Suddenly, we have a Nissan Altima coupe that looks like a baby GT-R, with almost the same VQ35 found in the Z. Even engine placement and torque steer have been addressed in this new Generation D platform. So what? Just because it doesn't torque steer and looks better, does that make it a sport compact?
Well, not out of the box. Let's just accept that weight in contemporary cars is something that can't be changed. But what if we could take advantage of the modern and, most importantly, affordable chassis and use it to our advantage? I'm talking about an all-wheel-drive beast based on the good-looking Altima Coupe.
Once again we see the beauty of modern modular cookie-cutter manufacturing, because the D platform is also shared by the Murano SUV, something that comes with an optional all-wheel drive system. For the 2008 model year, which is when the Coupe will be available, both chassis will be updated Renault versions of the D platform, which is slightly different from the 2007 and earlier Nissan D platforms of previous Muranos and Altimas.
Being the same platform means that most of the underpinning will be close enough to bolt into the Coupe. And what doesn't fit is just a matter of cutting and welding sheetmetal and tranny/driveshaft tunnels, widening fenders, and perhaps running odd wheel offsets. With an older Altima sedan, just make sure it has the underpinnings from the pre-'07 Muranos.
What really matters is that the suspension, hubs, uprights, axles, brakes and sub-frames are all designed to accommodate a rear differential and axles-the hardest part of any drivetrain swap. But there's a problem. The Murano only comes with Nissan's CVT transmission, which makes this swap virtually moot. Converting the Altima's transverse front-drive transmission to work with the CVT transfer case is almost impossible too.
There's an easy solution, if you have the base Altima powered by the four-cylinder QR25DE. In other parts of the world, Nissan makes a small sport crossover vehicle called the X-Trail, something that looks like our Xterra, but smaller and built on a unibody instead of a truck frame. The X-Trail comes with all-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission mounted to a QR20DE (in Australia). This makes the swap merely a matter of getting one of these transmissions, which is your basic Nissan front-drive transmission with an integrated transfer case, bolting it to your stock QR25DE and throwing all the manual transmission-swap goodies at it. Of course, the driveshaft will probably need to be modified to fit the change in wheelbase and to connect to the Murano's rear running gear. Piece of cake.
For those insisting on a V6, the swap involves tearing the X-Trail's transmission apart and bolting the front cover/bell housing of the VQ tranny casing to fit the bigger engine. The really adventurous might even try to make the six-speed guts fit into the five-speed box, since they are essentially identical and fit into the same housing. To accommodate changes in input shaft splines, a modified clutch and flywheel might be necessary, but that's probably something the people at Jim Wolf Technology are already designing. But don't take my word for it.
The last part is power distribution. Nissan's current transverse engine, all-wheel drive set-up is actually a modified two-wheel drive system with a rear pumpkin and transfer case. Power is supplied to the rear only when needed, so these cars still drive like a front-driver, unlike the GT-R. It's no high performance system with center diffs like the Evo, nor was it meant for serious rear bias. Power delivery to the rear wheels is controlled by an electro-magnetic clutch on the pumpkin.
Computers handle this through pulse width modulation, much like an injector, and it's all tied into the engine and transmission management. Since our swap doesn't have CVT, it won't have the transmission computer either.
We don't need sissy Nissan programming to tell us when to spin the rear wheels, anyway. We can bypass all that by making a manual rheostat that controls the signal going to the rear-drive clutch, either having it engaged all the time or not. To be really fancy, a simple PC board and controller can be made to read the throttle position signal, which would disengage the rear clutch when you lift, so the car behaves like a front-driver as it turns in, then re-engages it as more throttle is applied, exiting a turn under power with all four wheels churning away.
For those willing to trade size for the boxy looks of the new Sentra, the new Rogue's C platform all-wheel-drive guts and hubs will probably offer the same solution. Using the same X-Trail tranny, maybe modified with the Spec-V's close-ratio transmission, you might just turn your SE-R into an all-wheel-drive rally box with a six-speed transmission. Just bolt on a turbo, tear out some weight and you'll have yourself the rightful descendant to the Pulsar GTi-R. Who says all new cars are bland? We just need to be a little more creative.