But then there's the old reliable, the midsize sedan, the industry's mainstay for decades. While gas prices and job security have influenced the types of machines some people have bought the last few years, the midsize sedan is the one that keeps them coming back for more.
It has been dominated by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus, with the Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion gaining ground. The Nissan Altima, however, has blended into the background. Great looks, but nowhere near the appeal or volume of Camry, Accord or Taurus.
If Altima is going to make sales progress, now would be the time, with Toyota's misfortunes.
For 2010, Altima has gotten a style freshening, cabin upgrade and added technology, including a navi system with 6.5-inch color screen with real-time traffic info. Hood, grille, front bumper and wheels were restyled, while stability control is standard. USB port with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth phone system and rearview-mirror backup monitor are new options.
We tested the Altima 2.5 S powered by a 2.5 liter, 175-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, not the more potent 3.5-liter, 270-hp V-6.
With the V-6, Altima is quick and quiet; with the 4, it's a little less quick and a lot less quiet.
But Altima's draw always has been good looks and low price, not its ability to leave the pavement covered with steel-belted residue each time it sprints from the light.
For those looking for attractive styling, pleasant amenities, and room for a family, luggage or groceries, Altima delivers, and does so at the rate of 23 mpg city and 32 highway with the 2.5-liter 4.
The 20-gallon tank means 400 to 600 miles of driving before a refill.
If you drive with one hand on the wheel, the other on a stopwatch, go with the V-6 (rated at 20/27). If your nondriving hand clutches a credit or debit card, then 32 mpg from the 4 means more. Both are teamed with a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Ride is economy-car soft to cushion bumps that lead to bruises. Handling is econocar as well, and not as pinpoint in sharp turns or twisties. To enjoy top mileage in a roomy sedan, you have to make a sacrifice or two, and sports car-like maneuverability is one. But standard stability and traction control ensure that this less-than-track-ready Altima will grip pavement when and where needed, even when wet.
The cabin has ample room to seat five, though those in back pay for Altima's coupe profile and low roof line — an occasional bump on the old bean when getting in or out and when riding. Not sure who insisted on coupe profiles on sedans, but bet his name is "Shorty."
The trunk is spacious, and lumber or skis can be accommodated by reaching in back and tugging the release cords to lower the back seats. How about a release lever in the cabin?
In addition to high mileage, Altima is known for an affordable price. The 2.5 S starts at $21,840. Standard goodies include power windows/locks/mirrors, AM/FM/CD player, air-conditioning, side-curtain air bags and push-button start.
To get power seats, add a $1,240 convenience group that includes USB and iPod connectivity, while a power moonroof is in an $1,150 package with dual zone air-conditioning. If you want illuminated vanity mirrors, they'll cost you $1,100 for a package with leather-wrapped steering wheel.
A $1,490 dealer-installed DVD entertainment system with screens in the backs of the front-seat headrests keeps kids quiet on long trips, so it's more appealing than the $1,100 for illuminated vanity mirrors and wrapped wheel.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.