I have a theory about modern Nissan, and why its current U.S. lineup is such a lackluster pile of damp stools (no offense): it used up all of its strategic awesome reserves back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In case you doubt me, just think back and remember the daring, charming Pike cars, and so very many incredible concept cars, including this one, the 1989 Nissan Neo-X concept.

I’m a little surprised how taken I am by the Neo-X because it’s fundamentally very different than the sorts of strange, homely, tiny cars that usually delight me. The Neo-X is a large, full-sized, imposing car, with some real, serious presence. It feels more like a distilled, ruthlessly modernized take on a classic American full-sized sedan, large but somehow not bulky, just all Serious Business and the silent elegance of someone with nothing to prove.

I think the Neo-X could be sold today and not look dated; that definitely does not mean it’s remotely in step with modern automotive design, especially the direction most Japanese carmakers are going down now.

Where the Neo-X is all clean, powerful simplicity, forms refined and pared down to their fundamental essence, what we’re seeing in 2018 is quite the opposite: a new Baroque madness, all folds and creases and vents and holes, and, as a result, busy, unlovable wheeled masses.


This is hardly the worst offender, but look what sort of sedan Nissan offers today:

...and let’s look at what could have been the future, through 1989's lens:


The 2018 Nissan is shouting, desperately hoping you’ll look at it and be cowed and impressed. The 1989 Nissan concept just rolls on in, knowing it can have you, any time it wants you.

Look at the details of the ring-like flush door handles, and the novel taillamp treatment (way up top there), with the one long red bar and the separate vertical indicators.

The wheels use a delicate mesh of patterned holes to provide the same sort of intricate craftsmanship feeling that wire wheels once gave, but thoroughly modern.


The headlights and front treatment are perhaps the weakest part, but it’s so good overall, I don’t even mind.

Things stay wonderful on the inside, where we find some screen-based instruments (I think that’s an early LCD display on the center stack there) and seats that look like leather-wrapped minimalist sculptures of E.T.’s family, but in a good way.


If the Neo-X had any influence on Nissan products that came later, I’d go out on a limb and say that the designers of the Infiniti M45 may have given the Neo-X some study.


Like the Neo-X, the second-gen M45 had a sort of Japanese-interpreted classic American car feel, and had similar proportions and general sense of crisp cleanliness. I still think it’s one of the best-looking Infinitis.

This 1989 concept still feels so fresh and clean and appealing. This is the future Nissan we should be driving today. If there’s a department at Nissan developing time travel technology, they need to head back to 1989 and get some ideas to give 2018 another try.