| USA TODAY
NEW YORK — Nissan revealed a completely redesigned Altima sedan Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show, featuring an optional partially self-driving system and the ability to upgrade to all-wheel-drive.
Seeking to cement the Altima’s status as one of the top three mid-size cars in the U.S., the Japanese automaker is stuffing the car full of features that were once associated with higher-level models.
“Cars are at the core of our DNA,” said Michael Bunce, vice president of product planning for Nissan North America, in an interview. “We’ve got a strong heritage.”
The move comes amid slumping passenger car sales for the entire industry, which means Nissan needs to go the extra mile to stand out in competition with larger crossovers.
That could help explain the company’s plans to offer its new ProPilot Assist system on several versions of the 2019 Altima.
ProPilot Assist requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel but it handles acceleration, steering and braking in certain highway driving and stop-and-go traffic.
The system will be capable of city driving in 2020, Nissan North America chairman Denis Le Vot said at the auto show.
The system’s integration on the 2019 Altima marks one of the first applications of semi-autonomous driving capability on a mainstream model in the U.S.
Until now, most automakers have limited partially self-steering systems to luxury models, such as Tesla cars and the Cadillac XT6.
Nissan expects about 40% of Altima sedans to be sold with ProPilot Assist in the first year, based on sales trends with the system on the recently redesigned Nissan Leaf electric car, Bunce said.
Customer questions about self-driving cars intensified after a self-driving Uber recently killed a pedestrian in Arizona, causing the ride-hailing app company to halt autonomous vehicle testing.
Bunce said Nissan customers will find that the car stays “laser focused in the center of the lane,” using a forward-facing camera, radar and sensors.
He said drivers can only take their hands off the wheel for a couple seconds before the car warns them to re-engage.
If several warnings go unheeded, the vehicle will begin to slow itself down.
Another new system available on three upper-end grade levels of the new Altima is rear automatic braking, which stops the vehicle if the driver fails to respond quickly to audible warnings about unseen approaching objects.
Automatic emergency braking to avoid forward-facing collisions is standard on the Altima.
A system that monitors road signs will inform drivers about the speed limit.
And in a new move for Nissan, the company will offer all-wheel drive as an option on the Altima. The option is geared to appeal to drivers in northern markets.
Call it the Subaru effect. The Nissan competitor has had enormous success with its all-wheel-drive offerings.
Say goodbye to the 6-cylinder engine option on the Altima.
The redesigned Altima comes with a standard 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine boasting 188 horsepower. The system is 80% new and gets better fuel economy, Nissan said, without revealing specifics.
There’s also an optional 2-liter, turbocharged, variable-compression engine that gets 248 horsepower and serves as the replacement for the 6-cylinder.
The design of the new Altima follows recent industry trends. It’s lower, wider and longer than its predecessor.
The car is based on the Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept vehicle revealed at the Detroit auto show in 2017.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.