- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Nissan launched the third generation of its popular Altima in 2002 that was designed to offer a spirited alternative to the existing array of ho-hum midsize sedans in the marketplace. The Japanese automaker continues in that vein with a car that is still a cut above.

Refinements to the Altima abound for the 2005 model year including a host of styling enhancements, an expanded color palette and an interior that has been improved to the point of competing with the more upscale Maxima, featuring a more luxurious look and feel with an available DVD-based navigation system.

The performance orientation stays in place as well, with the base V-6 modified to produce additional horsepower for a total of 250, along with 249 foot-pounds of torque. Should you want even more “oomph” along with greater responsiveness in the handling department, there is a new model Altima — the SE-R, which delivers 260 horsepower

Altima actually comes in six model variations: the 2.5 base model; 2.5 S; 2.5 S with the SL package; 3.5 SE; 3.5 SL and the 3.5 SE-R. The 2.5 four-cylinder models generate 175 horsepower and 180 foot-pounds of torque. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard fare for the 2.5; 2.5 S; and the 3.5 SE. The 2.5 SL gets a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive, which is optional for the 2.5 S. Changing gears in the 3.5 SL is a five-speed automatic that features a manual shift mode — this is an option for the 3.5 SE as well as the SE-R, the latter coming equipped normally with a six-speed manual shifter. All models are front-engine, front-wheel drivers.

In terms of its outward appearance, the latest Altima displays a bolder, more athletic aura, with new lighting treatments fore and aft, a redesigned smooth front fascia featuring a unique raised hood design, a pronounced overall wedge form with an elevated beltline and sharp character lines. The silhouette flows smoothly from the angled hood over the arched greenhouse and reverse raked back window to the rear deck and integrated fascia. The SE-R is, of course, even more scintillating in its magnetism.

The test Altima was the 3.5 SE, which was finished in a maroon metallic exterior coat, and sported a multitone beige cloth interior. The base sticker was $23,750. Adding a five-piece floor and trunk mat set, along with the Sport Package (rear spoiler and power glass sunroof) and destination charges moved the total to $25,710.

The 3.5 SE Altima from Nissan is an attractive, comfortabe five-passenger, four-door sedan that is not only affordably priced, but provides a spirited level of driving fun. It seems to have more than enough power and tosses well through twisty scenarios.

The dual exhaust with chrome tips and the five-spoke alloy wheels definitely add to the car’s sporting nature.

The list of creature comforts and features that contribute to the ambience and convenience is both long and impressive. Functionality and versatility are enhanced by the 60/40 fold-down split rear seatback that locks.

The Altima is also big on safety and security, with dual front air bags, an immobilizer key system, child safety rear door locks along with LATCH system/child safety anchors, power window lockout button and more.

The Altima’s model range and pricing structure allow for matching driving requirements with an equally broad range of budget levels — essentially running the gamut from economical and fun to drive to somewhat pricier and lots of fun to drive.

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