Cars fanciful and frugal at Nissan display

With its original Murano sport-crossover vehicle, Nissan brought a dash of high style to mass-market SUVs, a trend that would spread throughout the industry.

The automaker used the Detroit auto show on 15 January to unveil the Resonance Concept, a design study that expresses Nissan’s plan to push its crossover styling forward. Of course, the rest of the industry has caught up. Swoopy crossovers have colonised all the major international motor shows, and it takes a special design to rise above the flotsam.

The Resonance concept does a commendable job, wearing a grille treatment reminiscent of Volvo’s handsome XC60 and recent Nissan design elements such as so-called “boomerang” taillights. The interior is equally ambitious, with a centre console dominated by a prominent digital display of Tesla Model S proportions. Unlike the Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis Concept introduced in Detroit on Monday, the Resonance appears as something that could enter production within a few years as the next Murano.

Of what few technical details provided, Nissan said the concept employed a hybrid-electric powertrain and an evolution of the brand’s continuously variable transmission. Should the Resonance evolve into a Murano, it would be built in Canton, Mississippi, where the brand assembles its Altima sedans as well as some trucks and SUVs for the North American market.

Less daring but ready to contest the subcompact-hatchback wars worldwide was the Versa Note, which debuted in Japan last July. The Note is the hatchback complement to the recently updated Versa sedan, and echoes the shape of the Invitation concept introduced at the 2012 Geneva motor show. In North America it will share its powertrain, a 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission, with its sedan counterpart.

When it goes on sale in the US in summer 2013, the Note will cost $13,990 excluding destination charge: a premium of $2,000 over than the Versa sedan. The Versa lineup by multiple names will figure heavily in emerging markets.

And on Monday, with little fanfare, Nissan announced the introduction of a fewer-frills trim level for the brand’s purely electric car, the Leaf, which will carry a suggested retail price of $28,800 in the US, excluding destination charge – approximately $3,000 less than the current base price. Accounting for US federal tax credits and state rebates, the Leaf would be a comparatively upscale proposition among the bare-bones EVs sush as the Smart EV and Chevrolet Spark EV. Nissan recently began North American production of the Leaf at its assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee.