Nissan had the first blink-and-you’ll-miss-it play of this year’s Super Bowl when it unveiled two long-awaited cars that signal the future of the company. In its 90-second ad “With Dad,” Nissan gave the public its first glimpses of the GT-R LM Nismo and the 2016 Nissan Maxima. The GT-R LM Nismo was meant to be the star of the spot: It’s Nissan’s radical front-engined hybrid endurance racer set to race in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and represents the first serious Le Mans contender by a Japanese automaker in years.
But despite the racer’s impressive credentials, it may have been upstaged by the few brief glimpses of the all-new Maxima sedan, one of the most eagerly anticipated Nissans in years. The Maxima represents a return to the brand’s sporty mass-market roots and is as important to the brand’s future as the Nismo — maybe even more so.
Despite the impossibly fast Nissan GT-R, Nissan has had a bit of an image problem over the past few years. Better known for bland offerings like the Versa and Altima rather than performance cars, the company is in desperate need of an image overhaul. In the 1980s and 1990s, Nissan had a formidable sports car lineup and a fantastic sedan in the Maxima, which was billed as the “four-door sports car.” Since then, the Nissan lineup has evolved to focus more on volume sellers and people movers than performance, and the Maxima has grown into a larger, heavier version of the volume-selling Altima sedan.
As a result, the current Maxima is too big and underpowered to compete with the similarly-priced Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, or even Chrysler 300, and sales of the car have slid 17% over the past five years. With Nissan attempting to increase market share with a competitive new strategy, the Maxima needs to become more competitive.
Things began to change for the Maxima last year, when Nissan unveiled the Sport Sedan Concept at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. While the brand coyly refused to out the concept as the next-generation Maxima, the sedan’s proportions and a design that could easily leap from concept to production had journalists all but convinced that this was the next Maxima.
With the Super Bowl ad, these suspicions have been confirmed. The 2016 Maxima retains many of the concept’s flowing lines, rakish windshield, and aggressive design language. This also signals the Maxima’s return to the top of the Nissan line. Look for these design cues to trickle down to other Nissan models in the next few years.
While the GT-R LM Nismo could prove to be the story of the year at Le Mans, Nissan has more at stake with the long-term success of this next-generation Maxima. In many ways, Nissan’s old reputation for building mass-market sporty cars has been assumed by Mazda, and while Nissan has tried to raise its performance profile with recent concepts like the IDx and Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge, the company has its work cut out for it. The new Maxima is Nissan’s first big push to regain a performance image and increase market share in the competitive sports sedan market.
When the Maxima debuted in the 1980s, the idea of a four-door sedan that behaved like a sports car was considered radical. Today, the sports sedan segment is a crowded and highly competitive market. With its aggressive design language, the Maxima will certainly stand out. The current model has a 3.5-liter V6 good for 290 horsepower and a zero to 60 time around 6.3 seconds, so we can expect the next-generation car to have at least slightly better numbers.
Details are still incredibly murky, but we’re expected to get a better look at the production at this year’s New York International Auto Show. It may be early, but after a few brief seconds, things are starting to look brighter for the Nissan Maxima.
Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook