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Nissan Nismo R Tune & S Tune Altima

Driving Nissan's American Oxymoron

By James Tate, Photography by Edward Loh

In America we have two Nismo Altimas. We could do without at least one of them-probably both. One is based on the 3.5-liter Altima and sports an automatic transmission. It rides like a box truck on some seriously sticky Michelin Pilot Sport rubber and 18-inch wheels. The steering feel of the car is like any other Altima, which is to say it's precise, if a little light, with no dead-center feeling. Or at least it would be precise if the wheel wasn't constantly punched out of my hands by the ridiculously stiff suspension every time I try cornering hard. It's disconcerting, and it makes the limits of the car essentially imperceptible. To be clear, there are more than a few corners on my daily commute alone that I would consider dangerous at the limits in the Nismo car. There's a reason there is no Nismo Altima offered in Japan.

At highway speed, the stiff suspension feels underdamped, exhibiting many of the same characteristics as a pogo stick. On top of that, the car wanders on any section of pavement that isn't perfectly smooth. Combined with the unnecessarily loud exhaust (which booms at 75 mph like a sunroof when you reach up and hold the flap down with your hand), the Altima loses much of its appeal as a daily driver. And let's be honest, that's what the Altima is good for.

At first I was equally disgruntled by the 2.5-liter car. But then I realized how much fun (yes, fun) it was to flog the mildly cammed four to redline time after time. The transmission is the farthest thing from a close-ratio gearbox that I can possibly imagine, but there's something inspiring about the little four doing it's best to show you a good time. Heel-toe maneuvers are basically out of the question on the stock Altima pedal set, so after a few tries I simply threw in the towel.

The suspension is still bad news on the road, but this one is a little bit more aggressive, which means that rather than straddling the thin identity crisis-line between street car and track car, like it's big brother does, the 2.5 just barely falls into the track-car category. It's not going to set any records, but I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't cracking a smile when flogging the R-Tune through the canyons. And hey, the exhaust isn't even irritating!

Nismo S-Tune AltimaEngineEngine Code: VQ35DEType: 3498cc V6, aluminum block and heads, DOHCExternal Mods: Nismo CAI and cat-back exhaust

DrivetrainLayout: Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

SuspensionFront: Nismo S-Tune struts and lowering springs, 24mm anti-roll barRear: Nismo S-Tune struts and lowering springs, 24mm anti-roll bar

BrakesFront: Nismo S-Tune semi-metallic padsRear: Nismo S-Tune semi-metallic pads

ExternalWheels: 18 x 8.5-in. NismoTires: Michelin Pilot Sport 245/45ZR18Body: Nismo rear spoiler, stripes and license plate frame

Interior:Nismo floor matsUpgrade Package price: $4,472

Nismo r-Tune AltimaEngineEngine Code: QR25DEType: 2488cc In-line 4, aluminum block and head, DOHCExternal Mods: Nismo 252 deg. intake and exhaust cam, CAI, R-Tune header and cat-back exhaust

DrivetrainLayout: Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

SuspensionFront: Nismo R-Tune struts and lowering springs, 24mm anti-roll barRear: Nismo R-Tune struts and lowering springs, 27mm anti-roll bar

BrakesFront: Nismo S-Tune semi-metallic padsRear: Nismo S-Tune semi-metallic pads

ExternalWheels: 18 x 8.5-in. NismoTires: Michelin Pilot Sport 235/35ZR18Body: Nismo rear spoiler and stripes

InteriorNismo floor mats, shifter and license plate frameUpgrade Package price: $5,412

By James Tate
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