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Nissan Altima enters the two-door market

June 01, 2007|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

It would appear that rumors about the demise of the two-door-coupe category have been greatly exaggerated, although it wasn't long ago that it seemed difficult to find a good selection of these sporty machines.

Manufacturers were concentrating on high-volume, high-profit sport-utility vehicles and had little interest in slow sellers or tiny niche categories ... namely sporty two-doors.

BMW proved everyone wrong with its Mini Cooper. Make it fun and give it plenty of style and people will buy it. It's a philosophy that keeps the modern-day Mustang popular and it's the same philosophy that will bring a new Camaro to the party as well as a new Dodge Challenger.

Welcome to a coupe "revival" ... meet the Tennessee-built Nissan Altima Coupe. It's a fitting statement since the Altima sedan kicked of Nissan's comeback, dubbed the Nissan Revival, nearly six seasons ago.

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But does this upstart two-door stand a chance? Does it have the right stuff?

Certainly generating attention should be no problem. You'll be forgiven for confusing the Altima Coupe, which arrives this summer, for the Nissan 350Z sports car or its upscale relation, the Infiniti G35 coupe. That places the Altima Coupe in pretty fast company and it's what Nissan believes is exactly the right product to win over empty-nesters, youthful singles and other demographic groups with limited passenger-space/access/cargo needs.

To help underscore the differences between the Altima Coupe and sedan, the designers chopped four inches between the front and rear wheels, reduced the overall length by slightly more than seven inches and lowered the height by 2.5 inches. These adjustments cut the Coupe's overall weight and add just the right sense of proportion that wouldn't be achieved by simply grafting a two-door body onto the sedan platform.

In fact, the only sheet metal shared between two- and four-door Altimas is the hood.

To the Altima's recently upgraded (less plastic-looking) interior, the Coupe has been endowed with a pair of distinctive bucket seats with prominent side bolsters for added lateral support. In back, a 60/40 split rear bench extends the cargo space, great for a weekend of skiing or to help bring home a few odds and sods from the building-supply store.

A more traditional parking-brake hand lever has also been added to the Coupe, replacing the sedan's foot-operated control.

The available powertrain packages are common to both Coupe and sedan. A 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder is standard, while a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 is optional. For the time being, the gasoline/electric hybrid drive system will only be available on sedan models.

Directing power to the front wheels is a six-speed manual transmission, while a continuously variable unit with available built-in "steps" (that can simulate the shifts of a traditional automatic) is optional.

Models include the 2.5 S and 3.5 SE and both arrive with the expected air conditioning, cruise control, power windows/locks/outside mirrors, anti-lock four-wheel-disc brakes and six air bags (including side-impact cushioning). Also standard are a dual-outlet exhaust system and keyless remote entry with push-button start.

Along with the bigger motor, the 3.5 SE adds traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels (four-cylinder models come with 16-inchers) and a power moonroof.

Leather-covered seats can be had at extra cost, as well as dual-zone climate control, nine-speaker Bose brand audio system, stability control to keep the Coupe heading where the driver intends, a backup camera and a navigation system.

Although it hasn't been announced, or even hinted at, the Coupe would make a great platform for a high-performance SE-R model that could be considered a true four-door version of the 350Z. But that's more of a suggestion to Nissan than reality at this point.

Does the Coupe's arrival cement the revival of the two-door coupe category? If a riveting shape combined with exceptional power are barometers for success, Nissan's Altima variant points the way to vibrant future.

Copyright 2007 Wheelbase Communications

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