The Poor Man’s Infiniti?
by Scott Corlett
In May, I landed in Minneapolis on the heels of a late-spring tornado. No, a dog-filled wicker basket was not stowed beneath the seat in front of me, nor did I wear a blue dress and knee socks. Instead, I had traveled to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes to test drive a vehicle that could have saved Dorothy and Toto a long walk on the yellow brick road-the all-new 2008 Nissan Altima coupe.
I caught my first glimpse of the Altima coupe in the sleek bowels of the Walker Museum, a downtown Minneapolis modern-art repository with grounds dotted by over sized statuary. This reveal was appropriately sited as the new coupe is one slick sculpture of metal and glass. If you have recently seen the Altima’s luxury cousin, the Infiniti G35 coupe, then you have the picture: a sweeping fastback outline and that same sexy ass. In fact, the resemblance is so great that, in online forums, the Altima coupe has been tagged “the poor man’s Infiniti G35.”
That comparison holds until you let up the clutch of the Altima coupe’s standard six-speed manual transmission. Early the next morning, under a sky still low and gray from yesterday’s storms, I set off in an Altima coupe equipped with Nissan’s excellent 3.5-liter, 270-hp V-6. (A 2.5-liter I-4 that makes 175 hp is also available, as is, with either engine, a CVT automatic.) As I cruised at city speeds along the blacktop ribbon that separates the mighty Mississippi from old grain mills that have been converted to condos, a cushy clutch, overboosted steering, and a touchy throttle belied the Altima’s sporty skin.
After I crossed the river and left the Land O’Lakes for the Land O’Cheddar, the coupe’s handling improved, if only incrementally. At highway speeds, on the two-laners that weave among the dells of Wisconsin, the Altima’s steering tightened up, and cutting a line proved easy enough. Unfortunately, the coupe’s front-wheel-drive chassis took the shine off the V-6’s substantial output, and stiff dampers aided handling at the expense of a hard ride. Although this performance leaves the Altima coupe no worse off than its current home-country competitors-the Toyota Solara and the outgoing Honda Accord coupe-this fall, the folks at Nissan will welcome the arrival of a new, better-tuned Accord with the same warmth as the Wicked Witch of the West did Dorothy and her posse.
On the bright side, the Altima coupe’s cabin is less of a poor man’s Infiniti and more of an upper-middle-class affair, at least if you opt for a premium package: the leather-trimmed interior includes well-bolstered, heated front seats; a Bose nine-speaker audio system with XM satellite radio; dual-zone automatic climate control; auto-dimming rearview mirror; Bluetooth; and the all-important, dash-mounted “Start” button from the G35. And if you wish to kick it up another notch, navigation and a rear view camera are also options. The sole letdown is that stability control is only available-and optionally at that-with the V-6 variant.
On the 2008 Nissan Altima coupe, the beauty is not much deeper than the thickness of sheet metal or supple leather. But hey, if you can’t afford to drive an Infiniti, now at least, you can look like you do-and best of all, no ruby slippers are required.
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