Wards 10 Best Interiors competition has recognized outstanding automotive interiors for six years. This installment is part of a series of interior deep dives on what made last year’s winners stand out as we test candidates for this year’s competition.
The 2017 10 Best Interiors winners will be announced in mid-April and will be on display at the WardsAuto Interiors Conference May 9 at Detroit’s Cobo Center.
“We wanted a vehicle that punches two or more classes above its weight,” says Ken Lee, director-Nissan Design America, about the ’16 Maxima’s highly creative cabin. “One of our key phrases was ‘everyday exotic.’ What would a four-door GT-R be like? Something practical that the owner can enjoy, but at the same time a special product. The best of both worlds.”
Exotic car buyers expect a feeling of bespoke custom design, Lee says. “But for such a thing on a Maxima-level vehicle, we knew we would have to be clever and come up with unusual solutions to provide that feeling while keeping things in perspective.”
He adds the Maxima interior team is proud of the level of design execution they were able to achieve in this relatively affordable vehicle segment. One element they are especially proud of is the faceted metal scimitar finisher that stretches across the instrument panel, dividing the upper and lower portions, then across the doors.
“It’s a sizable sharp metal blade, pointed at the ends, with a soft crease line running through it,” Lee says. “It was inspired by a Samurai sword but doesn’t visually look like a sword blade. We’re taking that quality of the sharp metal crease and applying it to a 3-dimensional finisher. A Nissan first, and I believe an industry first, it adds an unusual element to an otherwise mundane part of the car, a kind of bespoke quality of sharp precision metal right at eye level. A lot of cars have 3-D-looking finishers, but they are done by film or some visual trickery. Nobody has ever done it with this kind of 3-D texture.”
Maxima’s new interior is anchored by a “command central” cockpit with its center stack angled 7 degrees toward the driver, like the GT-R. Its floating console sits higher to put key controls within easy reach, the start switch (now on the console) pulses when you enter and there is a new display control dial. As on the IP and upper doors, the console’s padding has contrasting stitching, and Nissan’s Zero Gravity power front seats with sport bolstering are softer thanks to a new 3-layer foam design.
Creating such special touches while staying within budget was the toughest challenge. “Trying to achieve an exotic flavor, we tried to keep the use of materials within reason while styling each individual component cleverly to make it look unique,” Lee says. “And we fought for as much content as we could get.” He cites the unique finisher, the Nissan-first fully stitched IP, center console and upper door trim and leather upholstery with Alcantara inserts as examples.
“Really impressive,” observes Ward’s editor Drew Winter. “Quilted suede-like upholstery, beautiful IP cover and stitching and a unique (diamond-pattern) aluminum trim. A home run in color, craftsmanship and materials.”
Is there an interior equivalent to the distinctively shaped C-pillar that has become a Nissan exterior design trademark? “There is a certain energy focused in the middle that radiates outward like a bird ready to take off with its wings outstretched,” Lee says. “In the Maxima, that is highlighted by splitting the IP into upper and lower sections for a slim, lightweight feeling, and the IP stitching follows what we call that ‘gliding wing’ principal. You will find that consistent among all Nissan products.”
He points out that equal attention was paid to lower-level Maxima models as to the higher grades, “which typically get all the bells and whistles. Platinum and SR grades get the Alcantara seats, but the cloth seats in the lower grades also are unique with a sophisticated, rich-looking pinstripe cloth pattern.”
Finally, he confirms this design establishes the thinking for other Nissan products going forward: “It’s a mindset to push the boundaries, to challenge convention, which I think we did very well on Maxima. We want to take that mindset to other products and we already are doing it.
“That is a challenge because we have such a diverse portfolio, but one of the most fun aspects is finding the right amount of consistency while giving each vehicle its own character.”