Bold Styling Decisions: 2018 Nissan Maxima

Series

Some love it. Others don't. But full credit goes to Nissan for a striking design.

When you think of bold and perhaps controversial styling, something like the current generation Nissan Maxima normally wouldn’t come to mind. But take one look at Nissan’s flagship sedan and it’s anything but bland. Launched for 2016, the currently on sale eighth generation Maxima is by far the most radically styled one yet. Its immediate predecessor, by comparison, was far more conservative, perhaps a little too much so. Therefore it made sense for Nissan’s design team to go bold.

In fact, there were some within the company who thought the Maxima’s time had run out and the mid-size Altima would suffice. But Team Maxima won that debate and the angled, four-door coupe-like sedan is the result. Going back to its earlier days, Nissan branded the Maxima as “the four door sports car,” a tagline that some say no longer really applies. Gone is the fun to drive factor, despite having a powerful enough 3.5-liter V6. Unlike the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 siblings, the Maxima remains front-wheel-drive, therefore eliminating any real sport sedan potential, a la the BMW 3 Series. But there are tricks to the trade, and good engineers can tune FWD to give it a sporty enough flavor.

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Problem is, they didn’t push these abilities far enough for today’s Maxima, so all that’s left from a sporty perspective is its design. Nissan claims the design goal was clear: exotic sports car sensibility. Exterior styling was heavily influenced by the 2015 Sway Concept that also previewed the overall design direction for the latest Murano crossover, which shares a platform and engine with the Maxima. The concept’s swooping lines and striking nose made their way to production with few changes. Nissan calls this styling language V-motion, with specific emphasis on the grille. Other design elements include a floating roof, thanks to blacked-out A-, B-, and C-pillars, boomerang lamps, as well as the upward facing C-pillar.

The latter narrows the space from the trunk to the roof, thus further moving away from the traditional three-box sedan design. The curvature of the side body panels is also noteworthy. The character line, which normally runs relatively straight across the side above or below the door handles, has been divided in two. Starting from the headlights, there’s a flowing line that dips down just ahead of the side mirrors and continues straight towards the rear door handles. Above those handles is the second half of the character line, which begins above the taillights and ends before it reaches the front doors. The resulting effect creates a sculpted look that emphasizes air flow. Again, it’s either something you like or you don’t.

Traditional sedan buyers likely fall into the latter group, but Nissan still made the right call for a revolutionary rather than evolutionary design. The obvious reason was to focus on those younger customers who are looking to move upmarket from their current Altimas. They may not be ready, or able to, move up to Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand, but why ignore them entirely? Why should their most premium Nissan sedan choice be the Altima, which competes hand in hand with the likes of the Toyota Camry? A crossover, such as the Murano, may also not be what they’re looking for, hence the Maxima’s continued need for existence.

During its development phase, designers reportedly posted photos on the office walls of stealth fighter jets, aviator helmets, speedboats, and high-style products such as furniture and watches, for inspiration. They even used phrases like “passionate exotic” and “brutal yet sophisticated.” Above all, however, they repeatedly asked each other and themselves whether the final design would be “worthy of the Maxima name?” They’ll let history decide the answer. The interior also had to be reflective of the exterior’s gutsy styling. Bespoke interior from various exotic cars served as inspiration, specifically handcrafted leather seats, a tailored instrument design and premium surfacing.

The final result is a nice blend of sporty and elegant with an overall premium look and feel. Again, the goal was to come as close as possible to not outdoing Infiniti interiors. A flat-bottom steering wheel, driver-focused dashboard, a wide center console, and high-quality materials made that achievable. Bringing the long-running Maxima further upmarket without infringing upon Infiniti’s territory was not exactly an easy task to carry out. A final balance had to be established, and the area where Nissan gave itself the most freedom was exterior design. The results speak for themselves.

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