A long time ago, Nissan began claiming that its Maxima was “the four-door sports car,” something it never had been, wasn’t then, and isn’t now—at least not in any definition of the term “sport sedan” I can acknowledge. To me, it encompasses agility, outstanding performance, and a certain level of sporting style. The notion of a sport sedan goes back at least eighty years, so it is not defined by BMWs, however nice some of its offerings have been since the New Class cars came along in the 1960s. But Nissan likes to continue flirting with the notion without truly embracing it, so its Detroit show car this year was once again described as a “sport sedan.”
Although the Sport Sedan Concept was not formally stated to be a near-release teaser for the next Maxima, even design chief Shiro Nakamura freely admitted that it was. So Nissan is continuing with its old conceit and, in my opinion, with no more credibility than before. This is not really a sport sedan, not with front-wheel drive, excessively “interesting” convoluted surfaces, a pickup-truck grille, and severely limited visibility. However, if you look at the design in the role of family sedan, it begins to make sense. The passenger compartment is long, and with a slight increase in side-glass height—very likely for the production car—it begins to look quite reasonable.
By extending the central part forward and sweeping the sides of the nose back, a suitably long hood gives acceptable proportions to the body’s masses. I’d like to think that the overly exaggerated front-fender profile dropping into the doors will be tempered and that the goiter below will be eliminated or downplayed, although one never knows how a concept derived from a predetermined production model was managed. The several references to current Formula 1 aerodynamic practices might well remain, and with a bit of tuning and balancing of the chrome trim—the parts on the sides are elegantly delicate, the grille and rear trim a bit gross—the composition could well turn out to be very nice indeed. Or not, depending on how it’s done.
The main lamps, front and rear, are dramatically pointed and probably should remain as is, since they are unlike any competitor’s present solution. I hope the “floating” roof remains, as it greatly helps lighten the overall aspect of what is, after all, an overly thick and heavy-looking lower body. The inclusion of glass elements in the roof has been part of the Maxima’s character for a good while, and it seems to please owners, so it is likely to remain when the commercial product shows up very soon, probably as a 2016 model.
However the next Maxima turns out, there’s no question that this precursor is dramatic and, like many of Nakamura-san’s show cars, it embodies enough good ideas for two or three less-dramatic vehicles.
Front 3/4 View
1. More like a water buffalo’s yoke than trim for an elegant sedan, this massive piece is surprisingly out of harmony with the rest of the car.
2. There is a surfeit of complex surfacing on the hood and in its transitional flow into the sides.
3. Windshield angle is a bit too sporty. It presumably will be less severe in any production development of the show car while keeping the glass-to-glass intersection with the roof.
4. Glass is backed by a blacked-out C-pillar providing a complete separation between roof and painted haunches.
5. Fender peak translates into a simple, sharp surface break in the door skins.
6. This simulated air deflector is one of numerous Formula 1 cues seen on cars at the Detroit show this year. It’s well on the way to being a cliché already.
7. This pendant bit of front fender is another unwarranted racing car cue.
8. Prognathous chin section is very nicely modeled, defining a big lateral air scoop on each side of the nose and yet another F1-style deflector.
9. Carbon fiber (or a simulation thereof) is still another racing car visual reference.
10. Sides of the lower radiator scoop are in opposition to the outer edges of the front end, leaning back at the top instead of rearward.
Rear 3/4 View
11. Only about half as thick as the bright metal trim on the front, this transverse strip with turned-down tips is still too heavy compared with the delicate side trim.
12. Sharp separation of top of trunk and tail panel also transitions from convex surface above, concave below, with a little inset nacelle to present the Nissan badge.
13. The roof rails are totally detached from one another side-to-side as well as from the painted body below. Very nice workout.
14. Slope of the roof recalls angle of the Z coupes.
15. slim sill trim is exactly in sync with the elegant door handles.
16. Slim chrome door handles are in sharp contrast to the heavy-handed chrome grille and bright tail elements.
17. Front end really plunges down at the outer corners as the fender peak moves well inboard.
18. The hollow above this hard line is presumably intended to indicate separate front and rear fender forms, but there’s still too much going on in the side panels of this concept.
19. Yet another F1-inspired hanging tab that doesn’t really direct air.
20. Forward-facing spikes of the taillights connect to sharp surface breaks and are themselves concave in transverse section. Complex, but original and distinctive.
21. Far more sober than the exterior, this interior is almost production-ready. Whether the diamond-pattern quilting for the seats—shades of Chairman Mao’s suits—will remain is questionable, but it’s popular on Bentleys.
22. Flat-bottom steering wheel may be intended to suggest F1 wheels . . . or just accommodate burghers’ bellies.
23. Much simplified center stack with crisp lines from the windshield base is agreeable and visually comprehensible. Good job.
24. Flow of soft trim around cockpit corners is pleasing.