Tongue in Cheek, Wallet in Hand
“Do they drive?” That was the first question out of my mouth when one of my (suddenly) favorite PR people asked if Motor Trend would be interested in having the Nissan IDx Concepts – the Freeflow and the Nismo – swing by our office as the first stop on the cars’ Southern California tour. Yes, I was told, they have engines and can move under their own power. Of course my follow up question was, “Can I drive it?”
Oddly, amazingly, and I’m kind of telling myself miraculously, Nissan said sure, I could drive the IDx Nismo off the back of the transporter and into our garage. How cool is that? I say very cool. Perhaps not quite as cool but almost, we decided to share the wealth by inviting our social media fans to enter a contest via Twitter and/or Facebook to win a chance to come on down to MT HQ and check out the IDx twins in person. Better yet, one lucky winner would be my passenger. Plus, Nissan arranged for a Tommy’s truck to hand out free, delicious chili cheeseburgers.
Fast-forward to Thursday, January 30, 2014 and about a dozen of us are gathered in our back parking lot behind a semi-truck car transporter. Inside are the two IDx concepts. The “Flax” colored IDx Freeflow with the round-ish headlights is the first to back out. Wow. It didn’t exactly stop traffic, but the diminutive IDx did slow it down. Seeing a car on a show stand is one thing, but actually seeing it out in public is a different experience all together. I’m very happy to report that the IDx is equally adept at both. Even cooler, watching it being driven past a few dozen parked cars, I was struck by just how tiny the IDx actually is. Thumbs up to that.
Good friend of Motor Trend and former General Hospital star Erik Valdez (OK fine, Erik used to be a Bondurant driving instructor, as well) came down, looked at both cars and commented, “When I look at the Nissan IDx concepts, I can’t help but flash the same smile I had when I was a kid and saw my first Datsun 510 at a local autocross. It’s the kind of car you want to immediately jump in and drive, then head back to your garage and tinker with over drinks with your buddies. It epitomizes what a fun, grassroots, sporty car should be. I say build it!” We fully embrace that statement.
“Here’s my credit card!” proclaimed John Raya, the lucky big winner of our social media contest and my passenger in the Nismo version, to the smiling Nissan PR dude. While the anodized IDx Nismo was parked on the ramp, John and I climbed inside. What is the IDx? Rumor holds that it’s built off the Nissan Silvia platform. I have no idea what sort of engine was under the hood. Nissan said that it’s between 1.2 and 1.5-liters in displacement. The new Datsuns have 1.2-liter engines, perfect for shuffling a show car to and fro. Could be that, but it sounded a bit healthier. I also couldn’t tell if it had an automatic or a CVT. If I had to guess, I’d say straight slushbox.
Obviously, in addition to not being able to drive the car very far, I was also not able to drive it very fast. However, I’ve driven extremely preproduction show cars in the past. The IDx Nismo felt solid, as if it was,in fact, built out of an existing production car. The steering felt solid and chunky, and I was not overcome by the distinct impression that the car would shake apart if I crested 15 mph. Again, I’ve driven cars in the past where that was the case.
The view out over the hood was pretty cool. First of all, I simply love the hood mounted wing mirrors, even though the ones on the IDx Nismo contained no glass. That of course is the prerogative of a show car. There was also no rearview mirror, so forward visibility seemed very good indeed. But honestly, John and I spent most of our very short trip just saying things like, “This is so cool!” to each other. Sadly, that’s about all I’ve got as far as “driving impressions” go.
I asked Mr. Raya for his thoughts. “Both versions of the car are absolutely stunning to say the least. The Freeflow is reminiscent of Datsun classics, but also carries with it Nissan’s modern day styling cues. And the IDx Nismo reminds me of the old BRE Datsuns of yesteryear. Needless to say, the day they are announced, I will be laying my deposit down and anxiously awaiting delivery.”
I don’t totally see the BRE connection, but I know it’s the one Nissan’s trying to make. So much so that I ran into none other than Peter Brock, the namesake behind BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises), at the Nissan stand at the Detroit show. We talked for a moment and he asked me, “What do you think?” I’ve known Mr. Brock for a number of years so I manned up and told him that I liked the Freeflow concept better. He smiled and said, “Me too.” Interestingly, Nissan is not pushing the 510 connection. Somehow that’s been deemed too nostalgic. Rumor has it that internally the IDx was referred to as, “The Dime,” but that was quashed by a former executive. Who knows?
What I do know is that in the flesh and on the street (fine, our parking lot) I have to say that I now think the IDx Nismo is the better executed of the two. I’d also like to see the round mirrors from the Nismo wind up on the Freeflow. And if Nissan’s really trying to avoid the nostalgia trap, ditch the four-spoke wheels. Even spoke wheels just look so fuddy duddy. Like they’re standing still. A nice pair of lightweight alloy five spokes would be the veritable bomb. I’d like to see Nissan build both cars, a commuter version like the Freeflow and a hot and sporty Nismo variant.
Here’s why: people that like cars as something more than simply transportation devices dig the IDx. If media reports are to be believed, car ownership in the U.S. has peaked. Americans are learning ways to live without cars. Going forward, the people that buy cars are going to buy cars they’re emotionally attracted to. Now imagine if the IDx showed up packing the Juke Nismo’s 1.6-liter turbo good for something like 230 horsepower routed through a manual transmission that powered the rear wheels. Not only would I be attracted to it, I’d buy one. Moreover, people that are into cute cars like Mini Cooper and Fiat 500 would be right at home in a 160 hp IDx Freeflow. And if the first stop of Nissan’s IDx in Southern California tour is any indication, so would a whole bunch of Instagramming, chiliburger-slurping car freaks.
In conclusion: Hey Nissan! Build them!