While they aren’t really models of their own, the Nissan Sentra SE-R and SE-R Spec V up the base Sentra 1.8 model line with more powerful engines aimed at tuner-car buyers who want to take to the streets with something right out of the box.

Since the entire Sentra line got a restyling in 2004, changes for 2005 are minor, including a restyled grille, upgraded seat fabrics, new cluster-housing colour, and four new exterior colours.

The SE-R’s 2.5-litre engine delivers 165 hp, and comes only with a four-speed automatic that can’t be swapped for a shift-it-yourself version.

The Spec V also has a 2.5-litre, but it is bored, stroked and given extra exhaust flow to produce 175 hp. Completing the higher-performance tuner package is an close-ratio six-speed manual transmission – no automatic is available – and a helical limited-slip front differential.

The really big news, on a car with an MSRP under $22,000, is the availability of a Brembo brake package ($2,900). It slides that company’s gold-coloured, four-piston callipers onto the front 12-inch vented Brembo discs, and includes 10.9-inch rear discs. An available Sport package adds ABS, power sunroof and Rockford Fosgate nine-speaker, 300-watt audio system, which for 2005 includes a six-CD changer (the Brembo Pack also contains the stereo and sunroof).

Everything on the underside is sport-tuned, including the MacPherson strut front suspension beefed up with larger stabilizer bars and front strut tower brace; spring rates are increased on Spec V 15 per cent front and 16 per cent rear over SE-R. Four discs are across the board, although ABS is optional, and SE-R’s 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels grow an inch on Spec V.

Inside, it’s all tuner car, with Spec V sporting bucket seats styled after the legendary Nissan Skyline, a car unavailable to the hat-backwards crowd in North America and definitely mourned by same. Given the extra horses, the six-speed, the bigger wheels, better tires and nastier suspension mods, only the cash-strapped would hesitate to pony up the extra $500 to move from SE-R to Spec V.

In its category, this pocket rocket more holds its own: compared to Spec V, the 170 hp Toyota XRS is $2,187 more, the base 160 hp Acura RSX is $2,902 more, and while the 230 hp Dodge SRT-4 will knock the pants off it on the street, the $5,382 difference will buy a lot of go-fast at the speed shop.

Both SE-R and SE-R Spec V are assembled in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

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