While there are a bunch of 2010 Nissan Altimas (eight, if you count the coupes, sedans and hybrid versions), only one can be the best in the bunch: the 2010 Nissan Altima 3.5 SR sedan.

Loaded up with Nissan's bulletproof 3.5-liter V-6, a decent continuously variable transmission (as good as CVTs go) and a solid ride, the 3.5 SR sedan provides everything a daily driver should want and a whole lot more.

For the 2010 model year, Nissan has given the Altima a fresh look. Nissan changed the front end, bumper and hood as well as some other touches around the vehicle. It also added new wheels to give the 3.5 SR a more aggressive look. It looks meaner.

The headlights sweep back to a point and the curvy roof has a gentle curve that makes the Altima look as if it's ready to launch out of any parking space. The 3.5 SR can also come with high intensity discharge lights, which look even better.

Nissan calls the Altima's look "dynamic simplicity," and there's some truth behind that statement. The Altima is well proportioned, with the wheels pushed out to the edges, giving it a 109.3 inch wheelbase. The slightly higher body in the back and the heavily angled windshield point toward speed.

Commuter power

The Altima's base engine -- 175-horsepower 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder power plant -- provides that commuter with power and decent gas mileage at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. But the 3.5 SR adds nearly 100 horses for a total of 270 and has nearly as good gas mileage, hitting 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.

Of course, that might take some easier acceleration than this Altima tempts you to do. The 3.5 SR likes to go fast. It's quick off of the line and can provide you with power whenever you stomp on the accelerator. While the CVT does wind out too much for my liking, it still feels pretty natural.

CVTs, which use a belt and pulley system instead of traditional gears, continue to become more refined. It's a transmission we're going to see more of in future cars because of the benefits they provide. This CVT is one of the best on the road today.

One of the reasons is Nissan has programmed nearly 700 algorithms into it to adjust to different conditions, such as an uphill climb, flat roads at high speeds or even downhill driving. There's even a sport mode for the transmission, which sounds like an oxymoron.

The independent suspension provides a good ride for the casual drive but also holds the car on the road well when driving more aggressively. It's a nice combination. The speed sensitive rack-and-pinion power steering is also firm with a nice return to center. The 3.5 SR maintains its sporty feel at every speed, and it is still easy to park.

One area of performance I expected more from was the brakes. While good for regular driving, the brakes have the linear feel you want in a sport car. There were times when I would find myself pressing the brakes, then pressing them harder to rein in the car. It may be a minor point, but, as everyone knows, brakes are only important when you want to stop.

While most sport accustomed drivers might prefer the coupe version over the sedan, I found the four-door model much nicer. Yes, coupes tend to have a more rigid body, which translates into better handling, but the sedan handles very well and the extra doors make getting into the back seat easy. Coupes are great if you never plan on having two friends ride with you. I use the second row for carrying stuff to and from work; in a coupe, it's a clumsy effort to toss a computer in the back. There's a practical side of sedans that coupes just can't match.

Feel like a race car driver

Nissan has continued to show improvements with its interior, and the 3.5 SR shows how nice they can be. While the midsize car falls into that daily driver category, the Altima's cockpit says daily race car driver. The seats are comfortable and you sit low in the car.

Nissan includes its Fine Vision gauge display, which is crisp and easy to read. The instrument cluster is clean, with individual gauges with white numbers. The three circular vents at the top of the center stack flow into the dash; and there's an optional 6.5 inch VGA color display screen with high resolution graphics. (This replaces the base 4.3-inch screen.)

It comes with all of the features the modern day commuter needs: Bluetooth connectivity to operate your cell phone, heated front seats, USB connection and nine speaker Bose stereo. You can also get Bluetooth audio streaming, a DVD player and satellite radio.

There are lots of little nooks and crannies to store things. There are up to nine cup holders, and right below the stereo, there's a space that can be quickly closed up to hide the iPod or other music player. Cars need function, places to set down your cell phone, hold your cup of coffee and keep things safe. While the 3.5 SR may feel sporty, it remains a car that could carry a family around, too.

Every car needs to serve all of the needs of its owner and the Nissan Altima 3.5 SR can do it all and do it better than any other Altima.

sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217