The gospel of speedy, sporty coupes |

The gospel of speedy, sporty coupes

summit daily auto writer

The new BMW 3 Series Coupe (03/2010)

What would Jesus drive? Good question. I suppose in the interest of being helpful to all, He’d drive one of those giant orange CDOT snowplow trucks. Or maybe He’d be rocking the Suburban with Texas plates, like so many of his disciples. Or a Ford SuperDuty, as it’s got carpenter-friendly utility written all over it.

I doubt The Great Redeemer would be a prime candidate for a two-door sport coupe, but since I have a couple of long-overdue sport coupes to talk about, let’s just set aside the Jesus thing for a moment and get back to business.

Two particular models of recent months strike me as having some core attributes in common but could not be more different at all. Firstly, the new 2010 Nissan Altima coupe – Nissan’s mid-range, moderately sporty, two-door cruiser, rendered up a relatively pious 30 mpg in real-world driving, and while it wasn’t the fastest thing I’d ever driven, it was sharp looking and fun to roll along in. For about $24,400. Including options, albeit no navigation system.

Fulfilling nearly the same niche but in an entirely different league was the hellacious BMW 335i coupe I drove many months ago, one of the fastest, most impressive and fine-handling automobiles on the market. My interaction with the Summit County Sheriff’s Department will attest to the speed part, full disclosure.

The BMW, sporting the same set of slightly oversized and somewhat heavier doors as the Nissan, necessitating awkward but not impossible access for your potential rear-seat passengers, might be similar on capacity and general layout (and even overall design, provided you squint a lot), but it’s not quite the same animal. And, laden with options, it retails for about $52,500. Calling it a Beaver Creek car would not be a stretch.

More than double the money, double the car? Yes, indeed, though there’s still that two-door, hard-to-load-rear-passengers issue. The sleek and sweeping Bimmer features a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged six-cylinder that’s rated for 300 horsepower, and clearly provides nearly all of those horses, even at 10,000 feet. Scarily so.

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The six-speed manual ensures easy access to the power, and in the case of this particular test vehicle, an optional, performance-oriented M Sport package added the extra spark of 18-inch wheels, sport seats, the same steering wheel as the M3 and an aerodynamics kit that gave it a fantastically clean and upstanding look.

In the other corner of the ring, the Altima still had its own sterling appeal, though its design was admittedly more reminiscent of its own Japanese brethren (Mazda6, Accord, Camry). And even though the rear windows seem incredibly tiny by comparison to the BMW’s rear portals, they do provide a modicum of over-the-shoulder lane-changing visibility, and even allow your rear-seat crew to see outside. Visibility is not too bad, all things considered.

Altima’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder generates 175 horsepower, mated to a six-speed manual of its own, and while not exactly 370 Z in its oomph or handling, it’s nice for sporty-lite careening and comfortable freeway cruising, with excellent mileage. Best of all, the interior’s not distressingly cramped, with ample head room, and your slightly unfortunate rear passengers will do OK on shorter jaunts.

The BMW’s twice-as-expensive rendition of the same layout remains one of the best-handling machines out there, stunningly handsome, impeccably finished and dangerously quick. Front and rear anti-roll bars, sport suspension and speed-sensitive steering only conspire for more well-controlled velocity. Add to that the impressive (and now much more easily operated) navigation system, the dynamic cruise control, the HD radio, the pushbutton starter, and the price differential becomes evident.

Swapping out the summertime performance tires for winter footwear, the 335i’s internal ski bag, its heated front seats and even the heated headlight washers could get you to the slopes in the worst of it, with power to spare.