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2012 Nissan Altima Coupe ReviewThe Good
The 2012 Nissan Altima Coupe offers two capable engines, one capable transmission and a compliant ride in an attractive package.The Bad
A lackluster manual, too-stiff suspensions and a frustrating options structure are serious drawbacks for the 2012 Altima Coupe.
The CarGurus View
Whereas the Altima wants to paint a picture of pliancy, the list of options isn’t as long as you’d like. The 6-speed manual just isn’t an option, and the sport suspension of the 3.5 couples with the Coupe’s shorter wheelbase for a package that’s just too janky for daily driving. Better to stick with a nicely optioned 2.5 here with the CVT—the best value in the lineup.
At a Glance
The Nissan Altima Coupe slides into 2012 with no changes as it prepares for a 2013 redesign. Bland beginnings, but the Altima Coupe is already one of the more underrated vehicles in the class, offering a better interior than the class-leading Accord, and a better exterior than most everything in the class other than perhaps the Fusion. However, you can get a better driving experience with the Mazda6, and most competitors offer a better experience when it comes to checking out the options list.
With the Altima Coupe your options are few but fun. A 2.5-liter inline 4 gets the party started with 175 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.5-liter V6 sits in reserve, ready to blast your pants off with a nearly manageable 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. While the 2.5 gets the job done amicably, the 3.5 seems determined to remind you it’s working hard with gobs of torque steer. Either engine can be had with your choice of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a 6-speed manual transmission, believe it or don’t, and the returns at the pump aren’t terrible.
For the 2.5, that means 23 mpg city/31 highway, with the CVT eking out an additional mpg on the highway. The 3.5 offers a penalty, but not as bad as you’d expect, with 18/27 for the manual and 20/27 for the CVT. Still, these are numbers from the previous generation, and we’d expect the next Altima to do much better.
On paper this looks great, but in real-world application, there are many drawbacks. Both engines are coarse and loud, especially under load, and the fun of the 6-speed is robbed through its excessively long throw and a clutch that seems determined to offer absolutely no feedback. I don’t often say this, but avoid the manual.
Ride & Handling
One of the low points of the Altima Coupe, the ride is sacrificed somewhat due to the Coupe’s shorter wheelbase without much benefit on the handling side. You’ll notice some additional sprightliness when twisting the till, but not as much as you’d want or expect. Even with the sport suspension in the 3.5, Nissan seems to have found that all-too-common recipe for making things harder without making them much quicker.
Cabin & Comfort
This is where the Altima shines. Whereas competitors like the Accord are being constantly criticized for their low-rent interiors, things are a bit better here. Still, there are some surfaces and materials that will have you taking a second look at the sticker, wondering if you didn’t mistakenly buy an economy car.
On top of that, here is where you’ll encounter the biggest complaint from the Altima crowd—the frustrating add-ons structure, which necessitates purchasing expensive options packages in order to “unlock” other options packages. For example, you may opt for the 2.5 Convenience Package for its 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, faux-wood trim and leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Don’t want those options? If you want anything else, you’re stuck with them, and that means the sticker price will be moving up quite quickly.
Still, the Altima comes standard with air conditioning, a full power package, keyless access and push-button start, a CD/MP3 player with digital media connection and 17-inch alloy wheels. The 3.5 adds a power sunroof, automatic headlights, an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated power mirrors with indicators and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls when you choose the CVT. Move to the 6-speed manual and you’ll get leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate controls, heated front seats, Bluetooth, a rear-view camera, a Bose stereo and Xenon lights.
The Altima is one of the safer cars on the road, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarding it an overall score of 4 stars, with frontal impacts getting a 4-star rating and side impacts doing one better with a 5-star rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Altima its best—albeit improperly named—rating of Good.
As far as safety features go, you’re looking at stability and traction control, 4-wheel disc brakes, front-seat active head restraints and 6 standard airbags.
What Owners Think
Owners are generally impressed with the look of the Altima, inside and out. While some are pleased with the power of the V6, others find it too much for what is normally considered a pretty sedate car, especially when torque steer gets too unwieldy. The manual has been an almost universal disappointment, and while the CVT is much better in direct operation, some think it makes the V6 too loud. Finally, the options structure has been a source of immense frustration for buyers, and sometimes a reason to spend more than you’d planned.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.