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Coupe comparo: 2008 Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT-P

All three offer similar power in V6 form. But which one delivers the most smiles from the driver's seat?

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Rear-drive coupes like the new Dodge Challenger or the upcoming Chevrolet Camaro and Hyundai Genesis are getting their 15 minutes of fame. But fans of sporty two-doors who are afraid of rear-end slippage in bad weather have plenty of front-wheel-drive versions to choose from.

All new for 2008, coupe iterations of the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima offer aggressively styled exteriors to further separate themselves from their sedate sedan siblings. Mitsubishi’s Eclipse 2+2 soldiers on as well, at least until a new Lancer-based version arrives in a couple of years.

All three offer similar power in V6 form. But which one delivers the most smiles from the driver’s seat?

THIRD PLACE:

Mitsubishi Eclipse GT-P

The fully loaded Eclipse GT-P splits the Nissan and Honda in price at $34,298. The only option is a $1,200 automatic transmission.

Its biggish 3.8-litre V6 leads this trio in torque at 260 lb.-ft.; yet has the least ponies at 263 and delivers the worst fuel consumption ratings at 13.1 city, 7.9 L/100 km highway.

The six sounds great, with a distinct howl on the boil; it easily maxes out the traction of its 235/45/18 rubber. Sharing a platform, though, with the mid-size Galant sedan since 2000 means today’s Eclipse isn’t the guttersnipe street racer the first two generations were from the 1990s.

With the heaviest curb weight (1,608 kg) and a tuned-for-comfort suspension, it’s no surprise that understeer and torque steer are always present.

A six-speed manual that feels loosey-goosey in its action – plus heavy-but-vague steering – don’t help the Mitsu’s cause, either. And the extra avoirdupois also means the Eclipse is last to 100 km/h at 6.2 seconds.

Overall, against the Accord and Altima, the Eclipse is more of a lover of smooth roads than a fighter of twisty curves. It simply doesn’t feel as athletic as the lighter Nissan or as in-control as the more refined Accord.

WHY BUY? Torque-rich V6; comfy ride; hatchback utility.

WHY NOT? Relatively slow; cruiser suspension; sloppy stick shift.

SEDAN ALTERNATIVE: Mitsubishi Galant GT $27,998

SECOND PLACE:

Nissan Altima SE

At $31,398 with a six-speed manual, the Nissan represents the value coupe in this group (but try to avoid the $1,200 CVT option.)

Surprisingly, the Altima’s lithesome 1,445 kg curb weight doesn’t deliver any performance advantage over the Accord. Despite having the most ponies here (270 hp) and more torque (10 more lb.-ft.) than the Honda, both post 0-to-100 km/h runs at 5.8 seconds.

At least the Nissan sips the least dino juice here at 11.2 city, 7.3 L/100 km highway.

Although more fun-to-drive than the Eclipse, the Altima quickly falls behind the Accord in driving refinement, from the drivetrain to the steering to the suspension.

When giving it some stick, the Altima’s V6 annoyingly rocks in its engine mounts like an old Saab 99. The six-speed’s long-throw shift linkage makes changing gears a game of chance.

Compared to the Accord’s near perfect balance of handling and ride, the Altima is a mess.

With too stiff springs and too soft shocks, the Altima crashes over any bad pavement. Subsequently, in back-to-back corners, the Nissan coupe needs time to settle down before the driver can feel confident about applying power at the exit.

And whereas the steering in the Altima sedan is fulsome with feel, the coupe’s is light and vague. Hey Nissan, what happened?

WHY BUY? Low price; fast; good on gas.

WHY NOT? Drivetrain, steering and suspension need finishing school.

SEDAN ALTERNATIVE: Nissan Altima 3.5 SE $30,298

FIRST PLACE:

Honda Accord EX-L V6

At $35,490 the Accord is the classic “you get what you pay for” story.

With a wider cabin and more supportive seats, the Accord impresses from the driver’s seat before you even fire it up. The only black mark is a mainly indecipherable centre control stack festooned with haphazardly placed buttons.

Once on the move, one will find the Honda’s 268 hp 3.5 L V6 is a smoothie that likes to rev. Its five-speed manual (an automatic with the same number of gears is a no-charge option) is crisp and accurate.

Compared to the Eclipse or Altima, the Accord’s steering actually gives you a sense of what the front wheels are doing. And Honda has done a good job mitigating torque steer.

But the best part of the Accord is its refined balancing act between excellent front-drive handling and a firm, near Teutonic ride.

The Accord is big car. But when it comes time to play, its suspension makes it feel much smaller, with the least amount of understeer – a common front-drive peeve – of this trio.

All the while, it goes about its business in a more refined, quieter manner than the other two V6 coupes.

WHY BUY? Big inside; slick shifter; excellent performance and overall driving dynamics.

WHY NOT? Cockpit’s button-riddled design; big for this class.

SEDAN ALTERNATIVE: Honda Accord EX-L V6 $34,990

Freelance auto reviewer John LeBlanc can be reached at editors@straight-six.com

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