The Speculator: Underneath Nissan's Sheets

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America, Inc. via

What's under those sheets in the 2013 Nissan Altima commercial?

In the aftermath of the New York Auto Show, Nissan released a television spot with the upcoming Altima driving around covered in a sheet. Though it signifies the coming of Nissan's sales leader in the fall (or sooner), it also begins the process of an ambitious revamp of the lineup within the next 15 months. While the Altima's sheet is released into the air, four other vehicles remain covered.

Hence the question needs to be asked.

The past month saw three Nissan vehicles residing in the V&R Garage. By now, you've probably read my impressions of each one. There is a common theme to all three – a link.

You would not be surprised to know that I am a former Nissan owner. In 1987, I traded in my old 1979 Mazda 626 coupe for a brand new Nissan Hardbody pickup. It did not last in my care, but it was quite memorable. It was proof that Nissan builds bulletproof machinery. That little truck was damn solid – from engine to everything else. I will admit that it became quite uncomfortable, due to its vinyl bench seat. Truth be told, I’d own another Nissan.

But, I digress…I am about to speculate what's under those sheets in that commercials.

For starters, the Altima has been fully unveiled. We already know practically everything about it. It's the other four cloaked vehicles that need to be addressed here. So, let me see what's under those sheets…

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America, Inc.

PATHFINDER: The concept was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit back in January. What are missing are the details. The look is similar to the Infiniti JX just released last month, but no one made some correlation whether the upcoming Pathfinder and the JX share the same platform and how much of each other's design is actually shared. What is known is that the Pathfinder will be more of a softroader, seating seven with three rows of cushioning. Unknown are details, such as the choice of engines, actual drivelines, if it has any off-road ability like previous Pathfinders, and the content of each trim level.

Using the JX as a guide, the 265-horsepower VQ35 3.5litre V6 resides under the hood, which indicates a front-drive based platform for the new Pathfinder. If so, then the all-wheel drive system will be simply used for road grip and snow traction. However, Nissan wants us to believe that the system could do more than just that. It's proven in the global X-Trail model that a Nissan front-drive biased all-wheel drive system can manage the worst – per an automobile show in India. I'd expect Pathfinders would have the requisite two-to-three tiers of equipment levels, the SV and SL included. The SL would have a chunk of the JX’s equipment, but don’t expect it to be a cut rate Infiniti.

Based on the concept, the Pathfinder is very handsome. All I ask is for more concrete information and a launch date.

SENTRA: A couple of weeks ago, a teaser video was released in the wild about the upcoming compact in the Nissan lineup. Rumors floated linking the Nissan Sylphy released at the Beijing Auto Show to become the Sentra for our market. If true, the Sylphy (also debuting as the new Pulsar sedan in Australia) provides clues that would bridge the current Versa sedan and the upcoming Altima. Needless to say, the Sylphy looks rather handsome.

Looks aren't enough. The Sylphy will come with a 1.8litre engine in China. The current Sentra starts off with a 2.0litre engine while the SE-R has the more powerful 2.5litre from the Altima and Rogue. If the current compact performance target were 160 horsepower, one would hope that either the 1.8 or 2.0 would have such power at hand. I'd also propose that a SR-level sports model plunk the Juke’s 188-horsepower 1.6litre DIG turbocharged four under the hood. While we'd expect the next generation Xtronic continuously variable transmission to be available, I'd also see a six-speed manual joining the lineup. I'd also see a wide variety of trim levels from the basic S up to the sporty SR – all in the four-door sedan body. The SV and SL would be included as with all Nissans.

This segment is prone for massive growth into the next model year. Do not think that the next Sentra will be late to the party. It may be arriving just in time…

ROGUE: Yes, I professed my love for the current Rogue. But, I noticed that the sheets had another crossover-like vehicle underneath it. It appears to be smaller than the Pathfinder. Could it be the next Rogue? I certainly say so.

Globally, the Rogue shares its platform across several models wearing Nissan, Renault, Samsung and Dacia badges. Three different Nissans are built from this alone – the Qashqai/Dualis, the X-Trail and the Rogue. Though the X-Trail is designed to go offroad, the Qashqai/Dualis and Rogue are more softroaders than anything. Here’s my idea – merge the Qashqai/Dualis into the Rogue for a truly global small crossover product, stick with a two-row set-up and make it nice for all of us. It would have to embody the latest Nissan design tenets that will appear across the line everywhere – so why not merge those two models?

In North America, I'd expect it to be called the Rogue with the 2.5litre engine and next-generation Xtronic CVT from the upcoming Altima under the hood. I'd make the all-wheel drive system more intuitive adding the vector-sensing variable option (the AWD-V from the Juke) available on the driveline. Still, the same model content currently would work well with the new Rogue.

Understand that the Rogue doesn't need a V6, a third row of seats and a slew of stuff to match its competitors. It just needs to be good…better still, right.

Photo courtesy of The Motor Report via

VERSA HATCHBACK: We've actually seen this before. It was introduced last year in China ahead of the arrival of the Versa Sedan in the NAFTA zone. Since I've reviewed the Sedan, I am eagerly awaiting the hatch to replace the current "old" model – soon.

In the subcompact class, hatchbacks matter. The new Versa hatch – called the Tiida in several markets globally – will carry over all of the sedan’s driveline (109-horsepower 1.6litre direct injected four), trim levels (S, SV and SL), extraordinary interior space, and everything else. What would be intriguing is the presence of the Juke's 1.6litre DIG turbocharged four – all 188 horsepower of it. Why? B-Spec racer? Hot hatch? The correct answer is “all of the above.” I propose calling it the SR.

If you look at how the class is shaping up, hatchbacks are leading the way with every product. Adding the hatchback to the new Versa will provide an edge to the lineup against the competition. If you’re looking for a success story for next year – this could be it.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE NISSAN LINEUP? Three models already confirmed for 2013 are the revised 370Z, the über-powerful Juke-R and the stratospherically priced and absolutely upgraded GT-R. It leaves plenty left in the lineup makeover, but where do I start?

For the Maxima, I believe it has one more model year to go before we see a new one. Some people might say that the market does not the Maxima. Actually, we do. There's actually some room for growth in the premium large sedan market for the Maxima to continue being the sporty choice amongst the competition. A Maxima designed with the same design tenets as the current language allows on an extended Altima platform is fine. However, if Nissan can find a way to flip the VQ37 (the 3.7litre V6 in the Z and Infiniti G series – good for over 300 horsepower) sideways and connect it to the next-generation Xtronic CVT – look out!

The other problem is to resolve the large pickup and SUV built in Mississippi – the Titan and Armada. Nissan already announced that Cummins will provide a diesel to the Titan, but it needs much more than that. It needs a truck that can compete with Ford, GM, Ram and Toyota. The NV vans are a good start, but how about a NP or NT for the pickup – one with a range of engines, including the Cummins diesel?

As for the Armada, since Infiniti sells the QX (the new generation Nissan Patrol), one wonders whether Nissan has to sell a large SUV at all. If they do – import the Patrol. There’s no need to luxuriate it – that's Infiniti's job. To placate US emissions, you could drop the Cummins in the Patrol instead of Nissan's own stump pullers. Infiniti might even consider dropping the Cummins in the QX…another good idea!

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America, Inc.

One curious issue that was brought up during the 2013 Altima launch was the absence of the hybrid variant. The question remains whether Nissan wants to continue offering alternative propulsion vehicles aside from the Leaf – or, should the Leaf represent the only option for those wanting to be less dependent on petroleum? For starters, Nissan is committed to the Leaf. Will there be more EVs coming from Nissan? I would not be surprised is that happens. I'm certain there will be surprises from the sustainable propulsion front out of Franklin.

Recently, I saw a photo of the 2013 Altima on some social media channel. If you ask me, I am looking forward to driving it. After all, the previous model won the Vehicle of the Year in 2008 with a rather well balanced sports-family sedan. This Altima looks like it could give Toyota and the rest of the midsize sedan market fits for the duration of its run. The rest of the lineup – I'd say, sit back and enjoy…

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