The 2013 Nissan Altima lands in showrooms later this year, preceding a handful of other new Nissans--five in all due in the next 15 months--and landing in the thick of a sales surge that's put it second only to the Toyota Camry among mid-size sedans.
Carefully revised but not radically different from the 2012 model, the new Altima sedan's made one major change. This time around, it's available only with a continuously variable transmission, no conventional automatics or manuals at all. It's a choice made for fuel efficiency and build simplicity, but Nissan's made at least one improvement to address the typical CVT complaints of sluggish response: on V-6 versions, the CVT gets paddle controls and automatic-like programmed "gears."
Both the four- and six-cylinder engines return, and both promise better gas mileage in combination with the CVT. The four-cylinder model is estimated at 38 mpg highway, Nissan says, a few miles per gallon higher than today's leaders, cars like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, both rated at 35 mpg highway.
Nissan's also working on a hybrid Altima, this one designed in-house, using the four-cylinder and a supercharger coupled to batteries and motors, but it won't arrive in the 2013 model year.
In a more conservatively styled interior, Nissan's updated both the Altima's safety equipment and its infotainment systems. Bluetooth is now standard, and the optional navigation system now has a larger LCD display. Blind-spot monitors and lane-departure warning systems will be available, and a wide-angle rearview camera is also on the options list.
While the sedan's new for 2013, the two-door Altima Coupe will be carried over for one more model year. Beyond that, Nissan says only that it doesn't discuss future model plans.
For more details on the new mid-size sedan, see our full preview of the 2013 Nissan Altima.