While not officially scheduled for production, Nissan's Vice President of Product Planning, Jack Collins, did have this to say about the brand's latest debut: "The Nissan Sport Concept, like the AZEAL and Actic before it, is first and foremost a showcase of future thinking, yet it is also a car that would be right at home in Nissan dealerships in the not-too-distant future."
What it is
The Nissan Sport Concept is a small, two-door hatchback developed to go head-to-head with Toyota's youth brand, Scion. From a design perspective, the Sport Concept offers much of what the Playstation generation likes - big rims, exaggerated wheel flares, and an overall Gran Turismo high-revving style. Inside are seats for a driver and four passengers, all with racing-style four-point seatbelt harnesses.
Why it matters
Unique rides at affordable prices - that's the formula Scion has perfected with the tC and the xB (less so with the xA) and that others like Ford and Honda have failed to replicate. However, Nissan just might have what it takes to break the trance in which Scion holds the youth market. The Sport Concept carries with it Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35 heritage, and is the youngest member of a family known for stretching the boundaries of design and usually packing plenty of punch behind the accelerator pedal. Most importantly, the Sport Concept offers a fresh, unique design that will counter Scion's more conservative look, and if it makes it to production, will likely be offered with a myriad of add-ons and upgrades.
When you can buy it
Technically, the Nissan Sport Concept is just that, a concept, so there is no set production date. In reality, Nissan plans on replacing the graying Sentra model soon, and the AZEAL, Actic, and Sport Concept vehicles are clear indicators of what the company's new small car(s) will look like. We're expecting a Sentra replacement for the 2007 model year.
How much it costs
Nissan officials have not suggested what the starting price might be for a production version of the Sport Concept, but to be competitive entry-level pricing will need to be about $15-17,000. Of course, if Nissan uses the Scion template, there will be options up the wazoo, which may add thousands of dollars to the final selling price.
How quick it is
Nissan officials have not released performance figures for the Sport Concept and, in fact, haven't even discussed what they'd put under the hood. For comparison, the Scion tC will scoot to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, the Honda Civic Si reaches 60 mph in about 7 seconds, and the Mazda 3s gets up to 60 mph in about 9 seconds.
What it looks like
There's nothing subtle about the Nissan Sport Concept. Up front is a substantial lower bumper that houses quad foglights and vertically stacked center cutouts which direct air to the radiator. Atop the carbon fiber grille sits a raised hood, flanked by wedge-shaped headlight housings that sweep rearward over flared front fenders with wheel well vents trimmed in alloy. The side view is accented by triangular alloy door handles, flush tinted glass, integrated body color lower sills, and six-spoke alloys that are better than anything you'll see roll out on American Hotrod or the Speed Channel. With its angled taillights and relatively small window placed within a one-piece liftgate, the rear view of the Sport Concept most resembles Nissan's Murano SUV. However, the round center brake light, vertically stacked center exhaust pipes, and rear diffuser distinguish this as one unique sport compact.
What it does best
Designers of the Nissan Sport Concept should be applauded for blending go-fast looks with seating for four, the utility of a hatchback, and styling cues different from those of its competitors. So many manufacturers tout near-production concepts that are often merely warmed-over versions of models already on the market; styling may involve some new wheels or different fascias, but the list of similar vehicles is often lengthy. That's not the case with the Nissan Sport Concept - it truly stands alone in the North American compact car market. The only models we could think of with designs even remotely similar to the Sport Concept are today's Nissan Murano, a mid-90's Honda Civic hatchback and an AMC Gremlin, but we're really reaching with those.
What we think
The youth market is ripe for the picking, and so far Scion is the only company successfully working the orchard. If Nissan can bring the Sport Concept to production with few styling changes, and assuming it packs at least 160 horsepower or so, we offer this simple suggestion: Build it!
Photos by Erik Hanson