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Nissan Altima Coupe

Nissan's agile, entertaining head turner Add to ...

As Chris de Burgh alluded to in his song Lady in Red, nothing works quite like a red dress to add a little flare to a familiar form and perhaps turn a few heads, and that was the case with the 2012 Nissan Altima Coupe that was a recent dance partner.

She may have more than a few dance cards tucked away in the glove box since being introduced for 2008 as part of the last major redesign of the Altima line, but after a 2010 rejuvenation and when togged out in bright Matador Red livery the test coupe still managed to look like a fast lady capable of some smooth moves.

Not quite the debutante any more to be sure but able to hold her head up for a final number as she faces replacement – although this apparently isn’t certain yet – by a flashy new model as part of the redesigned fifth-generation Altima lineup due next year.

In truth the Coupe has never actually been the belle of the Altima sales ball, intended only to add a little allure to the lineup and some incremental sales. Along with others of the coupe ilk, their appeal has always been somewhat limited in the Canadian market.

Coupes, by their nature, are sporty-looking vehicles and in some cases high performers, but these fun attributes are often outweighed by the fact their ease of access limiting two doors, the less than roomy rear seating area and limited trunk space obviously limit their practicality and the size of the potential buyer pool.

The Altima Coupe comes in two versions, a 2.5 S, with as the name suggests a 2.5-litre, 170-hp, four-cylinder engine with six-speed manual, priced at $27,698. And the V-6-powered 3.5 SR we’re looking at here, which has a $35,298 price tag hanging from its door handle. Actually the tester, with $2,900 nav package and a $1,300 continuously variable transmission added (a six-speed manual is standard) plus delivery charges, priced out at $41,228.

As the name more than intimates, the Altima Coupe is based on the sedan and borrows a lot of its bits, but there are major differences. The then-new Altima platform was altered to produce a more nimble 101 mm shorter wheelbase and overall it is 185 mm shorter and that coupe roofline is 66 mm lower.

Wrapped around this is styling that has held up well. A smoothly tapered front end with somewhat odd bulgy headlamp covers and an interesting tail treatment with twin exhaust outlets. Holding it all together is the strongly curved arch over the passenger compartment.

The focus inside is on those up front, of course, which is a good thing as there’s only (barely) enough space for two, with marginal head and leg room in the rear.

Driver and passenger are treated to stylish and well-bolstered leather-covered seats, mirror and power window controls on an upswept panel, a clear array of instruments, a leather-wrapped tilt/telescope wheel, automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, moon roof, trip computer, navi screen, cruise control, Bose audio system and Bluetooth hands-free phone.

Safety features include multiple airbags, ABS and Vehicle Dynamic Control.

There’s nominally 232 litres of space in the trunk, but large speaker enclosures encroach, making it impossible to get two golf bags in despite the 60/40-split rear seatbacks. One fits in sideways, if you remove the drivers. I suppose you could finagle a second one into the back seat.

The 3.5-litre V-6 is rated at 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque and with the CVT transmission the tach needle jumps past 6,000 rpm when you slam the pedal to the carpet and just stays pinned there while speed rapidly accrues. It also does this if you need serious acceleration to pass or merge. It’s a really quick car.

Around town, perhaps due to the plentiful torque, the transmission acts more positively and delivers better drivability than CVTs of the past, although throttle tip-in is a bit abrupt, which still causes the revs to zoom up the scale.

It also has six distinct “ratios” you can shift through manually. Although, if you feel the need to do this more than once after buying the car, you should probably have opted for the manual gearbox in the first place.

Fuel economy ratings are a not particularly punishing 10.2 litres/100 km city and 7.3 highway.

Suspension is decidedly firm, which is most noticeable around town where it delivers a somewhat jolty and jouncy ride. This becomes less noticeable at higher speeds, although highway tar strips don’t pass unnoticed due to the low-profile tires. As it’s a sporty coupe this isn’t exactly out of character.

On the positive side, this suspension setup and the P235/45R18 tires, plus a speed-sensitive variable-ratio power steering system that feels like it’s actually connected to something, make the Coupe responsive, agile and entertaining.

At a guess, not many Altima Coupe will owners indulge in track-day excesses. It’s just not the kind of car that incites that sort of thing. But the 3.5 SR is a good-looking, nicely fitted out inside and very quick car to drive to work in.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2012 Nissan Altima Coupe

Type: Sports coupe

Base Price: $35,298; as tested, $41,228

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 270 hp/ 258 lb-ft

Drive: Front-wheel

Transmission: CVT

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 city/7.3 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Accord Coupe, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Hyundai Genesis, Mitsubishi Eclipse

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