Altima Coupe comes as a surprise

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Here's a "coup" for Nissan -- a coupe for the Altima.

Just in time to catch a growing wave of sales in the two-door coupe segment of the market, Nissan is introducing the 2008 Altima Coupe, expected to be available sometime in early summer.

This one caught just about everybody in automotive journalism off guard -- there hadn't been any rumors that an Altima Coupe was coming down the pike.

It's a good looking car, too with a semi-fastback roofline and a bit of Italian flavor. It bears some resemblance to the 350 Z and the Infiniti G35 Coupe -- and those aren't bad company at all for a family car.

The 2007 Nissan Altima coupe.
Click photo for larger image.

The coupe, which is shorter in wheelbase length and height than the standard Altima Sedan, is driver oriented, with supportive front seats and informative, easy-to-use gauges and controls.

Power comes from a 3.5 liter, 270 horsepower V-6, or a 2.5 liter. 175 horsepower four.

Options include intelligent key, Bluetooth phone system, rear view monitor and touch screen navigation system with real time traffic updates.

No fuel economy figures or prices have been released yet.

If you're not into coupes, check out the all-new Altima Sedan, arguably the firm's bread and butter line. It always has prided itself on marching to a different drummer than its peers in the intermediate sedan field. And that certainly continues to be the case.

Although the styling is not radically different, those refinements that have been made sharpen the look and provide a lot more aggressiveness to what already was one of the more "in your face" designs in the field.

The big mechanical news is that the Altima gets Nissan's Xtronic continuously variable automatic transmission, which provides effortless shifting, stronger acceleration and better fuel economy. You also can get a six-speed manual. A lot of accessories are available, including a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, rear view monitor and advanced navigation system.

While the interior has been a weak point for Nissan products -- often appearing to be made with mediocre materials or to be so contemporary that they come off as stark -- the new Altima should change that perception. You get an L-shaped flow to the look of the dash, a more driver-oriented cockpit feel and such goodies as a triple front cup holder in CVT-equipped cars.

There's also an all new platform for the Altima that provides a more rigid body and an all-new front suspension as well. Engines range from a 175 horsepower, 2.5 liter four to a 3.5 liter, 270 horsepower V-6.

The new Sentra is worlds away from the last generation, with new engines, new styling and better construction. With prices that are expected to start at around $15,000, it may prove to be strong competition for the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla

For starters, it's longer, wider and taller, providing more headroom and ease of entry and exit. And styling-wise, it looks like a smaller Maxima -- that is, it's classier.

You'll find a new 2.0 liter, 140 horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual or optional CVT transmission. And among the interesting interior features are a 60/40 split double folding rear seat with a fold-flat seat back, a special trunk divider panel that creates a hidden storage compartment, and an integrated overhead compact disc holder.

With Nissan now offering the all-new entry level Versa, it had to move the Sentra upscale to the premium compact category, and from the looks of things, they've done so successfully.

Meanwhile, Versa's already moving out of dealer lots quickly, with a starting price for the hatchback of $12,550. A four-door sedan will follow in 2007.

The Versa's calling card is an unusually roomy interior, particularly in the back. I could actually stretch out a bit, which is more than I can say for some of Versa's competitors.

I was impressed with the level of comfort and quality appointments in the Versa, and it looked to be a lot more expensive inside than I might have guessed.

I'm afraid, however, that I wasn't so sure about the styling of the hatchback. It may take some time to get used to because it's clearly influenced by the European side of the family -- ie., Renault. I think the four-door sedan comes off much better in this regard. Power is provided by a 122 horsepower, 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine. Fuel mileage is expected to be in the 30 mpg city/36 highway range.

This year, the Maxima looks a bit more aggressive with new headlights and grille. You also get the XTronic CVT transmission with the 3.5 liter, 255 horsepower V-6. Inside, you'll find improved seats, a redesigned console and better materials throughout the interior. Fuel mileage figures are 21 mpg city/28 highway. Prices start at $28,050 for the SE and $30,300 for the SL model.


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