Too bad there isn't a Swiss automobile manufacturer, because many of my favorite cars are rolling equivalents of the Swiss Army knife: capable, multitalented vehicles that can do more than one thing well.
Case in point: the 2005 Nissan Altima SE-R. As an Altima, it's a roomy four-door family car, soundly engineered and moderately handsome. Then add some performance - related bits and pieces, and you have a four-door sports car, right?
In this case, right, indeed. The Altima SE-R is one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2005 model year. For about $30,000, it's handsome, practical, probably dependable and a lot of fun to drive.
The performance features include big 18-inch forged aluminum-alloy wheels, shod with P224/45YR-18 radials. The front and rear suspension is stiffer than on the stock Altima, and the front and rear stabilizer bars are thicker, but the ride, while taut, is never punishing. The front and rear have unique fascias, and there are Xenon headlights, compact fog lights and different taillights. The 3.5-liter V-6 has 260 horsepower, just 10 more than the regular V-6 Altima, but it feels stronger than that. A lower-restriction exhaust makes a nice throaty snarl that likely adds to that impression.
Inside, the SE-R has special leather-covered, color-keyed bucket seats, a different instrument panel and some unique trim pieces. The rear seat is relatively roomy, and there's more than ample trunk space.
As the top-of-the-line Altima, the SE-R has, as you'd expect, a long list of standard equipment. There's an eight-speaker Bose stereo with a six-disc CD changer and steering wheel-mounted controls. It has a power sunroof, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, an alarm system and pretty much everything else you'd want. A package that includes traction control and side air bags adds $800 to the price.
On the road, the Altima SE-R is composed and comfortable, a very good choice for long-distance cruising. The test car had the five-speed automatic transmission; a six-speed manual is also available. EPA-rated fuel mileage with the automatic is 20 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway.
Downsides? Well, two, I guess.
One is that the Altima is front-wheel drive, and some performance enthusiasts insist that rear-wheel drive is sportier. Maybe, but I suggest that the majority of those enthusiasts couldn't tell the difference in normal driving. Punch the throttle, though, especially in a low-speed turn, and the SE-R exhibits a fair amount of torque steer, which is the tendency for the engine's torque to try and steer the car to the left or right. It isn't dangerous, but it also isn't exactly fun.
The only other real criticism is the price. While $30,000 isn't bad for what the SE-R offers, you can buy a pretty nice Altima at a sub-$20,000 sticker price, and whether the leather and go-fast equipment is worth more than $10,000 is your call.
Also, you can get a very nice Nissan Maxima for the same price as the SE-R, and the Maxima is perceived as the company's flagship sedan.
Plus, there's some really nice sedans from other manufacturers in that $30,000 segment, ranging from the Acura TSX to the Chrysler 300 Touring.
I like the Altima SE-R a lot, and if I were in the market for a car like this, it would be near the top of my list.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith's TV reports air Wednesdays on Central Florida News 13.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||December 22, 2004|
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|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||April 23, 2005|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||April 7, 2005|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||March 25, 2005|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||March 16, 2005|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||November 18, 2004|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||August 4, 2004|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||December 16, 2003|
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