Sunday, May 20, 2012

2013 Nissan Altima - #2 Does it try harder?

As I mentioned in earlier posts, we are in the middle of the year of the mainstream sedan. The newest entry to come out swinging is the 2013 Nissan Altima. Unlike Honda and Toyota, Nissan was pretty much able to keep producing the Altima at full speed last year, despite the Japan earthquake and Thailand floods. Thanks to its US production base, in sales, the Altima ranked #2, behind the Toyota Camry -- and ahead of the Camry's usual rival, the Honda Accord. This year, Nissan's gunning for #1 with a redesigned Altima, and it has some specs in its favor.

The Altima has a much more curvy shape that still follows the basic (and popular) dimensions of its predecessor. The Altima gets a refined, 182-horsepower version of its previous 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment; and Nissan has further refined its CVT transmission. Unlike some of its competition, Nissan says it reduced the weight of the Altima while gaining more luxury equipment. The Altima is supposedly the lightest entry in its class at under 3,200 lbs. In other words, it's just a hair heavier than the heavier compacts like the Chevrolet Cruz and the Dodge Dart. It's about 400 lbs lighter than the similarly-sized 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco that is just now being delivered to dealers in quantity. With several trim levels and a carry-over V6 as well as the standard 4-cylinder, the Altima will start at around $22,000 and go up from there. That's pretty much in the mainstream of the market.

According to Nissan, thanks to light weight, good aerodynamics and an efficient drivetrain, the Altima delivers best-in-class fuel economy, 27/38 on the EPA scale. Nissan does this without hybrid technology or even direct injection. The Altima's mpg beats the Chevrolet Malibu Eco's 25/37. The extra hybrid hardware makes the Malibu Eco about $3,000 more expensive than a comparably equipped Altima. The Malibu is about a second and a half slower than a 4-cylinder Altima, and the Altima roundly beats the Malibu Eco in cargo capacity, with a standard-sized, uncompromised trunk with folding seats.

It's interesting to me how much technology has progressed in one generation of automobiles. Five years ago, the highest MPG mainstream car was the Honda Civic at 35 highway MPG. The Civic EX offered 94.7 cubic feet of interior room and 0-60 in about 9.3 seconds with an automatic. The 2013 Nissan Altima has 100.7 cubic feet of interior room, and fanboys figure it will go 0-60 in 7.5 seconds or less.

The next major entrants in this sweepstakes will be the Ford Fusion and the Honda Accord. Ford is hoping that its styling and technology can make the Fusion a volume seller without getting down and dirty on price. We'll see. Honda has a base of repeat customers that don't shop other brands. For everybody else, competition will likely result in discounts soon after new model introductions. It's only May, but Hyundai is already offering lease incentives on the 2013 Hyundai Sonata. Based on what I've seen, Chevrolet is going to have to put thousands of dollars on the hoods of the Malibu to stay in the lead group.

Unless GM's new Silverado and Sierra trucks turn into big hits, GM could be in for a tough year in MY 2013. GM's other new products for the year are basically niche models.

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