1985-1990 Nissan Sunny Estate

We were discussing design principles recently. Here’s a car that’s technically correct but unlike Audi fails to generate the slightest flicker of emotion or intellectual satisfaction. 


I saw this Sunny parked near the Aixam Mega van. It’s neat and orderly. All the parts cohere in a professional way. Yet unlike an Audi of the same period there is missing an element to lift it above ordinary. I think you’d need to do some measurements to see where the difference lies. Avoiding mistakes is not the same as creating something good. It would have been even better if the tailgate had been nearer vertical, no?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “1985-1990 Nissan Sunny Estate”

  1. Good one!
    Does the problem here really lie in the proportions/shape?
    Maybe the missing parts to reach Audi went astray in the detailing: front, head lamps, window sills (is that the correct term?), transition from wheel arches to the (not completely!) black bumper, rear door cutout messing with wheel arch, etc…

  2. Google threw up some 1985 Audi 60 and 80 images. I failed to put my finger on what made them look better. They seem to be as devoid of inflection and accent as the Sunny. I notice the Audis have more noticeable radii on the corners and turns. This demands further investigation with a few sample “plain” cars as subjects. As a side note the addition of a fee organic creases and flourishes on recent Audis only makes them less distinctive.

  3. I love these Sunny’s. In this part of the world (New Zealand) they were branded Sentra those days. I’ve been daily driving one for almost seven years. Bought with 165K (kilometers) on the clock, now showing 308K and still going strong! But you are right, they are but emulation of earlier Volkswagen and Audi designs by the great Giorgetto Giugiaro, notably Audi80/VW Passat B1 of 1973 vintage. Of course, the B12 Sunny is a 1985 model, so it has borrowed from later models heavily, B2 Audi/VW being not the least influence. Yet, it epitomises the Japanese design school of the mid-80s by going so modern-tacky that it failed do become a coherent piece of design. The ultimate Origami car, particularly in sedan (saloon) form (not available in Europe). Despite all this, I like the looks of the Sportwagon version, particularly the rear end with its angled lights clusters. As for its ability to get from A to B reliably and (equipped with GA engines) with some fun, it will beat all Volkswagens and most Audis by a long shot!

  4. I think you’re overly harsh against this car. It is rather bland and derivative, but so was a lot of other cars as well. It’s the front before the A-pillar that is undefined, the rest of the car is quite defined. It got some Italian flair with that Pininfarina-trademarked horisontal crease. And the greenhouse got a decidedly teutonic feel over it with hints of BMW E30 over it. But yes, most decidedly a lot of B1 VW Fox-platform over it.

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