Nissan Altima Coupe 2.5 S Review

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
nissan altima coupe 2 5 s review

I test drove Nissan’s 2008 Altima Coupe 2.5 S on a sunny summer morning in Denton. Keen to clock the whip’s curb appeal, I stunted and flossed around the University of North Texas campus, stopping to pose (the car) in front of the school’s giant beetle larva-inspired fine arts auditorium. Blurry-eyed students of the Fast and the Furious generation yawned as they made their way to classes. And yet the Altima Coupe’s flying off dealer lots. Does that mean this car’s sex appeal is designed for people who like to wear sensible shoes? Uh-huh.

In fact, Nissan’s Coupe is aimed at the same buyers who favor the understated Infiniti G35 two-door. No surprise there. From its apostrophe-shaped front light clusters, to the rear window’s distinctive blocky form, to the car’s powerful rear haunches, the Altima coupe is a G Mini-Me. Only minor cosmetic touches differentiate the models: the grille (a black honeycomb borne by two chrome wings) and the rear (rounded taillights framing a big busy butt). Otherwise, same deal.

Climbing into the Coupe brings back memories of the days when Rupert Holmes ruled radio waves and sweaty polyester-clad drivers piloted 280ZXs into discothèque parking lots. Unlike modern SUV-inspired upright seating positions, you slip into the Altima Coupe’s front seat like you’re climbing into bed, extending your feet onto the well-placed pedals. Despite a wheelbase that’s only four-inches shorter than the four-door Altima, the lowered roof (2.5”) means adults will find precious little comfort in the Coupe’s rear confines.

In the spirit of Acura’s recently departed RSX, the Coupe’s dashboard is a model of functional minimalism; every dial and control is positioned with classical precision. As the Coupe’s cockpit is identical to the sedan’s– save some aluminum-look bits on the steering wheel and center stack– the two-door isn’t exactly the sine qua non of automotive luxury. In case you missed the point, the official website hawks “handy seat control levers” and “generous cup-holders.”

Tick the 2.5 S’ $5100 Premium Package and Dr. Bose’s handiwork supplies the Gen X-requisite aural shock and awe. The nine speaker, two woofer, digital audio system– complete with XM Satellite Radio, speed-sensitive volume control and an iPod input jack– sounds like the leather seats feel: a grade above economy class, but a cut-price curtain away from first. The extra wedge qualifies you for the [optional] $2k sat nav system, which further obfuscates the Coupe’s proletarian roots.

Starting the Coupe is as easy as ordering supplies from Staples; you bring the powerplant to life by pushing a none-too-subtle red button on the dash beside the steering column. The willing 2.5-liter engine revs to life with all the authority of an economical four cylinder, which indeed it is. While the mpg is suitably elevated (23/31), the power certainly isn’t.

According to Nissan’s literature, the 16-valve DOHC mill cranks out 175hp and 180ft.-lbs. of torque. In real life, the Coupe’s mechanical stableyard feels a good twenty horses shy of that total. Blame the Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission. While the shiftless non-cog swapper quickly and accurately finds the right gear ratio in most situations, it quickly and accurately finds the right gear ratio in most situations. In other words, the mpg bias sucks the fun right out of the system.

There's a manual override that simulates shift points, affording enthusiasts the opportunity to wring additional rpm-age from the Coupe’s four banger. But it offers the same sort of dynamic feedback as Atari’s Hard Drivin’.

To test the new metal’s mettle, I headed to the country, to frolic where ribbons of blacktop divide fields of fattening Angus cattle. I discovered that the Coupe’s body roll is well controlled. The steering and chassis responses may be dumbed down from the 3.5 version, but the 2.5 S is still a willing dance partner. In fact, the two-door Altima feels as perky and flickable as any modern Honda. Push too hard and you'll discover massive, howling front-wheel drive-induced understeer.

That’s right, front wheel-drive. While the Altima Coupe looks like a traditional sports car, it’s an imposter: a Pulsar NX in Infiniti G clothing. On the plus side, the 2.5 S doesn’t quite put enough power to the half-shafts to require intrusive [over-boosted] power steering countermeasures to control torque steer. But it still lacks Zen-like fluidity in the bendy bits.

This is not good. While the Altima Coupe’s sheetmetal promises casual on-lookers a poor-man’s Infiniti, when push comes to shove, Nissan’s two-door delivers a driving experience that makes a sporting driver long for a Ford Mustang GT or Honda Civic Si.

Again, Coupe sales say what ARE you talking about? Even so, as Jim Croce warned, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Nissan’s G35 look-alike is a tear in Infiniti’s fabric that’s bound to cheapen the upmarket brand. More to the point, the Altima Coupe 2.5 is a superb sporting (if not sports) car up to a point. Beyond that, not.

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  • Terry Parkhurst Terry Parkhurst on Aug 06, 2007

    Yes, the Altima is a decent front-drive automobile. But a reason that Acura might have dropped its RSX is that with the popularity of drifting at a fevered pitch, front engine/rear drive automobiles are having a new day. As the highly esteemed Peter Brock said at a recent dinner for Nissan enthusists, what Nissan needs to do is bring out an autombile comparable to the vintage Datsun 510 (circa 1971-'73); which was the same car that John Morton, driving for Peter's Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) used to knock Alfa-Romeo's venerable GTV out of the SCCA championship for 2.5 litre cars. The Datsun 510 was known as the "poor man's BMW" for its similarities, including its engine, to the original "pocket-rocket," the BMW 2002 (a model number, not the year to those who are unfamilar with vintage BMWs). Given the prices of BMWs, and yet the lust with which those just acquiring credit have for them, it sure seems that Peter Brock is, once again, right on the money.

  • Carguy1964 Carguy1964 on Nov 25, 2007

    I will say this, I own a 02 altima 2.5 5 speed and I have to say this, the clutch sucks in this car, specially from a sports car company "Shift" logo.. It never had a consistant clutch take up...I have other 5 speed cars ie..1985 celica GTS and a 97 turbo Eclispe and I have better clutch response, also the master clutch cylinder and the slave cylinder gave out at 80k,at the same time no less, the engine ,while no power house compared to the 3.5 does have enough torque to spin the tires with no problem and I get very respectable gas mileage. I do like my Altima, except for the fact of the precats on these car are poorly made and causes engines to self destruct, the 2.5 engine was considered to be one of the ten best engines made..too bad for us cutomers, there ought of be a recall for all the Altima owners!

  • Lorenzo Another misleading article. If they're giving away Chargers, people can drive that when they need longer range, and leave the EV for grocery runs and zipping around town. But they're not giving away Chargers, thy're giving away chargers. What a letdown. What good are chargers in California or Nashville when the power goes out?
  • Luke42 I'm only buying EVs from here on out (when I have the option), so whoever backs off on their EV plans loses a shot at my business.
  • Dusterdude When there is a strike the union leadership talk about “brothers and sisters “ . They should give up that charade . Bottom line is they are trying to wring out every last penny they can and could care less ( putting it politely) about the future of the industry 5 - 10 years+ down the road
  • Ronin They all will back off, because the consumer demand is not there. Even now the market is being artificially propped up by gov subsidies.
  • Keith Some of us appreciate sharing these finds. Thank you. I always have liked these. It would a fun work car or just to bomb around in. Easy to keep running. Just get an ignition kill switch and you would have no worries leaving it somewhere. Those OEM size wheels and tires are comical. A Juke has bigger wheels!