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When the 2010 Nissan Altima Coupe showed up in our garage, we registered some disappointment as we first looked around the car. The cool coupe style suggested days spent straightening the curves along winding mountain roads, but the continuously variable automatic transmission and four-cylinder engine meant we would be testing the Altima Coupe more as simple transportation. In this estimation, we were somewhat wrong.
Nissan squeezes adequate power from the engine, but the real magic comes from the continuously variable transmission (CVT). This CVT does an excellent job of imitating a fixed-gear transmission, and at the same time wringing out very good fuel economy. Although not many people would shop for a car based on its CVT, this one is the best on the market today.
Nissan also doesn't limit the cabin tech available in the Altima Coupe, making available its full hard-drive-based system with traffic reporting and onboard music storage. But our test car didn't come with that $1,780 option. Instead, the premium stereo system optioned up in our car brought in a new 4.3-inch color display, useful for showing iPod libraries, and the backup camera view.
CVT versus manual
The 2010 Altima Coupe 2.5 S we tested was far from the fastest or sportiest of the line. For that, we would want the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR equipped with the six-speed manual transmission option and, you guessed it, a 3.5-liter V-6. Our 2.5 S model would have even been more fun with the six-speed manual option, but it was still a satisfying driver. In a bit of typical configuration quirkiness, choosing the manual transmission with the 2.5-liter engine eliminates just about all of the options, including navigation, iPod integration, and even fog lights.
You can choose this 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V-6 with the Altima Coupe.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the Altima Coupe only makes 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, low numbers considering the displacement. On the plus side, the car earns a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle rating, meaning very few smog-causing pollutants. Another bonus is the mileage, rated at 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway by the EPA. We achieved 26.8 mpg, with a bias towards freeway speeds of around 75 mph.
The engine doesn't seem powerful from the specifications, but the CVT manages to make use of it well. A CVT doesn't have fixed gears, instead relying on bands, tensioners, and pulleys to produce an almost infinite number of ratios. But Nissan's real secret is its programming, which tells the CVT which range of ratios to use depending on engine speed, throttle input, and other data.
In all driving conditions, we found the throttle responsive, delivering a satisfying push from the engine when we used the gas pedal. Driving around urban areas, the Altima Coupe stepped easily off the line without requiring pedal mashing. When we did floor the gas from a stop, the car responded adequately, not peel-your-eyelids-back fast, but with reasonable quickness. On the freeway, the CVT dug up power when we wanted to pass another car easily enough.
Although this shifter has a manual mode, it only selects virtual gears.
As there are no fixed gears, acceleration is a very smooth affair, without any dramatic engine speed changes. The only time you really feel it is when putting the pedal down for a passing maneuver, when the CVT ups the engine speed for needed power. There is a manual mode on this transmission, and it will fool you into believing you are shifting among six gears. But remember, these are virtual gears, ratios programmed into the CVT's software that somehow manage to feel like the real thing.
Handling in the Altima Coupe is similar to the power train, in that it's not at the top of the sporting class, but can still deliver some thrills. When pushed around a hard corner, the car stays composed up to a point, helped by stabilizer bars in the suspension, standard equipment in all Altimas. Its capabilities are mostly in line with a car in its class; get too crazy with it and the front-wheel-drive front end will head in the wrong direction.
Bose premium audio
Given the low 20s base price, we were pleased to see that Nissan offers its full hard-drive-based navigation system, a similar rig to what we tested in the Nissan Maxima. This system offers all the amenities, including ripping CDs to the navigation hard drive.
This 4.3-inch screen is big enough to show an iPod's music library.
Lacking the navigation option, our car still had the Bose-branded premium audio system. That upgrade includes a very iPod-focused stereo, with a big iPod menu button and a screen adequate for browsing a connected iPod's music library. The iPod itself plugs into a USB port in the car's console, and this same port will also work for a USB drive holding MP3 files. We found the iPod interface on the car's screen easy to use, although it took a few moments to understand that the iPod menu button backs out of any menu structure in which we drilled down, one level at a time.
Other audio sources include satellite radio and a single MP3 compatible CD player. The 4.3-inch screen uses unique colors for each audio source, along with attractive graphics in the background.
The Bose audio upgrade, which brings in the color screen, includes seven speakers around the cabin. Typical for Bose, the audio quality is heavy, a chunky sound with a good amount of power behind it. This system doesn't produce much separation, staging the sound most off the center of the dashboard. But the quality is very good, with distinct sounds coming through clearly.
That 4.3-inch screen serves a couple of other purposes. When making a call with the Bluetooth phone system option, the screen displays the phone numbers. This Bluetooth phone system is far from the cutting edge, as it won't import a phone's contact list, forcing you to dial by telling the voice command system the actual phone numbers.
Although small, it is useful to see the view from the rear camera.
The screen also shows a rear camera view, a surprising option in the Altima Coupe. It's a somewhat primitive camera system, with mere distance lines on the screen, and of questionable need in the car. But still, it's nice not to have to guess how close you are to walls, bicycles, and small children.
The 2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 2.5 S rises from a segment of midsize cars that include the Honda Accord, also available as a coupe, and the Toyota Camry. This segment is known more for practicality than excitement, yet the Altima Coupe raises the bar with its cabin tech options and peppy CVT-based power train.
The available navigation system in the Altima Coupe earns it a good score for cabin tech, and we are also impressed by the smaller screen available when navigation isn't present. The iPod focus of the stereo makes a lot of sense in today's market, but we would wish for a better Bluetooth phone system. As for the power train, Nissan's engine technology isn't cutting edge in this car, but the CVT is impressive. The coupe design is nice, but we would like to see a style update that comes in line with the 370Z and the GT-R, incorporating boomerang headlights and some of the other cues from those cars.
|Model||2010 Nissan Altima|
|Power train||2.5-liter four-cylinder engine|
|EPA fuel economy||23 mpg city/32 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||26.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, auxiliary input, USB port, onboard hard drive (with navigation)|
|Audio system||Bose seven speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$26,975|