Refined and with a new SE-R package in 2005, the Nissan Altima undergoes only very minor changes for 2006: there are four new option packages (2.5 Special Edition, Premium Package, Comfort Package and Trip Package), and factory-installed satellite radio is available.

The Altima comes with a choice of three engines: a 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder, 3.5-litre V6 with 250 hp, and in the SE-R, the 3.5-litre with 260 hp output. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual, six-speed manual, four-speed automatic or five-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

The Altima starts with the 2.5 S, which uses the four-cylinder with five-speed manual (the four-speed automatic is optional) and includes 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, front bucket seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, air conditioning, CD player with six speakers, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, automatic headlamps, cloth seats and variable intermittent wipers.

The 3.5 S shares the 2.5 S features, but includes the V6 with five-speed automatic transmission.

The 3.5 SE bases with the five-speed manual and offers the five-speed automatic as optional equipment; it also adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, trip computer, metallic interior accents, automatic climate control, cargo net, outside temperature display, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, side and curtain airbags, and anti-theft system.

The SE-R comes with a six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, and adds high-performance suspension, 18-inch forged alloy wheels, Xenon headlamps, power sunroof, rear spoiler, large-diameter sport exhaust, drilled aluminum pedals, six-CD stereo with eight speakers, HomeLink garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated leather seats and traction control.

The Altima is a fine family sedan, with lots of power and elegant road manners; the SE-R is a gutsy sports version, especially with the manual transmission. Roomy for its size, the Altima offers stretch-out comfort for rear-seat passengers and plenty of trunk space. Its interior is nicely-designed, but storage covers and hinges lack the heft associated with long-term use. Toyota and Honda have better fit-and-finish, but the Altima’s smooth, comfortable driving experience rates it up there with the competition

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