PLYMOUTH, MI – Nissan expects its new Altima SR grade to be more than a niche model, predicting a 20% take rate for a car that combines sporty handling and looks.

“In the beginning, we’re launching with a slightly smaller (build) percentage, but as we grow within the year we’re going to hope to get to 20%,” Tiago Castro, senior manager-product planning for the ’16 Altima, tells WardsAuto here during a media drive for the refreshed model.

Prodding Nissan to introduce the SR was the success of the Honda Accord Sport and Toyota Camry SE.

Within months of the current-generation Camry’s launch in 2011, the then-new SE grade accounted for 40% of total sales. Toyota says today 50%-55% of all U.S. Camrys ordered are the SE grade.

Castro notes sport grades are important in the midsize segment because they typically attract a younger buyer, some of them 10 years younger than those of traditional midsize-sedan grades, and buyers who also may be new to the model lineup.

“It doesn’t seem to be only a substitution sale, there’s actually opportunity for incremental sales here,” Castro says of sport grades, noting because of that Nissan invested a lot of time to make the SR “a perfect proposition.”

The No.3 Japanese automaker hopes the SR’s mechanical updates give it an advantage over the Camry SE, whose athletic credentials largely come from its appearance.

The SR has a unique suspension, including front and rear stabilizer bars that are larger and 250% stiffer than those on the base Altima S.

Nissan also promises 20% less body roll with the SR grade than with the refreshed ’16 Altima S, SV and SL.

“I think at the end of the day we were able to deliver fun-to-drive but also comfort, because we couldn’t really compromise,” Castro says. “It’s a midsize sedan after all. We’re not making a racing car here.”

With the refreshed ’16 Altima, Nissan is hopeful it can grow its sales and/or market share in the somewhat subdued but still important, U.S. midsize sedan segment.

Using WardsAuto’s segmentation, the Altima is No.3 in the Lower Middle car sector through October, with 283,372 units sold, up 1.0%. The Camry, Accord, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata are Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5. Year-to-date volume among the four cars ranges from 173,751 (Sonata) to 361,111 (Camry), with losses ranging from 1.9% (Camry) to 11.0% (Accord).

With Middle CUVs overtaking them as the U.S. light-vehicle industry’s No.1 segment, Lower Middle cars have seen a lot of pricing pressure.

“(The) No.1 (seller in the U.S.) for all the Asian OEMs is a midsized sedan, so there is definitely that desire to maintain your sales, even grow market share,” Castro says.

“What we’re trying to do here is invest up front, offer something much better, and hopefully this will result in less need for incentives,” he says, noting a better product should help Nissan “go away from incentive fights and drive desire for the car.”

The ’16 Altima arrives at Nissan U.S. dealers Nov. 11. Production of the car began Oct. 26 at Nissan's Smyrna, TN, plant.

Pricing begins at $22,500 for an Altima S with a 2.5L 4-cyl. and reaches $32,090 for the SL with a 3.5L V-6.

The new SR grade is $24,470.

Above prices don’t include an $825 destination and handling fee.