2 Coupes, 20 Tailgaters, 1 Winner: Rain falls in Seattle and the sun shines in San Diego and Miami, but in many other areas of the U.S. there’s an appropriate saying: “Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes.” The point is that whether you’re buried in snow or frying like an egg on your chaise lounge, conditions are bound to change before you know it.
Change. It’s a concept that’s become engrained into current political theatrics and finds its way into every facet of our daily lives, regardless of how much we fight or embrace it. This constant morphing of society also relates to the words we use, the hobbies we enjoy, and the products we purchase. Take cars, for example. Several years ago, a gradual shift in tastes and perceived needs allowed large suvs, sedans, and minivans to squeeze seemingly impractical two-door rides out of American garages. Relegated to the fringes of dealer lots everywhere, these relatively sporty vehicles languished for years, waiting for the winds of change to blow them back into the mainstream.
It appears that time has come, as higher fuel prices and the emergence of a new, youthful segment of car buyers demand the availability of cars that are affordable in terms of price and operating costs, yet provide a sporting nature that belies their inner practicality. Two of the most promising offerings include the Honda Accord Coupe, completely redesigned for 2008, and the all-new 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe. Like thousands of you, we were interested in figuring out which better blends the need for everyday usability with a visual flair and handling prowess, but rather than conducting a typical comparison test, we switched things up a bit this time.
Understanding that a number of shoppers considering these rides just might be recent or soon-to-be college grads who are looking to reward themselves with something fun, we opted for test cars with six-speed manual transmissions and all the features we could get for about $30,000. That resulted in a 2008 Honda Accord Coupe EX-L V-6 6-Speed and 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe 3.5 SE arriving in our parking lot, priced at $28,945 and $29,490, respectively. Like the price, the specs and features were almost identical – about 270 horsepower, front-wheel drive, leather seats, quality sound systems, and nearly all available options save for navigation units.
Testing included driving the cars back-to-back on a varied loop throughout southern California and scoring each based on driving dynamics, style, comfort, and more. But our opinions only go so far. We wanted to know, and share with you, the impressions of people most likely to buy these cars, so off to the USC/UCLA college game we went to round up the thoughts of fired-up tailgaters, those most likely to consider the purchase of one of these vehicles. Our respondents didn’t need another test to worry about, especially on a Saturday, so after allowing participants a chance to look over and paw through the Accord and Altima, we asked three simple questions: Which do you think looks better? Which has a better interior? Which is your overall pick? For kicks, we also tracked the team our participants were rooting for, and as it turns out, USC and UCLA fans want the same car as much as the same championship title.
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When this comparison idea was first conceived, it included a drive from our offices in Orange County to the Bay Area of California. We were headed to an Ivy League game to gather tailgaters’ opinions, and the round trip would provide hundreds of miles for evaluations of the Honda Accord Coupe and Nissan Altima Coupe. We’d even broken the news to our most recent hire that he’d be the one in charge of reporting on rear seat comfort. But, as it turned out, the folks at Ivy League U didn’t like the idea of us asking for and sometimes capturing opinions on video. Our keg-standing, state-school-educated reputations are apparently widely known.
After some discussion and a mad rush to snag premium parking tickets off of eBay, we headed to the local USC/UCLA game instead. With heavy game-day traffic, our rear seat reporter still had plenty of time to take notes, but to make up for driving time we crafted a day-long loop along the streets and freeways of Orange County and into the mountains of San Diego County. Three editors drove the cars back-to-back, and in addition to performance and handling, judged Honda and Nissans’ efforts in the areas of style, comfort, storage, interior layout, and overall quality.
For full test details, you can read the Head-to-Head Comparison: 2008 Honda Accord Coupe vs. 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe, but we’ll summarize the results here. After all the votes were tallied, it was the 2008 Honda Accord Coupe that won our favor, bettering the Altima Coupe in eight out of nine categories. We were a bit surprised to find the Accord’s powertrain to be so lively and engaging, its chassis quite capable, and its upscale interior more in line with what we’d expect from an Acura. Even the heavy-handed styling grew on us after a few days. The Nissan’s sole award was granted for its less complicated layout of primary controls.