course. He offered me a chance to stick around after the event and drive it but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to reach the pedals and I wanted to get back to a second evening back in Houston without the interference of alcohol or Angry Birds, so there you go. Let’s meet the man and the car:
My connecting flight home was delayed, and I was tempted to be bitchy about it, but it’s hard to be unhappy sometimes, I tell you, no matter how hard I try. Great people, fascinating cars, beautiful women, turboprop commuters that sound like a B-25 to take me hither and thither and yon! What a life I lead in the summer! What a life I lead in the spring! And there’s more to come if I can stay upright and above ground. I’ll share all of it with you. Most of it, anyway. See you next time.