Nissan turned some heads with its fiery-orange Sport Sedan Concept at the North American International Auto Show this week. Previewing a sporty production sedan largely thought to be the next-generation Maxima, the concept shows a bolder future for the Nissan four-door. The SSC was surrounded by several other intriguing concepts and prototypes on Nissan's podium, including two distinctive small sedans and an autonomous research vehicle.

Spotlight: Sport Sedan Concept

From its swooping, three-dimensional sides, to its flying-V headlamps, to its flashy "Strad Amber" coat, it's quite clear that the Sport Sedan is all about playing with styling and making a statement. To craft a sports car out of a sedan, Nissan plants the SSC low to the ground, adds wide proportions, gives it a sharply descending roofline, and attempts to create the ever-popular "projection of motion, even when the vehicle is standing still."

"The innovative roofline, which is also prevalent on Resonance and Friend-ME, makes it seem as if there are no pillars at all, enhancing the sense of athleticism and sportiness," says Nissan Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura. "The roofline also contributes to the Sport Sedan Concept's class-leading stance, which balances the look of the substantial lower body and a streamlined cabin."

Nissan is definitely successful in making a car that's sportier than its current lineup of sedans, but the design is a little overdone for our taste. The proportions are nice, but the designers will have to simplify the sides and front fascia a lot for the car to have the wide appeal of a sedan like the Maxima.

We expect that the production sedan inspired by the SSC will lose some of the busy bodywork, but like the Toyota FT-1, this concept previews a future design direction. Nissan says that the concept, along with last year's Friend-ME and Resonance concepts, will influence future production designs. Specifically, it says that the "V-Motion" front-end, boomerang headlights and floating roof shared by those three concept cars will be penned into production-bound vehicles, from sedans to crossovers.

Under the hood, the SSC carries a 300+hp 3.5-liter V6 engine connected to a sport-tuned Xtronic CVT, giving it enough juice to fulfill the body's promise of a sporty ride. Performance-damped suspension helps the cause.

The concept's Strad Amber paint was inspired by the rich look of violins. The final look was achieved by applying an orange-amber topcoat over a gold base.

IDx Freeflow and NISMO concepts

The Sport Sedan was Nissan's main event, but it was joined by a couple of very interesting undercards. Toyota showed two IDx concepts that it originally debuted at last year's Tokyo Motor Show. The IDx Freeflow and IDx NISMO are experiments in co-creation, a process in which Nissan worked closely with the target demographic early on in the development stages.

"IDx NISMO and IDx Freeflow show how Nissan is using new and innovative product development methods to meet the needs of younger customers who have novel, exciting ideas, and engage with them to build the cars they want," explains Nakamura.

Nissan worked with young folks from the "digital native generation" (those born after 1990) to find out what they're looking for in a vehicle. It turns out, what they're looking for is incredibly simple: the classic proportions of a "three box" car, with engine, passenger and cargo compartments. Nissan didn't just build an old fashioned boxy car, however, but worked within the parameters of a three-box small sedan to give the IDx a personality all its own.

"The front/rear fenders and side structure, such as the door panels, seem to sandwich the cabin to focus attention on the center of the vehicle," Nissan explains. "This structure allows the car to differentiate itself from others through the side and front face, with vast freedom for customization. The parting lines (panel partitions) clearly separate the sides and top, and enhance visual clarity while creating a unique and crisp boxed form."

Having been drawn to Nissan's booth by the unique look of the IDx, we think it is successful in translating the digital natives' demand for simplicity into something memorable.

The IDx Freeflow is a casual, lifestyle-focused IDx derivative that has a simple, functional appeal. Inside its white-and-khaki exterior, the Freeflow has a basic but thoughtful interior with a classic round steering wheel, analog clock, and denim seats and trim. It's as comfortable and familiar as your living room. Nissan envisions a small, efficient 1.2- or 1.5-liter engine serving as the beating heart.

As those familiar with Nissan's performance arm certainly already guessed, the NISMO is a sportier IDx car. Its 13.5-ft (4.1-m) length and 4.3-ft (1.3-m) height are the same as the Freeflow, but it stands wider at 5.9 ft (1.8 m) (versus the FreeFlow's 5.6 ft/1.7 m). Other sporty elements separating it are its reverse-slanted nose, side-mounted exhaust, carbon panels and aero spoilers. Its 19-in wheels receive power from a 1.6-liter turbo engine and sporty CVT with six-speed manual shift mode.The IDx Nismo's racey exterior is complemented inside with Alcantara-trimmed seats, utilitarian gauges and red suede trim.

While the two display models are cool, they're just the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities. At the Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan partnered with Oculus and AKQA to provide showgoers with the an intriguing 3D virtual reality tool (which sounds essentially like a big, fancy car configurator) to design their own versions, resulting in more than 100 different virtual IDx images.

You can see a whole lot more of the aforementioned NAIAS concepts, along with the Autonomous Leaf prototype and its arsenal of sensors, in our photo gallery. Let us know which, if any, you like the best.

Source: Nissan