Quick Drive: 2011 Nissan Altima Coupe 2.5 S

By Winding Road Staff

March 23, 2011

For starters, I think the Altima Coupe is a pretty attractive car. It’s just an overall good piece of design, with the wider rear haunches and thick C-pillar reminiscent of the 370Z, and an attractive greenhouse that terminates into a short deck. Combine this with the curvy profile, and you get a car with some really good proportions.

Unfortunately, those engaging looks never really translate to engaging performance. This is essentially the same powertrain from the run-of-the-mill Altima sedan. The 2.5-liter four delivers enough power for daily use, but it never creates a truly invigorating driving experience. On paper, it isn't too bad, with 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. But thanks to the continuously variable transmission, the thing that strikes you most isn’t that respectable amount of power, but rather the buzziness coming from under the hood.

Because of the way CVTs function, this engine spends the majority of its time in the higher reaches of the rev range, which is exactly where it sounds the worst.

Thankfully, you can have your Altima Coupe with a six-speed manual, which would go a long way towards increasing the fun factor. Or better yet, opt up to the 270 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. That’ll at least solve the problem of fun-to-drive speed.

—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager

I whole-heartedly agree that the high-whine of Nissan’s CVT transmission does too much to characterize this coupe. The thing serves to undermine the better dynamic traits of the car, which include crisp steering response and good ride quality.
Almost every comparable measure would make me opt for Honda’s Accord Coupe over this Altima, with the noticeable exception of exterior styling. The Honda competition has got better gearboxes, more characterful and tuneful engines, better throttle response, and nicer interior fitment. With that said, I think that looks count for a lot in the four-cylinder coupe category, and many buyers will simply be happy with something that looks this good. Styling is huge.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief
I’m a fan of the interior of the Altima. It has a nice, simple layout, attractive curves, and does a good job of looking upscale without hitting too hard in the wallet. It’s a shame that the engine/CVT don’t have that same effect. I’d be curious to try the 2.5 with the manual transmission to see if that might remedy all our gripes.
Beside that, I really have no complaints about the driving dynamics of the car. It is a pleasure to bend through corners. Steering is quick and precise, and the suspension keeps the car well balanced. Some may balk at the lightness in the feel of the wheel, but it didn’t really bother me. A light helm, at least in this case, makes the car easier to play with, and it communicates enough through the seat of the pants that I always felt like I knew what was going on between rubber and road.
—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor
As I’ve said before, in this business you learn that there are cars you don’t connect with that others understand and sometimes even love. This learning gives you pause at times, which can be a good thing if you find a hidden gem. In the case of the Altima Coupe, though, I just never could find anything that made me understand why someone would take the plunge here. If I sound disappointed, it is because I like so many Nissan products that a mystery car like the Altima two-door is a surprise.
In a nutshell, the Coupe is a paragon of bland driving dynamics. Take an Altima sedan, remove two doors, reduce the rear headroom and there you have it. Like the Camry and the Accord sedans, the Altima is a slightly soft and rather slow car that lacks much in the way of car-to-driver communication. The suspension doesn’t help here either, with a rubbery feel, plenty of understeer and aloof steering.
So, you might think that the Coupe would secure it’s foundation of charm on appearances. And certainly the exterior is mildly attractive once you get past the forgettable nose. But that seems to be where the designers stopped, because the interior gets back to the bland formula that seems to have inspired the vehicle dynamics engineers. The shapes are okay if somewhat boring, but the materials look very Wal-Mart and comfort is in short supply.
Some cars are bound to fall short of being great or even good. Too bad this is one of those.
Tom Martin, Editorial Director


- Looks rather attractive—a big plus for a coupe
- Suspension does a fine job at smoothing out rough surfaces
- Comfortable and user-friendly interior design


- Fun-sapping CVT hurts what is actually an okay engine
- Overly light steering is unenthusiastic
- Other cars at similar prices are better at living up to their sporty looks