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by Tim Beissmann

Details of the all-new Nissan Altima have been revealed in the lead-up to the New York auto show, previewing the mid-sized sedan Nissan will introduce to Australia in 2013.

The US-designed and -engineered medium sedan will first appear in Australia as Nissan’s V8 Supercar contender in March 2013, before the production car goes on sale across the country in the second half of 2013.

At 4864mm long, 1829mm wide, 1471mm tall and with a wheelbase of 2776mm, the US-spec Altima is actually 14mm longer than the current Australian-spec Maxima large car, but is slightly lower and thinner.

Despite this, Nissan Australia’s general manager of sales and fleet Ian Moreillon says the Altima will be marketed as a medium car, with its sights set firmly on segment favourites like the Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Hyundai i45 and Honda Accord Euro.

At this stage, Nissan intends to sell the Altima alongside the Maxima in its Australian line-up rather than launch it as a direct replacement for the large sedan, although with the former’s launch still 18 months away, neither car’s future has been finalised yet.

In the US, the new Nissan Altima will be available from launch with two petrol engines: a 136kW/244Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder and a 201kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6. The smaller engine is a no-brainer for our market, while Moreillon said it would be a “good idea” to offer a sporty variant – potentially with the V6.   Both engines are teamed with a brand-new X-Tronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the V6 model gets paddle shifters.

According to US standards, the V6 burns through 9.4 litres of petrol per 100km, while the four-cylinder is more frugal at 7.6L/100km on the combined cycle. Nissan USA vice president and general manger Al Castignetti said a second-generation hybrid model was under consideration but would still be “a little way off” if it was given the green light.

A second-generation Altima coupe is also in discussion at the moment, and like the hybrid it seems unlikely to arrive before 2014. Moreillon said Nissan Australia would look at the coupe if it became available to our market, but seemed less optimistic about the chances of the niche body style.

“It depends on what volume we can get, how the profitability stacks up… It’s always desirable to have a look at [but] where we end up with cost versus volume… that’s the question.”

The outgoing five-year-old Altima is the second-highest-selling passenger vehicle in the US behind the Camry, which was upgraded for that market late last year. Toyota sold 42,567 Camrys in the US in March, while Nissan just missed top spot at 41,050. Nissan expects its all-new Altima to make the brand even more competitive in the hottest segment in the US, medium cars.

Moreillon says Nissan Australia is targeting an eight per cent share of the local medium segment – approximately 500-600 cars per month. That would potentially make the Altima the second most popular mid-sizer behind the Camry, which averages around 1400 sales per month.

Nissan Australia does still not know where our Altimas will be produced. The US is one possibility at the moment, while Japan and Thailand are also on the shortlist. Moreillon said the final decision on the car’s production source is unlikely to be made before the beginning of next year.

The 2013 Nissan Altima is equipped with a number of clever features, headlined by the NASA-inspired “zero-gravity” seats. Drawing on research from the aeronautical experts, the Altima’s seats are designed to position the body as close as possible to ‘neutral posture’, reducing muscular and spinal loads, improving blood flow and increasing overall comfort on long journeys.

The US-spec Altima also becomes the first Nissan to feature NissanConnect, a communications system that incorporates Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, hands-free text messaging, Pandora integration and Sirius satellite radio, and iPod/USB inputs.

High-grade models add satellite navigation with a seven-inch touchscreen, voice recognition, 3D maps and turn-by-turn navigation, which is integrated into a four-inch display in the instrument cluster, allowing drivers to keep their eyes closer to the road.

The Altima will also be offered with three new driver-assist safety features: blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object warning. The third of these systems uses a rear-mounted camera to give the driver a 180-degree view, helping alert them to vehicles and pedestrians that are otherwise obscured from their vision.

Nissan Australia has not yet finalised the specifications of its Altima, but with an ambition to become a technology leader in the medium segment, it plans to look at every available option for our market.

Standard features in the Nissan USA’s low-end Altima S include automatic headlights, drive assist display screen, cruise control, smart key, six-way power driver’s seat, and a six-speaker audio system.

The top-spec SL model scores LED taillights, sunroof, leather upholstery, heated seats, nine-speaker Bose audio system, and plenty more.

Destined to tackle the Camry and Mazda6 head-on, the Nissan Altima should be priced from just below $30,000 when it launches in Australia late in 2013.




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