Nissan Altima:

Mid-Size Sedan Onslaught – New Camry, Accord, Sonata

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Up until 2016, the mid-size sedan was the top selling product segment in the USA light vehicle market.  That has changed substantially as buyers are flocking to crossover SUVs that offer more utility at little expense over sedans.  That does not mean carmakers are abandoning mid-size sedans.  On the contrary, they have to keep their top selling mid-size sedan entries fresh and competitive.

Source: AutoPacific, Inc.

Three high volume 2018 model year mid-size sedans are launching in Fall 2017.  All three are from Asian brands.  The Korean brand Hyundai Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama.  The Japanese brand Toyota Camry is assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The Japanese brand Honda Accord is assembled in Marysville, Ohio.  Some would say that these sedans are the most American cars on the road.

All three are excellent cars and all three are trying to vacate typical anodyne mid-size car styling.  The Accord and Camry are all new cars.  The Sonata is a major redesign to its front and rear styling.  All three are much more expressive than before.

2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry  Toyota’s longtime sales champ, the Camry mid-size sedan, is all-new for the 2018 model year. As this iconic model line has consistently topped sales charts but is often derided for being dull and boring, the 2018 Camry wears much more expressive and in XSE trim, at least, genuinely sporty styling. Toyota undoubtedly hopes that the revitalized looks of the latest Camry will help it shed its stodgy image.

Toyota launches its new Toyota New Global Architecture platform with the 2018 Camry mid-size sedan.  The TNGA platform will be used for the other Toyota cars built at Georgetown: Lexus ES aspirational luxury car and the Toyota Avalon large car.  When Avalon moves to the platform in 2018 they are expected to move the RAV4 crossover into the plant.  The next generation Toyota Highlander crossover SUV and Toyota Sienna minivan will likely move to the TNGA platform and continue to be built in Princeton, Indiana.

Part of the new Camry’s more appealing looks come from its lower proportions. In recent years, sedans have typically gotten taller with higher seating positions to emulate what makes SUVs so popular: great visibility, easy ingress and egress, and a chair-like driving position. However, as market preference towards SUVs has now been well established and sedan share is rapidly dropping, Toyota saw an opportunity to make the Camry a real car again. After all, those who want to sit up high will buy one of Toyota’s many able SUVs anyway. If Camry sales are (by Toyota’s own admission) expected to drop at the hand of the almighty SUV, why not make Camry more differentiated from its high-riding SUV lineup?

So, the new Camry’s seating and roof heights are about an inch lower than before, giving it a sleeker and more aggressive profile than any Camry before it. The seating position is also more sporty too. The interior is a massive step up in appeal too, with expensive looking materials, textures, shapes, and colors that dramatically up the Camry’s desirability. Toyota hasn’t ignored technology either. While lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s latest Entune 3.0 infotainment system with its standard App Suite and standard navigation is easy to use. Notably, Toyota’s TSS-P suite of safety technologies, which includes forward collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist is standard on every Camry.

Camry’s base engine is a 206-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder.  Its V6 option is a 301-horsepower 3.5L V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Though this generation will no longer hold Toyota’s sales crown (which is being taken over by RAV4), it certainly looks to be the most appealing and engaging Camry yet.

2018 Honda Accord Touring

2018 Honda Accord Touring

Honda Accord  The all-new 2018 Honda Accord mid-size sedan takes a page out of the latest Camry’s playbook, but that’s no bad thing. Like the 2018 Camry, the 2018 Accord rides on an all-new platform and features lower seating height and a lower roofline, abandoning prior generations’ goals of trying to imbue the mid-size sedan with SUV-like interior packaging. Like Camry, Accord’s sales crown at Honda is being transferred to an SUV model, namely the CR-V. This latest Accord is set to lose sales compared to prior generations not because of any inherent flaws, but because market preference has been rapidly shifting to SUVs.

For those who prefer sedans over SUVs, the Accord is a real winner. Its lower seating and roofline don’t result in less interior space; both cabin and trunk space have increased over the last generation’s already generous cabin and cargo hold dimensions, partially due to a longer wheelbase that also improves the car’s exterior proportions. Speaking of proportions, it’s hard not to think Audi A7 when looking at the new Accord in profile; its fastback roofline and pert tail – combined with the longer wheelbase – help give the sedan a luxurious presence.

Also contributing to that luxurious presence is the styling, which possesses a delicateness not seen in recent Honda products. The detailing is crisp and not overdone as is the case in many Hondas. The visual appeal of the new Accord is in its proportions and detailing; the heavy handedness of other recent Honda designs is absent here.  Unlike Toyota, Honda uses more bright-work to highlight the grille.  There is a bright arch sweeping from the A-Pillar down into the rear quarter (similar to the Kia Optima).  The bodyside lower is accented by a bright swoosh line flowing rear from just behind the front wheel opening, through the lower doors and peaking at the rear fascia.  There is a dainty bright highlight on the lower rear fascia above the the bright exhaust tips.

The new Accord does differ from Camry in a key way: its powertrain strategy. Unlike Camry, which sticks with traditional naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, the Accord moves to an all four-cylinder lineup with a 192-horsepower 1.5L direct injected turbo as the volume engine and a 252-horsepower 2.0L direct injected turbo replacing last generation’s V6. A new non-turbo 2.0L hybrid four is also available. Not that it matters to anyone but the buff books, but a six-speed manual is available on both turbo engines. In practice, nearly all 2018 Accords will have automatic transmissions; the 1.5 is paired to a CVT while the 2.0 is paired to a brand-new ten-speed unit. The hybrid will be paired to a two-motor e-CVT transmission.

Like Camry, a full complement of safety technologies are standard, with Honda Sensing (automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition) installed on every 2018 Accord. Infotainment is upgraded too, and a head-up display is available for the first time.

2018 Hyundai Sonata – LaJolla, CA

2018 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai Sonata  The Hyundai Sonata mid-size car gets a major freshening for the 2018 model year.  The present Sonata has been criticized for getting too conservative when changing from the very avant garde 2010 model.  Senior management probably were surprised at the success of the 2010, but could not muster the will to keep the pedal to the metal.  The 2018 Sonata goes a long way in correcting that strategic error.

The front and rear styling is all new.  Like Toyota and Honda, Hyundai is adopting a much more expressive grille and front face.  They describe the grill surround as being a “cascade”.  There are two different grill textures – horizontal and diamond shaped mesh.  The front fascia is highlighted by a horizontal bright strip flowing from side to side.  Hyundai describes this as a “catamaran blade”.  Hyundai continues with the bright spear flowing from the front fenders back to surround the windows.  In profile, the Sonata is similar to the Camry and Accord.  Even though this is a freshening, the car looks as up to date as the all new Camry and Accord.

The interior has been freshened with material upgrades throughout.  The center stack has been redesigned and ergonomics are excellent.  Hyundai has found a way to make its blind spot warning system affordable and has made it standard on all 2018 Sonatas.

There are changes under the skin as well.  Chassis tuning has been improved making this the best handling Sonata ever.  Steering feel has been improved and the ride feels more taut than before, but not in a bad way.  The rear suspension has also been upgraded.

Sonata’s base engine is a 185-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder.   The Eco model gets a 178-horsepower 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The top engine is a 245-horsepower 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The 2.0L Turbo vehicles get an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Competitive Battleground  There are ten major competitors in the mid-size sedan market in the USA.  Three are all new or freshened for 2018.  Two will get major changes in 2019.  Three will be all new or get a major change in 2020.  Even though the segment is beset by woes stemming from crossover SUV popularity, the mid-size sedan segment will remain fresh and competitive.  The new Accord looks like a real winner and promises to continue sparring with Camry for sales dominance in the mid-size sedan segment, even as the segment itself is in decline. The Sonata will hold its own.  For those who really like cars (and not SUVs),  the new Accord, Camry and Sonata provide a lot to get excited over.


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2013 Nissan Altima Mid-Size Game Changer

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Going on sale in July 2012,  the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market.  Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.

It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class.  The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.

First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling.  The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous.  Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.

Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling.  That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car.  Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold.  The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way.  Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall.  The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest.  Nissan calls it “Altimaness”. 


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2009 Acura TL vs. 2009 Nissan Maxima: Who Wins?

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It’s rare when two same class heavyweights are introduced concurrently. Both the 2009 Nissan Maxima and 2009 Acura TL were launched this summer and both are very nice entry luxury entries. The cars are very similar, but the positioning of each is very different.

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2009 Nissan Maxima

2009 Acura TL SV VehicleVoice.jpg

2009 Acura TL

Side view of Acura TL and Nissan Maxima are spookily similar.

The Maxima, a derivative of the front wheel drive Nissan Altima and assembled at Nissan’s huge car/truck plant in Smyrna, Tennessee is the range topper for Nissan cars in the USA. The Acura TL is front wheel drive with optional SH-AWD – “Super Handling All Wheel Drive”. The TL is the middle of the Acura car lineup and Acura’s highest volume vehicle and is assembled alongside the Honda Accord in Marysville, Ohio.
You might think that a better comparison would be the Acura against Infiniti with the TL lining up against the Infiniti G37 sedan. But the G37 sedan is based on a rear wheel drive platform. The TL vs. the Maxima is a more real product-to-product comparison.


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Nissan Chrysler Cycle Plan Conjecture

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First Shoe to Drop – Titan Becomes a Dodge Ram Derivative
Nissan and Chrysler appear to be getting closer and closer to merging major parts of their product lineups. Earlier this year Nissan announced that the Nissan Titan full-size pickup presently produced on Nissan’s own platform at Nissan’s 300,000 unit capacity plant in Canton, Mississippi would become a reskinned Dodge Ram built at Saltillo, Mexico early in the next decade. In the meantime, Chrysler has idled Saltillo in the face of dwindling Ram sales and the introduction of the all new 2009 Ram pickup. This practically guarantees that Chrysler’s half ton truck platform will continue to get volume “efficiencies” from two plants.
In the first round of the relationship Chrysler also agreed to rebadge the Nissan Versa small car to provide a much needed entry below the Dodge Caliber/Jeep Patriot/Jeep Compass.
Conjecture for Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi Plant – Loses Titan/Quest/QX56 – Adds?
As Titan moves out of Canton so does the Quest minivan and the Infiniti QX56 luxury SUV. Nissan earlier announced the Quest production was moving to Japan and out of Canton and that QX56 becomes a derivative of the next generation Nissan Patrol made in Japan. That leaves Canton with a line of production for the Altima mid-size car and the Armada full-size SUV.

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Altima Provides Base for Next Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger
Nissan and Chrysler are teaming up on mid-size cars with Chrysler to replace their Sebring and Avanger mid-size sedans with derivatives of the Altima. Altima is an outstanding product and the Sebring/Avenger have proven to be duds. This way Nissan can pump up sedan volume at Canton (they also make Altima at their huge Smyrna, Tennessee plant). And probably somewhere in the fine print Chrysler closes their Sterling Heights (Michigan) plant making Avenger/Sebring. If this happens Chrysler closes a UAW plant in the North moving production to a non-unionized plant in the South. There certainly will be screaming if this happens.
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Dodge Avenger 08 SV VehicleVoice.jpg

Nissan hasn’t said anything about Armada, but it could provide the basis for Chrysler’s next generation of Aspen/Durango bringing needed volume to Canton’s truck line and allowing Chrysler to close another assembly plant in Delaware. Alternatively, Nissan’s Pathfinder Mid-Size SUV assembled at Smyrna could provide the basis for the Next Durango and Aspen and might be better for the times. In this scenario Chrysler closes a second UAW plant in the North. More screaming.

LCV is Untapped Potential

Nissan is filling Canton body-on-frame truck capacity with their upcoming LCV – light commercial vehicle. The way we understand it is that the LCV program will lead with a van in several different configurations and then will add a pickup version in heavy duty form. So, the Nissan Titan based on the Dodge Ram provides the light duty pickup and the LCV derivative gives Nissan three-quarter and one tons. Not mentioned, but could be on the table would be Chrysler getting access to Nissan’s LCVs to eliminate the Dodge Sprinter that comes from Daimler.
What About the Minivan?
Nissan has previously said they would source the next Quest from Japan, but they have consistently lost the minivan battle trying to go it on their own (or at one time with Ford’s Mercury brand). It would not be unrealistic to think Nissan could strike a deal with Chrysler to get a version of Chrysler’s minivan much like Volkswagen has with their Routan.


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2008 Honda Accord: Can it Be Smart and Savvy Again?

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In September 2007, the eighth-generation 2008 Honda Accord sedan and coupe go on sale, bearing a look previewed by the 2007 Detroit show’s Accord Coupe Concept. The standard for premium mid-size sedans has rested with the Accord and Toyota’s Camry for many years, as clearly as the BMW 3-Series is the luxury sport sedan to beat. Last year, the Accord accounted for 354,500 of the 1.3 million cars and trucks Honda sold in the United States. Beyond the volume it brings, Honda’s Accord carries much company history. The Accord was the first car Honda built in the States, starting twenty-five years ago, and the first Japanese product to be built in the USA.

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The third-generation, launched for 1986, showed us we could have a smart and savvy midsize sedan instead of a simply boring one. The third-generation Accord had a very low cowl and pop-up headlamps – very sporty for a Mid-Size Car of its day. The following fourth-generation car took Accord in a more elegant, upscale direction. Then, Accord began to struggle a bit.
Along the way, Accord never lost its rational element, but stylish, fun-to-drive elements were watered down. For 2008, Honda looks to revive that image with the eighth-generation Accord and raise the bar against the sporty and stylish Nissan Altima and the finally expressive segment icon Camry.
Honda targets Altima and Camry directly, but competition also includes Saturn Aura, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and even Chrysler’s Sebring and Dodge Avenger. Chevrolet’s latest Malibu goes on sale later this year with a stronger, more modern exterior and a much-improved interior. In a hotly contested market, Honda is looking to again provide buyers the smart, stylish, fun-to-drive option. Honda also is looking for sales above the 400,000-unit mark, something Accord hasn’t seen since 2001.
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We had the chance for a short drive following a presentation of the new bread-and-butter car. Honda has brought another terrific mid-size sedan, but we’re not convinced the bar is raised significantly. We didn’t have a chance to drive the coupe, but the two-door brings style to Accord’s coupe line that hasn’t been seen before. The Accord coupe should hold its own from an image standpoint against coupes in the Nissan Altima and Pontiac G6 ranges.
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Most competing brands offer a mid-size and a larger sedan (Avalon, Maxima, Azera, and Taurus), but Honda’s top model is the Accord. The new Accord is bigger, nearly as long as the Maxima overall and with wheelbase and width nearly the size of the Avalon. The new Accord is about five inches longer than Camry and Altima (only an inch between the axles). The larger exterior allowed for interior space large enough for Accord to be classified as a Large Car in EPA ratings, and Accord now may be better able to straddle the line between mid-size and large.


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2007 Mitsubishi Galant RalliArt

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The current generation (PS41) Mitsubishi Galant has been on the market in the USA since Fall 2003. Designed to be fully competitive with the big dogs in its class – Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima – Galant is about the size of the Accord, bigger than Camry and Altima (and the Hyundai Sonata). The car feels big for a Mid-Size Car, but size alone does not make for a competitive Mid-Size entry.

MNNA 07 Galant FV.jpg

Our impression of the Galant is that it is a good basic car beset by too many cost-reductions that could be obvious to the buyer. Where most product planners would lament that they were $50-$100 short of a great car, the Galant planners were probably lamenting of a $500 shortfall. Somehow, the financial community won the product content battle and it’s tough to sell an obviously cost reduced car agaist the likes of Camry and Accord. The last generation Nissan Altima learned that lesson.
Premium Mid-Size Cars – Most Competitive Car Segment
In this most competitive of car segments, a car has to be superb to achieve class-leading status and Galant falls a bit short but it does deserve a look. It is now the oldest of the major competitors in the class. OK, all its major competitors are on a five-year product cycle. Camry was all new for 2007 as was the Altima. The Honda Accord received a major rear end freshening for the 2006 model year. Sonata was all new for 2006. With a normal cycle life, the Galant would be due for a major change in late 2008 as a 2009 model. So a major change for the Galant is not late – yet. Most Asian brands have a moderate mid-cycle freshening to keep interest up, but Galant got a very minor change for the 2007 model year and added the range topping RalliArt version.
MMNA 07 Galant SV.jpg

We had not driven a Galant at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific since its launch and the intro of the new RalliArt edition gave us the perfect opportunity to see how the Galant has evolved.


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LA Auto Show – 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe – Reveal

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The introduction of a new coupe is usually a controversial affair. We struggled whether to include the new 2008 Altima Coupe in the VehicleVoice “What Were They Thinking?” category and here is why…

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1. Coupes are a struggling bodystyle.
Coupe sales have been deteriorating for years and only when there are really significant new entries does the sales in the segment spike. Mustang is the big dog and even though the Altima Coupe is officially a “Premium Mid-Size Coupe” sales will not be robust.
2. Altima Coupe is a me too. Maybe Nissan has extra investment dollars in the kitty that they can spin off a highly differentiated bodystyle off the Altima. No big deal. Not too expensive. But the Altima Coupe follows the Honda Accord Coupe and the Toyota Camry Solara Coupe and Convertible. In the future we can also expect a coupe from the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan.
So, not much original thinking here.
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3. Coupes are package-challenged sedans. Once upon a time General Motors decided that a coupe should have a shorter wheelbase than a sedan. Looks sportier, you see. (Note the Pontiac G6 sedan and coupe have identical wheelbases). So, the Altima Coupe has worse ingress/egress, worse visibility and worse headroom. What’s good about that. Well, I guess you can argue that it looks sexier.
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4. Coupes are ego cars for management. Think about it. Auto designers always are the most proud of the coupes and sporty cars they have designed than of great sedans. More sex appeal. “Let’s design a car that a young guy would really like to buy. He doesn’t care if he can get into it, or out of it, or can see out of it. He just cares about style.” Car company management lusts to have the development of a successful coupe on their resume.
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With that anti-coupe flailing around, assuming that a coupe is OK, the 2008 Nissan Altima Coupe is a worthy competitor. The style behind the B-Pillar is what counts and Altima’s stylists have done an outstanding job. The resulting style has familiar Nissan coupe cues found on the Z-Car and the Infiniti G35. If they had to do it, this is a good job.
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Nissan Maxima Updated for 2007

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Announced Alongside All New 2007 Altima
Introduced at the 2006 New York auto show barely ahead of early summer 2006 sales was an update for the Nissan Maxima. The information on the update for the Maxima could be lost amid the much bigger news of the all new Nissan Altima premium mid-size car also introduced at New York. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were among the first to get a look at the updated car in New York.

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With the new Altima shrinking in size a bit (on sale a couple of months after the Maxima), Nissan dealers may have an easier time separating the two products. Of course, the 2007 Altima launches with more horsepower (265HP plus) from an all-new version of Nissan’s VQ 3.5L V6, while Maxima continues with the current 255HP version.
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Nissan Altima All New for 2007

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Nissan Mid-Size Sedan All New for 2007
Whenever a high volume mid-size sedan is introduced it is, by definition, big news. These high volume sedans are the mainstream movers of the auto market. The king of the hill is the Toyota Camry, new for the 2007 model year and on the market in Spring 2006. Camry is the top selling “automobile” on the market. The Honda Accord is the second of the top tier Japanese heavyweights. The Nissan Altima is the third of these top tier Japanese competitors. Just about every buyer of a mid-size car looks at one of these three entries before buying. Of course, we can’t forget the likes of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Impala, Mazda6 or Mitsubishi Galant, but the top three from Toyota, Honda and Nissan command the most attention.

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Altima Evolves in Style Even With All New Platform
Nissan showed its new-for-2007 Altima at the New York Auto Show in April and slipped in a few surprises. Counter to most recent design moves, the new Altima’s D-Platform body rides on a 1-inch SHORTER wheelbase. This is a bit surprising when most new cars get longer wheelbases as they evolve these days. Overall length remains the same.
CVT Standard with V6 – Brave Move Reminiscent of Murano
Additionally, Altima’s automatic transmission is now a CVT with the V6 rather than a geared automatic. A 6-speed manual is available for those who like to row between gears. This CVT news is major. Probably means a substantial cost reduction. The Nissan Murano crossover SUV has had a CVT since day one and has done pretty well. Whether a CVT in a major application like Altima is accepted time will tell. Brave move.
Styling Evolutionary – Interior Execution Critical to Success
The new Altima has evolutionary styling. You can probably say that it is not as distinctive and sophisticated as the previous generation Altima, but it is more distinctive than Accord or Camry.
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A major bugaboo for the last Altima was its cut rate interior for the first three years on the market. Until a major interior upgrade for the 2005 model year, Altima interiors were downscale. Clearly met cost targets but not touch targets. After adding hundreds of dollars in interior upgrades for 2005, Nissan suppliers were given very aggressive cost reduction targets for the 2007 model. Hopefully, they have found the cost offsets in places where consumers can’t see or feel them.
Nissan’s abbreviated press kit states, “Enhanced interior feel with refined workmanship, expanded use of soft materials (such as padded armrests) and chrome accents.” Can’t wait!
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Altima Still Nicely Powered
Power for the Altima comes from a 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 with 265-plus horsepower. Its 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder has 165-plus horsepower.
Well, jury is out on the new generation Altima. We’ll have to wait until we drive one and experience the interior over several miles before reaching a verdict.


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2005 Nissan Altima Ties With Buick LaCrosse for AutoPacific Premium Mid-Size Vehicle Satisfaction Award

Nissan Altima and Buick LaCrosse Tie for AutoPacific 2005 Premium Mid-Size Car Vehicle Satisfaction Award

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“Altima achieves class-leading performance in 2005 with a substantial upgrade to its interior finally complementing its outstanding exterior styling and powertrains. Now built in two plants, Smyrna, Tennessee (alongside Maxima) and Canton, Mississippi, Altima provides its owners a combination of style, size and performance that others in its class do not match. Think of Altima as an American-designed, American-made, Japanese brand Premium Mid-Size Car. Altima caters to owners wanting distinctive styling and driving enthusiasm.”
“The all-new Buick LaCrosse has what it takes to satisfy Buick owners demanding efficiently sized, affordably priced transportation. LaCrosse has a combination of new styling, generous interior space, driving ease and brand image that Buick owners have come to expect. LaCrosse – clearly a Buick owners have embraced. LaCrosse is American through and through delivering size and comfort to discerning buyers of American Premium Mid-Size Cars.”


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