If you're in the market for a pre-owned sleeper, Nissan quietly unleashed a good candidate back in 2005 in the form of the Altima SE-R.
One of five different trim levels of the Altima offered by Nissan in that year, this was the high-performance variant. It didn't really stand out in the crowd as a hot rod, but that's essentially what it was, with surprising power, handling and braking abilities.
At the heart of it was a lightly tweaked version of Nissan's award-winning VQ series V-6 engine. In this configuration, it developed 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm - about 10 more horses than the regular Altima 3.5 SE.
Two transmissions were available: a six-speed manual and five-speed automatic with a manual shift feature. Because of its lively V-6 engine, the SE-R was one of those cars equally appealing with either transmission.
To keep all that extra get up and go under control, the SE-R had beefed-up suspension components, including thicker anti-roll bars front and back, heavier-duty springs and larger four-wheel disc brakes.
Sticky 18-inch alloy wheels and tires added to the car's overall handling prowess and, in the real world, the SE-R rode rougher than its garden-variety stable mates, but not to the point of discomfort. Back in 2005, one of the complaints against the regular-version Altima was that it had a ride that was too soft. No danger of that here. Incidentally, many of the SE-R's suspension components were taken from Nissan's performance division, NISMO, which is almost a household name in Japan.The SE-R stood out in other ways. Aside from an "Arrest Me" red paint job, it came with a larger front fascia panel, driving lights, highlighted brake calipers, a tasteful rear spoiler and big meaty chrome exhaust tips. The exhaust was a special, low-restriction system and the SE-R came with an exhaust note that was music to any motorhead's ears.
And you could run this particular sport sedan as hard as you liked. Especially when it came to going deep into the corners and hitting that sweet spot when you exited. Having said that, buyers truly interested in the performance aspects of this car - as opposed to the comfort factor - would be advised to plump for the manual gearbox. The automatic was fine, but it lacked that extra little bit of hands-on feeling and seat-of-the-pants authenticity that can only come with a stick shift.
Still, for a front-wheel-drive sport sedan, the Altima SE-R featured pretty neutral handling - all things considered. Torque steer was a bit of an issue, and it wasn't quite up to the standards of traditional rear-drive or all-wheel-drive European sedans like the BMW 3-series or Audi A4. But for the vast majority of buyers in this market, it was more than enough.
On the other hand, it doesn't cost anywhere near as much as some of its European rivals. These days, you can pick up an Altima SE-R for about $13,000-$15,000 - almost a third of what it cost new. This is about $1,000 more than a well-equipped SE model, and roughly $3,500 more than the base four-cylinder model.
There's only one safety recall to report from Transport Canada, and it actually concerns the four-cylinder SE version of the Altima. Apparently, the electronic control module (ECM) can be wonky and lead to the engine stalling. Dealers will reprogram the ECM, free of charge.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this glitch on file too, as well as an aftermarket headlight warning. These units, manufactured by TYC, can fail prematurely and lead to a complete loss of headlight illumination. Nissan dealers will replace them.
NHTSA also has 47 technical service bulletins for the 2005 Altima - for all versions - and they cover a wide range of issues. There is a warning, for example, not to disconnect your car's battery while the engine is running (why would you?), a warning about possibly flawed rear suspension bushings, a "whining" noise emanating from the engine, various cooling issues, diagnostic issues with the anti-locking brakes and so on. But many of NHTSA's technical service bulletins are aimed as much at service personnel as they are at consumers and often take the form of advisories.
Aside from various electrical issues and sketchy paint and trim, Consumer Reports seems to approve of this vintage of Altima - SE-R and otherwise. It gets an above-average used-car prediction rating from this organization. It actually fares better than some other years of the Altima - 2004, 2006 and 2007, for example - and CR deems the Altima to be "reliable."
Market research firm J.D. Power is unhappy with the 2005 Altima's interior quality and is lukewarm about its powertrain dependability, but otherwise, it gets passing marks - but not ovations - in just about every category. It garners a "better than most" reliability rating from this organization.
2005 NISSAN ALTIMA SE-R
Type: Mid-size, four-door sedan
Original Base Price: $35,398; Black Book Value: $15,450; Red Book Value: $13,725
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 260 hp/251 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic/six-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 city/7.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 1.8, Acura TSX, Mitsubishi Galant GTS, Mazda6 GT, Honda Accord V-6, Volkswagen Passat GLX