Contrary to popular belief, the coupe segment is not dead. Honda, which will soon be releasing the new 2008 Accord coupe, expects the segment to grow 37% by 2011. And does anyone think that the 2009 Camaro won’t be a car attracting plenty of buyers? Another believer in the segment is Nissan, which hopes that its 2008 Altima Coupe will put it ahead of the pack in more ways than one.
Derived from the Nissan-Renault D segment platform—underpinning the Altima sedan, Renault Laguna and Nissan Primera—the Altima Coupe evolved out of Nissan’s initial research on expanding the Altima nameplate beyond its sedan tradition. While a station wagon concept was considered, market research indicated consumers would be more apt to purchase a two-door version of the car as opposed to one that would haul more stuff. Insiders hint that a topless version of the Altima Coupe gained rave reviews, but that’s another story altogether.
“We wanted the coupe to be a vehicle in its own right and not a two-door clone of the sedan and I think we hit that sweet spot,” says John Curl, regional product manager for Altima. Besides the hood, there is not a single body panel that is shared with the sedan or any other models in either the Nissan or Infiniti lineup. While there’s no mistaking Nissan design’s influence on the front fascia of the Coupe, which shares a number of themes found on the sedan, the rear fascia is reminiscent of the Infiniti G35/37 range, a touch that Curl admits was not a mistake. “Our target customer for this car loves the G35, now G37, but doesn’t have the means to own one in many cases, and this provides them with an option that is along those lines, at an affordable price.” Compared with the sedan, the coupe’s wheelbase is 4-in. shorter and the roofline is 2-in. lower. It has a more aggressive stance and shorter front and rear overhangs.
On the inside there is one big similarity between the two Altimas: the instrument panel is the same in both. However, the front seats for the Coupe are different, providing more lateral support and featuring “kangaroo pouches” in the front to store cell phones and other small items; the 60/40-folding rear seat is different, as well. Under the skin, Nissan continued to share by utilizing the same powertrain configurations for the two versions (a 2.5-liter, 170-hp four, or a 3.5-liter, 270-hp V6; a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission), as well as suspension components—independent strut with coil spring design with equal length, equal angle, near parallel to the ground half shafts and a stabilizer bar in the front and multi-link independent rear—although the stabilizer bar rates, front spring rates and front and rear dampers are specially tuned for the coupe application.
Nissan doesn’t have grandiose visions of selling hundreds of thousands of Altima Coupes, rather expecting the two-door to add only “incremental” volumes to the Altima line. As such, production will be limited to Nissan’s Smyrna, TN, plant with coupes being flexed between sedans as demand warrants.
Nissan Trucks Aren’t Neglected
After a tumultuous launch in 2004, Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup truck finally gets some much-needed attention from the automaker’s engineering department. Even as sales failed to meet the annual 100,000 unit mark set by Nissan early on, Titan was beset by numerous quality issues, most notably brake durability. Nissan has addressed this and other issues with the 2008 refresh, which includes a new brake system developed by Akebono (www.akebonobrakes.com) with the “largest swept brake area in the class,” according to Orth Hedrick, Nissan’s senior manager of product planning. A new long wheelbase model—available with a 7-ft. bed with the Crew Cab configuration or 8-ft. bed with the King cab body—has been added, along with corresponding changes to the prop shaft and rear suspension. “This is for the buyer we have not had a lot of success getting in the work truck market,” Hedrick says. Styling on the Titan has also been tweaked, although it’s hardly noticeable at first glance. The rest of Nissan truck lineup also has been modified, including an available 310-hp, 5.6-liter Endurance V8 on the Pathfinder, itself receiving significant interior upgrades aimed at moving the SUV into a more luxurious subset and aligning it with the full-size Armada SUV, which gets a near carbon copy of the Pathfinder’s cockpit, along with a refreshed exterior with new rear fascia and a color keyed grille. Nissan’s decision not to provide the new cockpit in the Titan may seem a bit odd, considering most of its competition is investing heavily on upgrading the interior quality of their workhorses, but Hedrick says Titan’s electrical system would have required massive upgrades, which were cost prohibitive, but are in the plan for the future.