LA JOLLA, Calif. - The current generation Nissan Maxima is 'too soft' and the Sentra is too bland, and both will be redesigned with a more aggressive posture and positioning, Nissan executives say.
'Maxima will reassert its turf as a performance sedan,' said Jerry Hirshberg, president of Nissan Design International at a press introduction for the 1998 Altima.
'Surprisingly, the competition has let us keep that turf, even though the current one is too soft. We had fun with the new one. There will be 'oomph.''
Both cars are expected to be redesigned for the 1999-2000 model years. Introduction dates have not been set.
The Maxima could get more snarl because a high percentage of current buyers pick the sport edition, which features larger wheels and stiffer suspension.
On the previous Maxima, about 10 percent of the buyers picked the sport, or SE, edition. Nissan hoped that number would increase to about 30 percent on the current model. But the SE trim level currently accounts for 45 percent of all Maxima sales, said Mark Perry, Nissan Division category marketing manager for sedans.
'Maxima has always stood for a blend of luxury and prestige, but had a handling element too. That concept will stay consistent,' Perry said.
As far as increased performance goes, Perry noted, 'There definitely seems to be a market there.'
Increasing the power of the 190-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 is on the priority list - even though some automotive magazines consider it one of the finest powerplants in the world. The trade-off is whether the Maxima can deliver more low-end torque without losing the high-end revvy feel that endears it to performance drivers, Perry said.
The next Sentra will move up a notch in status, but it will not encroach on the Altima. Perry noted, though, that the public perceives the Sentra as a less-impressive car than the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. So making the Sentra equal in status is key.
'We want it to be a destination car, rather than a transition or settle-for car. The current one is a settle-for car,' he said.
On the plus side, Perry noted that the 'Sentra's strengths are its name and its reputation for durability, quality and reliability. It has some pretty nice packaging and pricing.'
Leading the improvement will be a more stylish interior, Perry said.
'People want to escape and be comfortable. Reliability is the cost of entry, and getting the exterior styling right is important, so the interior is where you can be really different,' Perry said.
Spring of 1999 could be a crowded time - the Sentra's four-year cycle and the Maxima's five-year cycle both end then. Perry said the Maxima should arrive first.