No one really knows if this latest wave of family sedans - the new intermediate cars - will bring back the families who have been steadily turning away from mid-size sedans, seeking something else for household chores. It could be that the intermediate car segment is suffering a slow and steady death. It could be that these buyers are permanently making the move to smaller cars and compact SUVs.
But most auto makers plan to make a fight of it with the only thing that matters to consumers - new and better products.
2010 NISSAN ALTIMA
Price range: $23,798-$31,898
The deal: $4,000 73-month term extended-term trading dollars, factory-to-dealer rebate
The story: Nissan updated the 2010 Altima with a different hood, grille and wheels, and then tweaked the interior. That's what the industry calls a facelift.
Nissan sells the Altima with a choice of four-cylinder and V-6 engines. Regardless of engine, the Altima delivers the kind of cornering confidence and ride comfort that gets the typical road test reviewer all worked up, hot and bothered.
Consumer Reports is very excited about the four-cylinder Altima, but Nissan's V-6 is an excellent, satisfying piece of engineering. Moreover, the CVT is tuned differently in the V-6. This makes it more pleasant to drive than the four-banger.
While the nuts and bolts story is good, the cloth trim and upholstery in the Altima could be better. As it is, they look pretty inexpensive. The Altima's seats could use smoother padding, too.
On the other hand, the cabin is big - particularly in back where rear legroom is excellent. However, there is no middle head restraint in the rear. Nissan has wisely designed in plenty of little storage spaces and all the knobs and controls work with a satisfying precision.
The Altima should not be overlooked if you're looking at family sedans - especially so given Nissan has slapped on a rare incentive to sweeten the deal.
2010 FORD FUSION
Price range: $22,799-$35,299
The deal: $1,500 factory-to-dealer rebate and $1,000 Recycle Your Ride factory-to-customer rebate. In addition, Ford of Canada has launched its Employee Pricing promotion, further reducing sticker prices well below the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) quoted above.
The story: Ford's promise is that its cars will sip fuel with the best of them and they will not break down. You'll like driving Fords more than Toyotas and Hondas and Chevys, too, says Ford. And you'll be safe, based on crash test scores.
If you believe the research from the likes of Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates and others, Ford has clearly turned the corner on quality. The vast majority of its vehicles are "recommended" picks by CR. J.D. Power's long-term dependability study ranks Ford above average, and Power's recent Initial Quality Study has Ford tops among mainstream brands.
For the record, Ford offers three different engines with the 2010 Fusion and all-wheel drive is also available, unlike all the competition save the Subaru Legacy.
The performance Fusion is the Sport with its 263-hp, 3.5-litre V-6. There is also a 3.0-litre V-6 (240 hp), but it's the least desirable among this power plant trio. Seven out of 10 Canadians, perhaps more, are most likely to get the four-banger and it's a solid choice.
In all the Fusions, Ford has managed to minimize wind and road noise. In driving, this is one of the more responsive four-doors. The four-cylinder (175 hp) and 3.0-litre V-6 versions have electronic power-assisted steering. This shrinks the turning radius and helps fuel economy. Steering feel isn't bad, either, especially for electric steering. It's not heavy nor is it numb. The six-speed manual transmission has a precise and easy motion, while the automatic was smooth and quick. .
The car looks pretty good, too, though this is not a dramatic design. The cabin is handsome and functional and trunk space is more than adequate. All in all, the Fusion is a very good four-door, one from which buyers can expect reliable service and very good fuel economy.
2011 SUZUKI KIZASHI
The deal: 0.0 per cent financing for three years.