Nissan wanted to wait until tomorrow to reveal its 2013 Altima sedan at the 2012 New York Auto Show, but an Internet leak means the news is out today -- and in a show full of luxury cars and concepts, the new Altima stands as Nissan's bid to build the best-selling car in America. On screen it's competitive, but the real proof will come from the road.
The first redesign of the Altima since 2007 follows a boom in midsize sedans which have turned them into some of the toughest comers on dealers' lots. Within 12 months, there have been new versions of the Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry and Chevy Malibu, a freshened Hyundai Sonata, and coming shortly will be new editions of the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord. All have been riding the resurgence of car sales to new heights, even as the rules for success have hardened into a rigid formula: Four doors, big trunk, small engine, impressive fuel economy. And as with any pack of competitors scrumming for an advantage, little details make all the difference.
The Altima doesn't stray from the pattern. Designed to look more expensive than it is, the Altima grows a skosh in most dimensions. It holds onto the 3.5-liter V-6 as its top engine, with 270 hp, but pairs a revised 2.5-liter four-cylinder with an upgraded continuously variable transmission to reach what Nissan claims will be the best non-hybrid fuel economy in the segment -- 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined.
Inside, Nissan hasn't just embraced a space-age look, it's consulted with NASA for what it claims are the most ergonomically correct seats. The safety systems include the now-popular blind spot warning system and a monitor that alerts to moving objects when the car is backing up. And of course there's the litany of electronic dash gadgetry unified under something called NissanConnect.
Prices for the new Altima will start around $21,500 -- a lower-than-usual point -- and rise to above $30,000 for a fully loaded V6 model. With the company planning to grab 10% of the U.S. market and introduce a new model an average of every six weeks, the Altima's task will be to keep the owners it has and steal a few more away from the scrum.