Without a whole lot of fanfare, the Nissan Altima soldiers on successfully year after year, maintaining a strong position in the mid-size automotive market with annual sales in the hundreds of thousands.
It might surprise you, as it did me, that the Altima ranked seventh in U.S sales through October. This is according to Motor Trend magazine, which put the Altima, with 187,875 sedans in customers’ possession, ahead of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Sonata.
Tack on 18,372 sales for November and another 23,016 sales in December, and the total climbed to nearly 230,000. It’s the best-selling vehicle in the Nissan line-up.
So, where are these cars? Actually, they appear to be hiding in plain sight.
During my week with a 2011 Altima 2.5 S Special Edition and for several weeks afterward, I scoured highways, byways and clogged city streets to see if Altimas would pop up like Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords.
They didn’t, but they are definitely out there. From my anecdotal research in several Middle Atlantic states, it appears that color may be the reason. Although Nissan offers a wider palette, I spotted only one white Altima, several silver ones and a whole lot that seemed as gray as the winter weather.
Not surprisingly, almost all of the cars were the four-cylinder 2.5 S models. An even less costly Altima 2.5, starting at about $20,00, is available with the same powertrain but fewer features. It was seldom seen, as was the more upscale V-6 powered sedans.
What set me off on this tangent was the test car, metallic slate on the outside and charcoal on the inside. At first glance, it looked as if it had just come out of a rental fleet. The accompanying pctures do not exactly do justice to the charcoal interior but, trust me,it was drab.
But first impressions are not always correct, nor do they necessarily endure.
As soon as I spent some time inside the car, I started to understand the undeniable popularity, if not the choice of colors.
The Altima 2.5 S is value-orented, pleasant (but not exciting) to drive, economical to operate and kind of sporty to look at. It also has plenty of room for four adults, and enough for five if required, and a generous 15 cubic feet of cargo space.. Not a bad combination for a mid-size family car with a base price of $22,060.
Significant changes to the current Altima appeared first in the 2010 model year, including a revised hood, grille, front bumper, revised interior fabrics and new 16-inch and 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. In addition, stabiity control was made standard.
For 2011, the 2.5 S retains the 175-horsepower, four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). I’m not a big fan of the CVT, which employs pulleys to give the transmission an infinite number of gear ratios, but I can’t deny its usefulness.
The advantage is enhanced fuel economy. Those of us who don’t prefer it have likened its effect to that of a motorboat or airplane taking off. Hit the accelerator and the engine revs up, the car takes off and then ease off the accelerator to let the engine powers down as it reaches cruising speed.
Acceleration was adequate, if not spectacular, but fuel mileage definitely was definitely above average for a mid-size sedan. In a week of mostly suburban and highway driving, I average about 26 mpg.
Ride and handling were excellent for a 3,200-pound front-wheel-drive vehicle, thanks to its independent suspension, power rack-and-pinion steering and four wheel disc brakes.
The Altima is not quite the sport sedan Nissan publicity would want you to believe, but the car is entirely predictable in normal driving situations.
The 2.5 S Special Edition combines extra features in a $750 package that would cost $1,250 if ordered separately. They consist of 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, automatic on/off headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, a rear spoiler.
Standard safety features include seat belts, airbags, side curtains and anti-lock brakes with stability control, traction control and electronic brake-force distribution.
Standard comfort and convenience features include a six-speaker sound system, air conditioning, cruise control, trip computer and keyless locks and ignition.
If you need a competent mid-size family car that offers a reasonable price and better than average fuel mileage. the four-cylinder Altima just might be the right choice.
Hit Subscribe, enter e-mail adddress and get all of Nick Yost’s auto news and reviews for free.
Follow Nick Yost on Twitter and Facebook.