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2005 Nissan Altima SE-R Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

With Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Nissan

2005 Nissan Altima SE-R

``SE-R'' means performance at Nissan. It started with the Sentra SE-R, built from 1991 through 1994, a car which gained a cult-like following, and a reputation that only grew when it was discontinued. As part of its renaissance, Nissan brought the Sentra SE-R back, better than ever, in 2002, and it continues to make fans of the pocket rocket happy to this day.

Meanwhile, major changes were occurring in Nissan's larger sedans. Its top-of-the-line six cylinder-only Maxima, once touted as ``the four-door sports car'', evolved toward luxury. And the Altima, introduced in the early 1990s to fill the gap between the compact Sentra and mid-sized Maxima, and offered only with a four-cylinder engine, grew to true mid-size in 2002. At that time, it was not only larger than the then-current Maxima, it also was, for the first time, available with the same V6 engine. The Altima became the heart of the Nissan sedan range.

And the Altima range keeps expanding. Competitors in the mid-size sedan class have models for every taste from four-cylinder no-frills to six-cylinder semi-luxury, and so does the Altima. It also has one that one-ups the competition - the SE-R.

The Altima SE-R gets the contemporary Oriental sports sedan makeover, with sportier front and rear styling, custom sport seats, and special forged-alloy wheels. It's not merely cosmetic. That would demean the SE-R name. Its 3.5-liter V6 engine, closely-related to that in the 350Z, gets ten more horsepower than other models, for 260, and the suspension has been retuned to bring it up to sports sedan specification. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.

I've just spent a week with an Altima SE-R equipped with the automatic. It starts with the space and comfort that are part of every Altima, and adds a sporty look and the power and handling upgrades to back that look up. If, because of its size, it's not as tossable as the Sentra SE-R, consider its size to be its greatest asset as a sport-touring sedan. Whatever you may need to take, whether it be passengers or luggage or both, whether it be on the morning commute or to the office, you can take it with you in the Altima. And, in the SE-R, you can take it with you in style, and quickly. The Ultimate Altima?

APPEARANCE: External recipe for an Altima SE-R? Start with one Altima sedan. At the large end of the mid-size spectrum, clean, well-rounded lines are offset by gentle sculpting of the fenders and Nissan's signature twin lines cut into the hood in front. A wedge-shaped body profile enhanced by a subtle character line that rises from the front wheel arch toward the rear and is topped by a long, arched passenger cabin. The rear is high, to improve both aerodynamics and luggage space. Now add a blacked-out grille, smoked covers over xenon HID headlights, and a re-shaped fascia with a flatter profile, Z-like rectangular lower air intake, and projector-beam foglamps in faux brake scoops in front, 18-inch forged alloy wheels shod with 45-profile performance tires and small sill extensions to the sides, and a small spoiler, flatter, lower bumper fascia, large-diameter exhaust extensions, and smoked clear covers over the red-lensed taillights at the rear. The result is sporty but mature. The wheels are handsome, but the spokes stick out beyond the tires, so watch it parking.

COMFORT: As outside, the SE-R builds on the strengths of the standard interior. First and foremost: space, space, and more space. Five real people really can fit, comfortably. In style, think Nissan Sports. Spell it ``Z.'' The Altima instrument cluster and steering wheel already resemble those in the company's signature 350Z sports car. The SE-R adds three more small gauges to the center of the instrument panel, just like the Z. The standard pedals are exchanged for sporty metal-and-rubber ones. Best are the seats, especially the front sport buckets, which, with special stitching and contrasting leather inserts, look like they came right out of a 350Z. They're very comfortable, and heated. A tilt-and-slide moonroof adds light and air. As mentioned, the rear contoured bench has very good leg and head room, especially for outboard passengers. It's split 60/40 for extra cargo space when needed. The trunk is huge, with, as is common with sedans, the opening size being the limiting factor in determining maximum cargo item size.

SAFETY: Like all Altimas, the SE-R has Zone Body Construction for maximum occupant safety in the event of an accident. Dual-stage front airbags have seat belt sensors, and front seat-mounted side and side curtain airbags are available. The SE-R has larger front discs than other models and standard antilock and electronic brake force distribution.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Nissan begins with a solid, rigid unibody structure for the Altima, and upgrades the SE-R with stiffer springs and matching shocks, front and rear, plus larger-diameter stabilizer bars. The front strut-type suspension makes extensive use of aluminum to reduce unsprung weight and improve handling response. The rear multilink system is patterned after that used in the Japanese-market Skyline, one of its most legendary machines. The result is nearly perfect for real-world sport-touring use. While firm, and exhibiting little body motion under acceleration, braking, or cornering, it is not at all uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, its large size works a bit against it on tight roads, but in its favor on more open sections and for highway travel. There is some noticeable torque steer under hard acceleration, but the engine feeds a large amount of low-end torque through the front wheels.

PERFORMANCE: It's not much of a stretch to say that under the hood of every Altima SE-R is the heart of a 350Z. They share Nissan's fine 3.5-liter dual overhead-cam, 24-valve VQ35 V6 engine. In the SE-R, it's tuned for 260 horsepower, at 6000 rpm, with 251 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm. Torque is developed at low engine speeds, for good real-world acceleration. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a five-speed electronically-controlled automatic also offered. The automatic, with which my test car was fitted, has a manual-shift gate, and can be used easily in manual mode. But, given the amount of torque from the engine, and wide torque band, D works just fine most of the time. A lower final-drive ratio than other V6-powered Altimas further enhances performance.

CONCLUSIONS: More than a little sport, and more than a little luxury meet in the Nissan Altima SE-R.


2005 Nissan Altima SE-R

Base Price			        $ 29,200
Price As Tested			$ 30,680
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam
				        24-valve V6
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 213 cu. in.
Horsepower			260 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			251 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled
Wheelbase / Length		110.2 in. / 192.5 in.
Curb Weight			3,316 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.8
Fuel Capacity			n/a gal.
Fuel Requirement 	        91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P225/45 ZR18 Bridgestone Potenza
Brakes, front/rear	        vented disc / solid disc,
				        antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				        independent multi-link
Drivetrain		        front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy  - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 30 / 22
0 to 60 mph			est 8.0  sec

Side airbags and traction control	$ 800
Splash guards				$ 120
Destination charge			$ 560