Looking up and down the pit lane at Pocono Raceway, it was tough to make a choice for my first drive of the day. I wanted a platform that I was comfortable in and I wanted a front driver. Something from the Nissan world made sense and I took note that the 350Z convertible was available, but that would have gone against my plan of spending the morning with front wheel drive cars. Sitting there all alone, was the 2008 Altima Coupe 2.5S. Perfect. Not too much power in a family of cars that I’m familiar with.
Sitting in the line to get out on the track, I realized just how long it has been since I’ve been on track and yet it felt like I had never missed a weekend. Perhaps I was a little more relaxed than I used to be, but then again, the only pressure was my own. I was determined not to look like a giant buffoon out there, nothing more. Once the grid marshal waved me out, it was all business again. At the entrance to the second corner, I was already aware of my surroundings and equally aware that I should be moving a whole heck of a lot faster even though the tires were already beginning to squeal a bit. As the BMW Alpina B7 was rapidly closing in my mirrors, I moved to the right as I hit the oval and I waved the driver by on my left. Memories of past experience firmly in mind, I was fully aware of other cars on the track. I think I may have been the only driver all day to use proper hand signals. As my second lap began, I found that I was getting into a rhythm and was able to push the Coupe a bit harder.
So how did the Altima do on the track? Well, it was actually surprisingly quick. The coupe is actually a fairly big car, so I was pleased with how well the 175 hp 4 cylinder pulls the Altima Coupe around. On the banked straight, I actually saw the high side of 100 mph before needing to squeeze the binders to navigate the infield. Make no mistake, the Altima had none of the explosiveness of some of the other small cars on hand but when driven with thoughts towards carrying speed through the turns it was more than capable.
Most of the other cars in attendance were the performance variety of their line, which meant stiffer suspension and shorter sidewalls. The Altima was a base model, equipped with 16″ 60 series Continental all season tires. As a result, it wasn’t about to score any skidpad records, but the car was a hoot to drive at the limit even though that limit may not have been too high. As an old rally driver, I love a tail happy car, and the Altima Coupe was more than happy to let it’s tail out in throttle off situations. As throttle is fed in, the rear end draws smoothly back into line as the car is drifted out to the exit of the turn. This allowed for early corner entry, as the throttle is applied well before the apex, giving higher exit speeds. I’m not sure if the road racers like it this way, but it sure works for a gravel head.
Just like it’s more powerful cousin, the Infiniti G35/7, the Altima Coupe offers a sharp looking package that is fun to drive, looks great and still has room for a couple of kids in the back. I’d love to have a go with the 3.5 liter, 6 speed version, as I bet it’s a screamer on the track.