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2010 Nissan Altima Coupe (Nissan)
2010 Nissan Altima Coupe (Nissan)

Nissan Altima

Nissan sports coupe steps out in style Add to ...

Of all the car manufacturers in the world, Nissan must surely have the most uneven record when it comes to styling.

Over the years, it has produced some of most bizarrely fashioned cars ever to put rubber to pavement. Who could forget the hideous Pulsar manufactured in the 1970s-'80s, or the grotesque F-10? Even today, some of the cars coming from Nissan's design studios are really hard on the eyes - the waiting-in-the-wings Juke, for example, and the Cube Krom are over the top when it comes to visuals. Not to mention the latest version of the Murano, which is as ugly as a mud fence.

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On the other hand, this company is also capable of delivering some exquisitely attractive models. The Infiniti G37 Coupe gets my vote as one of the most beautiful cars on the road these days. The 370Z ain't no slouch either, when it comes to eye candy.

And nor is the Altima Coupe, first unveiled at the Los Angeles auto show in 2006, and put on the market in 2008. From just about every angle, this is a pretty car, and although it may resemble the G37 two-door, it has virtually nothing in common with it. For one thing, it has a front-drive layout, while the G37 is rear-drive.

The Altima Coupe is available with two engine choices: a 2.5-litre four-cylinder or a 3.5-litre V-6. These powerplants are also found in the four-door sedan version of this car, and my tester had the latter, mated to a CVT. Aside from a six-speed manual, this is the only other transmission.

I'm less than enthusiastic about the CVT; I find it vague, unsatisfying during any kind of spirited driving, and not really suited to a performance automobile. But it doesn't matter; Nissan is committed to this gearless transmission, and people are getting it, whether they like it or not. It adds $1,300 to the car's price tag, and for the majority of buyers, it'll probably do the job just fine.

Given the sporty nature of this car, I'd pick the manual; in tandem with the V-6 engine, which delivers some 270 horsepower, this is the most responsive drivetrain, by far.

Elsewhere, the Altima Coupe is not really a high-octane performance car, although it is being marketed as such. To me, it's a nicely appointed, moderately upscale two-door that has a good standard equipment level, and offers up a reasonably lively - but not earth-shattering - driving experience. Much like, oh, the Honda Accord Coupe or Toyota Solara. It has more power on tap than either of these two, and would probably best them when it comes to performance, handling and braking.

Nissan likes to market its cars with packages, and my test 3.5 SR had the Technology Package, which includes a voice-recognition navi system, Bluetooth connectivity, and a rear-view camera, among other things. I say, deep-six everything but the back-up camera, which you really do need because rearward visibility in this car is almost non-existent. Look over your shoulder, into the rear-view mirrors, and crane your neck as much as you like; but because of this vehicle's design, you just can't see what's directly behind you, and I used the camera regularly. Too bad it's not a stand-alone option.

Other standard equipment on my test car included leather interior, heated front seats, tilt-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, dual zone climate control, and a dynamic vehicle control system. All of which are nice to have. There is also a power sunroof, and a push-button start, neither of which I'm a fan of but you get 'em, nonetheless. And both versions of the Altima Coupe come with four-wheel disc brakes and ABS, as well as a full roster of safety equipment.

And a word about back-seat elbow room. In a nutshell, there isn't any. I made a point of clambering into the back seat, and couldn't get back out again fast enough. If you're unhappy with someone, offer to take them for a ride in your new Altima Coupe and put them in the back seat. Watch them contort as they try to get in there. Kids and dogs may like it, but it's snug behind the front seats. This car is really a two-seater, despite the fact that, technically, Nissan claims it will accommodate up to five people (I'd pay money to see that!). On the plus side, the back seat does have a 60/40 folding feature, which is handy, since the trunk has a scant 210 litres of cargo capacity.

But if you're in the market for this kind of car, practicality is not likely to be at the top of your list. The Altima Coupe is aimed at drivers who want a car that looks good, while delivering slightly above-average - with the emphasis on "slightly" - performance.

Just keep looking forward.

2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR

Type: Five-passenger, two-door coupe

Base Price: $34,698; as tested: $40,683

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6

Transmission: CVT

Drive: Front-wheel

Horsepower/Torque: 270 hp/258 lb-ft

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

Alternatives: Honda Accord Coupe, Toyota Solara, Ford Mustang, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Mazda RX8.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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