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2013 Nissan Altima (Nissan/Nissan)
2013 Nissan Altima (Nissan/Nissan)

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Mid-size cars: The new kids on the block Add to ...

2013 Nissan Altima

Nissan’s new Altima ($23,698-$29,598) is heading to showrooms right now and company officials are confident they’ve nailed a winning formula. And the fifth-generation Altima does seem well-conceived.

Canadian product planning chief Tim Franklin says Nissan expects the 2013 Altima to “over achieve” on a number of fronts, including fuel economy, technology and price. The 2013 base model with the automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission) will arrive with a sticker price $1,600 below the one on the outgoing 2012 model.

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Franklin says Nissan is also excited about the new Altima’s “provocative, emotional” styling inside and out, a rich cabin and “zero gravity” seats inspired by the U.S. space program. The Altima has lost weight (32 kilograms less despite the weighty burden of adding more features and meeting tougher government rules), has a more rigid body structure, a smart braking feature aimed at managing understeer, or the tendency to plow through corners so commonplace with front-drive cars like the Altima and its rivals, and overall more technology than anyone else.

Case in point: a nifty little “Drive Assist Display” in the instrument cluster that reads out all sorts of information, including ongoing fuel economy. And the car has blind spot detection and lane departure warning and a way to easily integrate your smartphone and on and on and on…

2013 Ford Fusion

A panel of 25 car designers – taken from rivals such as General Motors, Chrysler and Honda – named the new Fusion the best-designed production car at January’s Detroit auto show. With good reason.

Most observers praise the 2013 Fusion’s sleek look, a blend of cues from the Jaguar and Aston Martin luxury brands Ford once owned. The Fusion is another global car from Ford; it will go on sale in Europe as the Mondeo.

There’s more. Ford is intent on polishing its brand with fuel-efficient technology, thus in North America the Fusion will come with three gasoline engine choices plus two hybrid options. So Ford has a broad array of drivetrain offerings, though the 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder is likely to be the most popular. It has been designed to get better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry's base 2.5-litre four and the Sonata's 2.4-litre base four, as well.

2013 Chevrolet Malibu

Buyers in the United States got their first taste of the 2013 redesigned Malibu in the spring, and the car will come to Canada this fall. Chevrolet launched the Malibu down south with only one engine choice, a 2.4-litre four-cylinder teamed with General Motors’ eAssist mild hybrid system. GM Canada has chosen to introduce the Malibu with a more comprehensive array of powertrain choices, including a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder and a 2.0-litre turbo.

GM officials say the Malibu has a roomier cabin with richer materials. A long list of improvements has resulted in one of the quietest interiors in the segment, too. GM, however, is particularly excited about the new Malibu’s look. Design chief Ed Welburn says mid-size sedan buyers always will opt for a good-looking car first, as long as all the basics are covered.

“If everyone's got one and they've got competitive fuel economy – if that's the case, at very competitive pricing, the good-looking one is going to have an advantage,” Welburn said at this spring’s New York auto show.

2013 Honda Accord

Honda is being careful not to say too much about the new Accord due this fall, though styling concepts already shown suggest an evolutionary change in design, not something revolutionary.

That said, Honda officials say they fully understand why the 2012 redesign of the Honda Civic was not well received and they’ve learned their lessons – and are applying them to the new Accord. This is hugely important. The Accord has been North America’s No. 1 or No. 2 seller among passenger cars for about the last decade.

Honda types also have been emphatic about their plans to reclaim fuel economy leadership in North America. The next Accord will undoubtedly arrive with a strong powertrain, more cabin room, a handful of interesting features and the kind of quality which has made this mid-size car one of the most dependable in the segment – and one with exceptionally high resale values.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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