Modern Classics: Nissan Altima SE R, 2005 2006 modern classics car culture
2005 Nissan Altima SE-R. Click image to enlarge

By Jeff Burry; photos courtesy Nissan

In its early years, the Nissan Altima could have been described as “the car that excitement forgot.” It was first introduced in North America in 1993, as a front-wheel drive, four-door sedan – a grocery-getter, with rather plain styling and equipped with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine. No V6 was available.

The next-generation Altima was introduced in 1998 and while journalists and consumers alike were hoping for a more exciting and revamped design, the folks at Nissan failed to deliver. This second evolution of the Altima was powered by the same engine found in the original, and was offered with a choice of either a standard or automatic transmission.

There were a number of complaints echoed by consumers about the Altima in the 1990s, but none echoed louder than the issue surrounding interior space, which was minimal at 3.1 square metres (108 cubic feet), seating only four adults comfortably (though there were places for five). This matter was finally addressed by Nissan for the third iteration of the Altima, introduced for the 2002 model year.

Modern Classics: Nissan Altima SE R, 2005 2006 modern classics car culture
Modern Classics: Nissan Altima SE R, 2005 2006 modern classics car culture
2005 Nissan Altima SE-R. Click image to enlarge

This then-new Altima was the first mass-market model built on Nissan’s FF-L platform, which alowed for an expanded interior volume of 3.36 sq meters (118.8 cubic feet). The new Altima’s cabin size even surpassed the interior dimensions of the Nissan Maxima. After nine years, this latest model could finally seat five adults comfortably.

For the first time in its history, it could be powered by an all-new 3.5-litre V6 producing an impressive 240 horsepower, while base models got a 2.5-litre inline four.

This third-generation Altima was well-received by both the buying public as well as the press and quickly became Nissan’s top seller at the time. The new design and range of power choices also helped the Altima become one of the best selling sedans in its class.

It was during this model run, and perhaps as a result of strong Sentra SE-R sales in previous years, that Nissan executives decided to offer a more sinister version of the Altima in 2005, which was extended into the 2006 model year.

Modern Classics: Nissan Altima SE R, 2005 2006 modern classics car culture

Dubbed the Nissan Altima SE-R, it was equipped with forged 18-inch wheels (snowflake design), 45-series Z-rated Bridgestones, chunky chin fascia, low-slung rear lip spoiler and a more rigid suspension. It was anything but subtle, and the guttural sound emanating from the large rear tailpipes under acceleration was similar to that of the Nissan 350Z.

An equal number of interior treatments further suggested this wasn’t your average Altima. The leather-wrapped seats received extra bolstering, with red or grey inserts (determined by exterior body colour), and were embroidered with an SE-R logo. It also had aluminum-capped pedals.

The dashtop housed three gauges, borrowing styling and position from the Nissan 350Z. The driver would only need to turn his head 45 degrees to read the data provided by the oil pressure, voltage and fuel consumption readouts.

The final clue to this Altima’s performance orientation was the standard six-speed manual transmission, and the leather-wrapped gear shift protruding from the centre console.

Modern Classics: Nissan Altima SE R, 2005 2006 modern classics car culture
2005 Nissan Altima SE-R. Click image to enlarge

A five-speed automatic transmission was an option, as were side impact airbags and traction control system. Unfortunately, a navigation system was not available in part due to the location of those dashtop gauges.

The 2005-2006 Altima SE-R offered a very attractive package to consumers with a little more horsepower to boot, with a total of 260 (ten more than the Altima SE) and 251 lb-ft of torque.

That’s certainly not headline material for today’s auto bloggers, but impressive for that time. The base price started at $35,398 in Canada, approximately $5,000 more than the Nissan Altima SE. All in all, it was a reasonable price for a vehicle that was already considered “best in class” in many ways.

The Altima SE-R’s beefed-up suspension system, complete with high-compression shocks, made for superb handling and an exhilarating ride, albeit slightly on the stiff side.

For the performance-minded buyer who wants a solid, well-proven engine and smooth six-speed manual transmission combined with generous passenger and cargo space, the Altima SE-R is a modern classic worth checking out.