Will Nissan’s 80s retro-futuristic roadster be the first fun-to-drive EV?

The Nissan Max-Out concept doesn’t take any cues from previous Nissan models, but it’s aesthetic is decidedly retro. There’s a lot of 80s contour grid patterns and neon colors, and the entire presentation evokes an Out Run-type video game that never was. Best of all, it’s a two-seat roadster.

The EV paradigm shift has us concerned about cars, not because we are anti-EV. It’s more that we want cars that are fun to drive. Sure, instant torque and all that, but there’s more to driving fun than acceleration. Enthusiasts are, and always have, seeking out qualities like responsive steering or a communicative suspension. In an age when even a Hummer can hit 0-60 in 3.3 seconds, outright speed isn’t going to distinguish one car from another. Agility and feedback are going to be much more important factors.

Enthusiasts have always known this to be true, which is why they gravitate towards cars like the Miata and 86/BRZ. They’re often derided as underpowered but are a blast and a half to drive. The question is, who will be the first carmaker to build a fun-to-drive EV? The problem isn’t inherently in the drivetrain; it’s that automakers believe EVs have to be marketed as futuristic. So everything becomes digital, including throttle, steering and brake inputs, and even once-simple things like adjusting the vents or changing the radio station are now accomplished on a touchscreen three menus deep. And let’s not forget features and horsepower that can only be unlocked by manufacturer-controlled software.

Of course most gasoline cars are drive-by-wire now too, which is probably why we prefer cars of the analog era. But there are some, like the aforementioned Miata and 86/BRZ, that have managed to retain the fun quotient despite digital trickery. There’s an untapped niche here. Who will be the first company to make a car that’s powered by electrons but still drives like a classic sports car?

We’ve pretty much assumed that the answer was going to be Mazda. They keep saying that the Miata will stay in the lineup forever, even if it becomes fully electric. But maybe it’ll be a dark horse candidate like Nissan. They’ve already tossed around ideas like an electric Silvia, and certainly have experience building beloved enthusiasts’ cars.

Aside from a few generations of the Fairlady in the 1960s, however, Nissan hasn’t really built a true roadster. Their other sporty droptops like the Siliva and Z have started out as coupes and had their tops chopped off. This Max-Out could change all that. What would really be cool is if it looked like an SRL311 as well, like the Mitsubishi Debonair-based Grandeur concept, but the public probably wouldn’t get it.

The Max-Out concept was revealed today at an event called Nissan Futures in Japan, which talks about the company’s plans for “mobility” and “sustainability”, two buzzwords that carmakers can’t get enough of. A rendering of the car had been unveiled in November 2021 along with other EV concepts like a small pickup and a (you guessed it) crossover, but those never advanced beyond the 3D rendering phase. The Max-Out revealed today in Yokohama exists, as the kids say, IRL.

It’s loaded to the gills with that 80s matrix landscape pattern. The floorpan looks like a holodeck on the Enterprise. The motif is repeated in the fang-like headlights, taillights, and even the wheels, which look like they’re portals to wormholes (I guess this thing just begs the Star Trek references). It’s all very cool and retro-futuristic.

We dig the whole vibe, but perhaps Nissan’s own description of it is most promising (emphasis ours): “Created on the fundamental concept of being one with the car, the Nissan Max-Out two-seater convertible is designed to provide a liberating sense of openness while offering an enhanced, dynamic driving experience.” If that doesn’t sound like an e-Miata, I don’t know what does.

Since this is merely a concept, Nissan hasn’t given any specs on the powertrain or performance. After the whole Nissan IDx will-they-won’t-they fiasco, it’s probably wishful thinking to expect Nissan to actually build the Max-Out. But if they did, and stuck to the principles they’ve outlined, it could be the first truly fun-to-drive EV.

Additional Images:

Images courtesy of Nissan.

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18 Responses to Will Nissan’s 80s retro-futuristic roadster be the first fun-to-drive EV?

  1. DesignerD says:

    yikes. looks like a limp lambo on a miata wheelbase

  2. BlitzPig says:

    Why do designers always have to make EVs look like something from Science Fiction on acid?
    Can’t they just make them look like, you know, a car?????

  3. Fred Langille says:

    IDANO how limp Lambo fits but, it looks like it was heated in the microwave and grabbed by tongs, bending it in the middle. Still the concept looks … passable … the only thing is that the basic guide for ALL EVs be met ie: miles-per-electron! Anything (to me, anyway) under 300 miles-per-electron is not acceptable so, instead of buyer beware … choose wisely and not be swayed by futuristic style. A hybrid Miata or BRZ/86 might be a good start.

  4. HE HE says:

    I can see it as a tiny Lambo, but this thing is awesome! The concept reminded me of the Autozam AZ1, even if it’s not that much similar. I love how it looks, as I like the funky designs, particularly what Hyundai does. They may not always look “great” but I love how funky or creative they can be. This is a good example of what I mean. Let’s hope they do the right thing and make it!

  5. cyko9 says:

    As concept vehicles go, this is wild! And with rumblings of the future indicating most people will merely subscribe to a car service (maybe self-driving utility boxes?), it’s interesting to think an automaker would focus on preserving “an enhanced, dynamic driving experience.” If they want to keep customers buying, they’ve got to sell something interesting. What makes a person want to own a vehicle?

  6. LB1 says:

    Me gusta. It looks great.

  7. MikeRL411 says:

    Anything to avoid CV transmissions!

  8. Fashion Victim says:

    Nice, very blade runner 2049. I am a child again.

  9. Jonathan P. says:

    Honestly, the way they shot the photos is an aesthetic I’ve been missing from automotive advertising for a while. I think it looks like a car we thought we’d have by now back in the ’80s. The one EV that I would be interested in.

  10. CycoPablo says:

    The design aesthetic that nobody (including the author) has mentioned here is

    You’ll see many phone cases, posters, video games etc that sprinkle it in, or totally rely on it.

  11. Speedie says:

    I like the shape and proportions but the designers watched Tron way too many times.

  12. Fruity B. says:

    Im completely down with sci fi on acid. In fact I think everybody has been pushing the design aesthetic lately, its phenominal. It finally feels like we’re in a new chapter and its exciting to be interested in automotive design again. Im loving the idea of a full on Nissan comeback!

  13. Darin Smith says:

    Hi, you Can get 100+HP out of 1st Gen 86/BRZ with add on parts. Hey, TRON is Cool and was ahead of it’s Time Thanks-Smith ‘Hot Wheels guy’ Die cast Bham Al.

  14. It looks like a cool concept car. Star Trek meets Tron.

    But how much would it weigh? EVs are heavy. I’ve driven every EV in our museum, and you can tell they’re EVs every time you enter a curve. All of the roads in my corner of the U.S. have curves, as does pretty much every road in Japan. Sports cars need to be light, or at least handle their weight well.

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