Review: 2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT

Upon first glance, Nissan’s Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT looks to have the makings of a great sports car. Introduced for the 2010 model year, the Altima 3.5 SR 6MT (essentially a renamed 3.5 SE) packs a 270 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, a slick six-speed manual transmission, standard 18 inch wheels wrapped in Michelin sport rubber, a sport-tuned suspension, and standard options that include dual-zone climate control, a rear view camera and iPod connectivity.

What’s more, the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT is a purposeful-looking machine. With its long hood, raked windscreen, Z-like greenhouse and short rear deck, it has the silhouette of a proper sports coupe. Its rear haunches are massive and muscular, designed to inform passers-by that this extra sheet metal is needed to keep the stump-pulling 258 pound-feet of torque under control. Even the rear bumper sports a dual exhaust and diffuser-style under tray. When looked at as a whole, the 2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT appears as if it was designed to be a Z with a rear seat--a less pretentious Infiniti G, if you will.

But unfortunately, the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT is front-wheel drive--and based on a standard Altima platform--so a Z-like driving experience just can’t be found here. On top of that, this two-door Altima has a longish 105.3 inch wheelbase and a turning circle larger than that of its underpowered four-cylinder sibling, meaning that this car doesn’t like to make tight turns, nor does it feel nimble. A sports car, the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT is not.

So while the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR isn’t the track day weapon its appearance may suggest, it’s not too bad when viewed as a grand touring cruiser. Though the engine powers the wrong wheels, it is strong, it pulls incredibly hard, and when given plenty of gas it sounds great. During our week in the Altima 3.5 SR, some passengers found the ride to be a bit harsh, but those of us accustomed to rock-hard sports suspensions found the ride to feel plush and well sorted. The steering feels a bit artificial, but thanks to the 235-series rubber up front, it still manages to communicate just enough information to make the car feel easy to control.

Moving inside, ignore the back seats and trunk--they’re tiny, almost useless things. So much so that, right now, we’re tempted to stop right now and tell any prospective Altima Coupe buyers out there to just get the sedan--it will deliver the same performance, but will have the added benefit of practicality. But then doing would mean that we’re not doing our jobs, so we’ll carry on with this review for just a bit more.

Taking our own advice and ignoring the small spaces aft of the front seats, the Altima Coupe 3.5 SR’s cabin is actually rather nice. The fit, finish and materials used are of a surprisingly high quality. The leather used on the seats is high-grade stuff, and we love the contrasting white stitching used throughout the cockpit. Add some African rose wood or hand-polished metal trim and you’d have a cabin that wouldn’t look out of place in an Infiniti.

Also seemingly ripped from the Nissan’s posh Infiniti siblings was the standard Bose sound system. Satellite radio-ready and boasting full iPod integration, this seven-speaker audio package sounds great--especially when cranked at louder volumes. It’s just too bad that the system rarely seemed to want to sync up with our iPhone (when used as an iPod).

Overall, the 2010 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SR 6MT is a car that does a lot of things well. With its ability to make the miles go by quickly and comfortably, it’s a machine suited for long-distance driving. But no matter how hard we try, we can’t overlook the miniscule back seat and trunk. Were the Altima a proper sports car--like the Z--we could overlook this lack of functionality. But since the Altima was designed from the outset to be a family cruiser--yes, a cruiser that can hustle, but a family cruiser, nonetheless--this lack of practicality kills the overall appeal of the car. If you’re really looking for a sporty Altima--get the 3.5 SR sedan. But if a two-door Nissan is what you really crave, save an extra three grand and just get a Z.

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