Japanese automotive engineering went into warp-drive mode in the middle 1980s. The Nissan CUE-X of 1985 remains an impressive tour de force of the purest styling and technical experimentation.
Starting under the skin of this elegant and minimalistic design, we find electronic air suspension which controlled the spring rates, ride height and attitude. The damping could be altered as well making this a car which had the potential to fill a brief written by Citroen. Going further than Citroen did with their 1988 XM, the Cue-X also boasted four-wheel steering* The description of how it works is very similar to that of the XM: sensors sent signals to the vehicle’s central processor. The data described vehicle height, road speed, steering input, braking forces, throttle position and gear position.
Algorithms converted this information to outputs that managed the air springs to offer the best combination of firmness for the conditions. The possible suspension modes combined two spring rates and three discrete damping settings. Citroen scored here with having continuously variable damping and was evens in having two spring rates (comfortable and knobbly).
Moving out from inside the car, there is perhaps one of the most striking examples of Japanese automotive design of the period; it’s forceful yet credible. The car evokes that character often described as billet-solid. It looks as if it has been carved from one block of alloy. There is a very satisfying straight-through line from the headlamps to the tail and a glasshouse perched atop a body with a distinct shoulder line. This can be read as very much the ultimate expression of the three box form before rake angles of the glasshouse and body began to merge, creating the amorphous silhouettes of the early 90s.
The work here is in the radii blending between what are still relatively straight lines. For anyone of a certain age this is the high-point of car design: the refinement of the three-box form that still left the three boxes as distinct units. Despite the CUE-X having what we would call today an angular profile, the car’s cD only nudged 0.24. The flush glass is as fine as you’ll find on Audis of the same period.
Notice the asymmetry of the front graphics. The small black oblong is a rain-sensor. The rationality of the headlamps perhaps inspire VW’s much less refined though equally technicalesque B3 Passat of 1998. And the timing is exactly right – three years from the appearance of the Nissan to the appearance of the Passat. Wolfsburg’s design team had more than enough time to perform their nod to Nissan.
So, how does the Nissan Cue-X rate against the well-known characteristics of Japanese aesthetics?
We have fukinsei in the assymetric front end. Kanso is captured in the simplicity of the forms. Shizen makes itself felt in the lack of ornamentation. This car is not pretending to be somethings else. The car is not obvious in that it is not flashy. It takes some time to appreciate the level of refinement in the car’s details. That’s yugen accounted for. And finally, the car is calm even while the positioning of the glass house suggests performance. So we have datsuzoku and seijaku in there as well. This car is as Japanese as a Corolla crammed full of manga comics with the sounds of Pizzicato Five booming from the stereo.
[Image source for 1989 Infiniti Q45:here.
Image source for 1985 CUE-X profile in slideshow: here.]