When the final tally was counted for 2011, the Toyota Camry still held on to the title of best-selling passenger car. In a surprising second place? Not the perennial number-two Honda Accord--but instead, in its place, the Nissan Altima.
The Altima's been selling exceptionally well in this generation, in this year even though it's about to be replaced. Why? Chalk it up to an attractive design, sporty handling, available six-cylinder power, and inexpensive lease deals.
Can that continue, now that a new version is on the way? We took a look at the 2013 Nissan Altima at last week's 2012 New York Auto Show, and think the Altima's taken just about every step it needed to take, to keep a lock on second place, even though company chairman Carlos Ghosn says he has no ambition to make the Altima the number-one seller in the mid-size segment. The new Altima's improved in nearly every way, starting with styling: it's smoother, with more sophisticated sheetmetal that curves and creases in a more complex way than the outgoing car. Inside it's actually more sedate than before, but crafted from higher-grade materials, with a traditional theme that might appeal to more buyers than the prior car's cabin.
The choice of 182-horsepower four-cylinder and 270-horsepower V-6 remains, but Nissan's done away with all transmissions except its continuously variable transmission (CVT). We're not huge fans of these belt-and-pulley ratio-changers, but Nissan's CVTs tend to be better than most, and on V-6 Altimas, they'll come with paddle controls and pre-programmed shift "points" that will simulate a conventional automatic's fixed gear ratios. It's a choice made for fuel economy, clearly: Nissan says the base Altima will earn an EPA-estimate 38 miles per gallon highway, near the top of the mid-size sedan class.
On the safety and features front, the Altima pulls up to the new standards of the class. Blind-spot monitors and a wide-angle rearview camera will be available; Bluetooth will be standard, while a USB port and satellite radio will be available. A new optional navigation system has a larger LCD screen than before.
Left unsaid, for now: when the expected Altima Hybrid we've driven will go on sale--sometime after the 2013 model year, we're told--and when the Altima Coupe might be replaced. It's carried over the for the 2013 model year unchanged.
Until we get our first drive later this year, take a look at our walkaround video, and read our full preview of the 2013 Nissan Altima sedan at TheCarConnection.