2009 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SE Review

By Chris Haak

04.20.2009

img_0112Front wheel drive, midsize coupes are a nearly dying breed.  Among domestic brands, only the Pontiac G6 coupe still plies its wares in the segment.  The days of two-door Pontiac Grand Prix and 6000, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and Cutlass Supreme, Buick Regal and Century, Chevrolet Lumina, Monte Carlo, and Celebrity have come and gone.  The story is a little different for Japan, Inc., however –  Honda sells an Accord Coupe and Nissan now sells an Altima Coupe.  Toyota’s aging Camry Solara is still listed on their website, but is no longer in production.

Just as the volume-selling sedan versions of these cars go head-to-head and toe-to-toe in the marketplace and on the spec sheet, the coupe versions seem to add style and performance while subtracting a good deal of practicality.  So was the Altima Coupe just another pretty face, or is there a good car somewhere in there?

Nissan actually had to perform pretty extensive surgery to create a coupe from the Altima sedan (I’m sure that coupe development occurred concurrently).  The wheelbase was trimmed by four inches compared to the sedan (105.3 inches rather than 109.3 inches) and the car’s overall length was trimmed 7.3 inches (189.8 inches rather than 182.5 inches).  The coupe is also a few inches shorter than the sedan, at 55.3 inches rather than the sedan’s 57.9 inches.  The result is a car that looks like it was designed as a coupe, rather than a sedan with two doors removed and the other two lengthened.  That’s still not to say it’s a great-looking coupe; something about its proportions bother me.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I believe it’s a combination of the shorter wheelbase, fairly long front and rear overhangs, and small rear side window.  When looking at profile photos of the Accord Coupe and Altima Coupe side-by-side, the Accord actually appears to be better-proportioned, which is surprising, since I feel that the Altima Sedan has a better design than does the Accord Sedan.  The Altima Coupe’s design shares some cues with the Infiniti G37 and Nissan 370Z, but doesn’t manage to pull of the overall design as successfully as those two cars do.

img_0110All of the dimensional changes make the coupe’s interior feel significantly more snug than the sedan’s does.  Again, whipping out the tape measure (or the spec sheet for those of us who don’t feel like measuring the interior quantitatively), front legroom is almost identical to the sedan’s, but rear legroom is suitable for preteens only (and not those who need car seats because it’s so difficult to put small children into the back seat).  Materials are pretty much identical to the sedan’s.  The dash is nicely padded with soft materials everywhere that you’d be inclined to touch on a regular basis, and hard plastic to be found on the lower dash, center console, and lower door panels.  I noticed that the coupe’s doors sounded and felt much more substantial than the (obviously) smaller ones in the sedan did, and they closed much more solidly than did the sedan’s, while having impressively tight panel gaps on either end.

With an inch less headroom, I found my head disturbingly close to the car’s ceiling, even with the seat back reclined somewhat (I’m 6’4″).  Still, as long as I stayed away from bumpy roads, my head stayed away from contact with the ceiling, and I was happy.  There was enough room for me otherwise in the driver’s seat, and the seats felt like they were a good mix of comfort and support.  The Bose stereo had decent power, but lacked an iPod interface (just a standard line-in jack was included) and didn’t have the clarity of some other buy-up stereo options in competitors’ products.  I’d always considered Nissan’s navigation systems to be among the better ones on the market, but on two occasions, I missed a turn because the car’s marker on the map didn’t smoothly update as the car moved – instead, it appeared to “hop” from one spot to the next on the map, catching me off guard.

img_0093In terms of the on-road experience, this car was the first car that I can remember in an extremely long time that made me think its suspension was too firm.  At one point, I was on I-95 – admittedly not the smoothest road in the world, but also not an ill-maintained back road – and felt every joint in the road with a crash.  The shorter wheelbase and 18 inch wheels compared to the sedan that I tested earlier probably didn’t help (my sedan tester had 16 inch wheels), but as someone who prefers firmer suspension, I surprised myself by having those doubts about the Altima’s suspension tuning.  Steering was accurate and had good feel.  Unfortunately, the brakes seemed a bit more grabby than I would have preferred in the initial part of pedal travel.  It took a period of time to get used to that, but eventually it didn’t bother me.

I’ve never been a huge fan of CVTs, and my test vehicle had the CVT.  Though I would have preferred a six-speed manual (which is available in the Altima coupe, and with the V6 no less) and probably even a conventional six-speed automatic over the CVT, at least Nissan makes pretty good ones.  Furthermore, the CVT does allow the engine to stay in its peak operating range during the vehicle’s entire acceleration and also lets it lope along once cruising speed has been reached.  A CVT/V6 combination is fairly unusual in the marketplace outside of the Nissan family, but it seemed to work pretty well.  I observed fuel economy of over 21 miles per gallon in mixed driving, which is between the car’s EPA ratings of 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway.  Even more impressive is that it basically matches the fuel economy that I observed in the four cylinder Altima sedan a few months ago, driven similarly.  Perhaps the sedan had to be flogged a bit more to get the desired performance from it, while getting the same performance from the coupe was a more effortless venture.  The CVT has a “manual shift” feature that mimics six forward ratios that can be actuated by moving the gear selector to the far left and tapping it up or down.  These fake shifts remove the CVT’s largest performance/economy advantages of always being in the right ratio at the right time, but to its credit, the car changes ratios extremely quickly.

img_0094The Altima Coupe 3.5 SE starts at $27,585 including destination.  Included in that price is the V6, XTronic CVT, 18″ wheels, cloth seats, Nissan Intelligent Key, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, power sliding moonroof, and a power driver’s seat.  As with many Nissans, the base prices are reasonable, but the options are just killers.  Floor mats added $175, the 3.5 SE Premium Package (leather seats and shift knob, Bose stereo, XM Satellite Radio, HID Headlamps, dual-zone automatic temperature conrtrol, Bluetooth, and auto-dimming rearview mirror added a hefty $3,200).  The Technology Package (navigation system, XM NavTraffic, and rearview monitor) added $2,000 to the tab, and VDC (stability control) added another $600 for a final MSRP of $33,560 including destination.  TrueDelta shows the Nissan’s feature-adjusted pricing being within a couple hundred dollars of the Accord Coupe, but that’s only because Nissan has a $1,500 rebate right now.  Without the rebate, the car is too expensive for what it is, unless you value some of the features not available on the Honda but which are available on the Nissan, including HID headlamps, keyless start, rearview monitor, XM NavTraffic, the CVT, and sport suspension.

It’s a true credit to Nissan that they have built a fourth-generation Altima model that puts up such a strong fight against its segment’s established players.  My styling concerns are mostly subjective, and I also believe that the Infiniti G37 that the Altima tries to mimic styling-wise is also one of the most beautiful cars that Nissan builds, so perhaps the comparison isn’t fair.  The Altima Coupe is a quick car and is fun to drive, but sacrifices practicality in the name of styling and a two-door body.  I’m more of a four-door guy these days, so for me, the hot combination would be the six-speed manual and V6 in an Altima Sedan – a car that I almost bought in 2003 when I was car shopping.  That’s also a combination that’s almost more rare than a dodo bird in the midsize segment these days.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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14 Comments

  1. Yikes. The G37 coupe starts at $35,900 while this Altima’s MSRP is $33,560. With such a relatively small price differential, this Altima 3.5 coupe is priced way too high. Why buy this FWD one with iffy styling when the more-attractive G37 is just $2500 more?

  2. Stephane, I clarified that point in the article based on your comment. Although Toyota lists the Solara on their retail (and media) websites, there’s no info about 2009 models. Good riddance!

  3. I’m surprised you didnt mention the trunk on this thing. It has to be the smallest trunk I have ever seen on a mid-size anything. The floor is way too high, it isnt deep at all, its narrow and the opening (due to the shape of the tail) is barely big enough to fit a carry-on size bag.

  4. It’s unclear whether or not the Solara is dead. I heard that it was, then I heard it had gotten an extension. But no info on 2009s yet. No info on the 2009 Sequoia either, for that matter.

  5. Jay – very good point about the trunk. I often neglect to mention the trunk in my reviews for one reason or another, but it is ridiculously small. It’s listed at 7.4 cubic feet against the Accord Coupe’s 11.9 cubic feet and a staggering 17.9 in the Altima Sedan.

    I’d take a G37 anyday, thanks.

  6. Front wheel drive and a CVT, both things that are touted as improving gass milage and it gets 2-3 MPG worse milage than my 8 year old Ford Mustang? What am I missing here?

  7. Mark, are you talking about my observed mileage or the EPA ratings? I almost always manage to get pretty close to the EPA city numbers in my driving just because my right foot is so heavy. I thought 21 mpg combined was pretty decent, but that’s what I used to get in my five year old Accord with a V6.

    The amazing thing is that the Camaro V6 will top this thing’s highway number by 3 mpg.

  8. so there is no manual transmition
    for the altima coupe??

  9. Yes, the Altima Coupe does come in a manual transmission, I test drove one today.

  10. In response to Kevin re. the MSRP v. the G37, note that at $33,560 the Nissan is fully loaded. The MSRP quoted for the G37 is base. To get the G37 to the same level optionwise puts it in the mid/high 40’s. The price difference then is some $12,000-$13,000 and that’s a healthy gap, and one that will deter a lot of people from buying the G.

  11. I would agree the this Altima is far overpriced for what you get. I purchased a loaded 2003 G35 a few years ago for 25K and I couldnt imagine spending more than that for an inferior Altima. It does look nice though and would make for a nice winter car if the price was lower in my opinion.

  12. Stephen:

    And you can pick up a 4 year old Mercedes CLS500, which when new listed for $75K, for about $30K.

    Seems like the G35 you purchased at that price was used. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Because a well maintained used G35, that wasn’t modded, is fairly bullet-proof. Back in 2003 you couldn’t get a decently contented new G35 coupe for less than $34K.

    You are forgetting the typical discounts the savvy buyer of the Altima coupe are likely to derive. Likely in the 20% range. So that will take that V6 model down to about $27K.

    The simple fact, though, is that 70% of Altima coupe sales are of the 2.5 inline-4 variety. Again the smart buyer can likely negotiate a discounted price on one of those of about $22K.

    As Alan stated above, a decently contented new C37 coupe with AWD lists for about $42K. Discounted you can likely get one without taxes for about $37K.

    Which is still $10K more than the discounted Altima 3.5.

  13. Your all crazy. Well not all of you but those of you that are bashing the car. I’v had my coupe for over a year now and I love it! The only complain I have about the car is the back windows, they are very small and leave blind spots but this car is not over priced, its worth every penny! I love my baby.

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