Nissan fans have long regarded the Maxima as the company's "four-door sports car." But the Altima is no weak sister in that department by any stretch. It can be fitted with basically the same powerful and smooth 3.5-liter V-6, albeit detuned slightly (250 hp vs. 265) to let the Maxima retain its bragging rights.

If anything, as the Maxima has edged ever closer to the luxury cruiser end of the continuum over the past couple of years, the Altima has arguably become the better choice for enthusiast drivers. Especially now that you can order one with the SE-R package--Nissan-speak for factory-built street racer/autocrosser. This option group adds a lowered, firmer suspension, wheel and tire upgrades, the Maxima's six-speed close-ratio manual transmission (formerly unavailable in the Altima) and a few tweaks to the 3.5-liter V-6 to bump its output by 10 hp over other V-6 Altimas. In the SE-R, the V-6 hits 260 hp--just 5 hp shy of the Maxima's version of the 3.5 liter V-6.

Buyers can select a no-cost automatic transmission in lieu of the six-speed stick. Either way, the price is the same: $29,350.

The Car Connection

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