DALLAS, TX – Nissan introduces the new-for-’13 Sentra small car here today, part of a post-recession product push seeing the auto maker bring five new makes to market in 15 months.

Nissan recently brought to U.S. dealers the ’13 Altima, which features a stem-to-stern redesign, and the new-for-’13 Pathfinder SUV arrives in the fall. Nissan has been mum on other products in the rollout, but a new Versa B-car and Rogue small cross/utility vehicle are among the vehicles expected.

Nissan wants to ratchet up its total U.S. share to 10% in the next few years, from 8.2% in 2011 after Sentra bows in the fourth quarter of this year.

“With the complete redesign for 2013, Sentra is closer in look and feel to Altima than a typical compact sedan,” Al Castignetti, vice president and general manager, Nissan Div. at Nissan North America, says in statement.

The new Sentra, entering its 30th year of production and coming from Nissan’s Canton, MS, and Aguascalientes, Mexico, assembly plants, jumps into a growing segment with lots of fresh designs.

A revamped Honda Civic bowed in recent years alongside the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra. A new Toyota Corolla comes next year.

Industry deliveries from the segment so far in 2012 stand at 8.4 million units, up 16.6% and good for 20% of all U.S. light-vehicle sales in the period, according to WardsAuto data. Last year, the segment’s sales rose 13.3% to 12.7 million for 18.3% of all LV deliveries, up from 11.6 million and a 17.8% market share in 2010.

With uneven gasoline prices and more attractive entries, small cars comprise the third-most-popular segment among buyers behind CUVs and midsize cars, such as the recently launched Altima.

Nissan follows the industry template with the new Sentra, currently its No.3 seller in the U.S. and year-to-date a distant sixth in its segment, by trying the shed the econobox moniker with upscale features, a more attractive exterior and interior design and the now-ubiquitous 40 mpg (5.7 L/100 km) fuel-economy estimate.

The 5-passenger Sentra borrows a number of cues from the new Altima, such as a grille drawing inspiration from a samurai’s formal coat, pronounced front-fender flares, a lower and wider stance and a new daylight opening behind the C-pillar to improve rear-seat spaciousness and lend its profile a sweeping look.

The rear of the car also gains a more tapered appearance than its boxy-bottomed predecessor.

The ’13 Sentra also is longer overall and has a longer wheelbase, a shorter front overhang and a slightly longer rear overhang. It is lower in height, narrower and more aerodynamic.

In sum, the exterior design marks a dramatic move from the previous-generation model, often criticized for its tall, skinny design and dowdy personality.

Segment exclusives include standard LED accent lighting inside the Sentra’s wrap-around front headlamps and standard rear LED lamps.

Nissan says it has swathed the interior in soft-touch materials, such as the instrument panel and driver’s door armrest, and will make leather and maple-wood accents available. Rear legroom grows to 37.4 ins. (95 cm) to lead the segment, the auto maker claims.

Some standard interior equipment includes a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power windows with a driver’s-side one-touch up/down feature and a pair of 12V power outlets.

The car for the first time receives dual climate controls for front passengers, and Nissan makes available a 6- or 8-speaker audio system with a 4.3-in. (10.9-cm) color display and USB port for iPod connectivity.

“Nowhere is the new Sentra’s ‘class-above’ style more evident than in the interior,” Castignetti says. “You notice it the minute you sit in the roomy, comfortable seats and when you touch the high-quality materials. And when driving you notice the extra attention paid to isolating noise, vibration and harshness from entering the cabin.”

The auto maker also will make available on Sentra its NissanConnect unit, which unites hands-free text messaging and a newly developed navigation system with entertainment sources such as Pandora radio. NissanConnect expands to a 5.8-in. (14.7-cm) color display.

Under the hood, the new Sentra receives a 1.8L 16-valve 4-cyl. engine with 130 hp and 128 lb.-ft. (174 Nm) of torque. The engine replaces the current 2.0L 4-cyl. mill making 140 hp and 147 lb.-ft. (199 Nm) of torque, but the new model weighs 150 lbs. (68 kg) less than its predecessor, tipping the scale between 2,900 and 3,000 lbs. (1,315-1,360 kg).

Nissan drops the Sentra’s higher-performance 2.5L 4-cyl. engine for ’13.

Mated to Nissan’s latest XTronic continuously variable transmission, the new Sentra realizes a 13% improvement in combined-cycle fuel economy to an estimated 34 mpg (6.9 L/100 km), which the auto maker claims is best-in-class.

Highway fuel economy is rated as high as 40 mpg, depending on the model. The Sentra is rated at 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) in city driving. Nissan also makes available a 6-speed manual transmission in the base model.

The auto maker offers seven trim levels on the ’13 Sentra. Pricing has not been announced.

Nissan shows the new Sentra to journalists ahead of Saturday’s football game between the University of Alabama and the University of Michigan at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas. Prior to the game, the auto maker will display the car before an estimated 100,000 fans attending the nationally televised event.

jamend@wardsauto.com