By on August 29, 2016

1996 Nissan Maxima GXE in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Maxima has been with us since the 1981 Datsun 810 Maxima, which became the Datsun Maxima, then the Datsun Maxima by Nissan, and finally the Nissan Maxima.

Starting out as a Z-car-based sporty sedan, it grew into an electronic-gadget-packed luxury sedan, then became bigger, more powerful, and less crazy with each successive generation until we arrived at the current competent-but-not-particularly-exciting Maxima.

The fifth-generation Maxima, made for the 1994 through 1999 model years, seems to be the last for which the manual-transmission option was selected by a significant minority of buyers; you could get one after 1999, but I never see anything but automatics in my junkyard travels.

Here’s a mean-looking ’96 that I spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area wrecking yard.

1996 Nissan Maxima GXE in California junkyard, clutch pedal - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This is the first post-second-generation Maxima I have photographed for this series; prior to today, we have seen this ’81 Datsun 810 Maxima, this ’82 Datsun Maxima, this 1984 Nissan Maxima, this 1985 Nissan Maxima, and this 1986 Nissan Maxima station wagon.

1996 Nissan Maxima GXE in California junkyard, speedometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

I have ridden in a couple of fifth-generation Maximas, but I can’t recall whether Nissan kept the once-futuristic voice announcements that far into the 1990s. The phonograph-based Voice Warning System used in the 1981-1984 models was so science-fictiony that Nissan recreated the system using digital hardware and samples of the same announcements for the mid-to-late-1980s Maxima.

1996 Nissan Maxima GXE in California junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The VQ30 3.0-liter V6 made an impressive-for-the-mid-90s 190 horsepower, and this car could run well into the 15s in the quarter-mile. The GXE was the base trim level, and it listed for $20,999 — more than ten grand cheaper than the far-less-fun Lexus ES300. Of course, you could get a far-less-practical-but-much-quicker Camaro Z28 for just under $20,000 in 1996, but there wasn’t much overlap between Maxima and Camaro shoppers.

1996 Nissan Maxima GXE in California junkyard, seat fabric - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This car has proper Japanese-style cloth seats, not noisy and uncouth leather.

The Maxima in this ad has an automatic transmission and no evidence of the front-tire-roasting madness you could enjoy with this car. The Japanese-market ads for this car (called the Cefiro in its homeland) were a little more exciting.

The Air Force has the Stealth. Music has Sinatra. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. We have this.

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45 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1996 Nissan Maxima GXE, with Five-Speed...”


  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Why so many pedals? That’s scary.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Pedantry note- this is a 4th gen Maxima. The 1st was that square RWD half-Datsun thing in the early 80s; then the 2nd gen was the talking square FWD thing in the mid to late 80s. The following was that “4DSC” in the early 90s with the Hoffmeister kink and this followed that.

    I got one as a hand me down for my first car. It was beautiful- black on black leather, 5 speed. My dad ordered it and I think had one of the first of them ever made. When I got it I didn’t really know much about cars except that I liked them. A succession of bad decisions and lack of car knowledge had it slip out of my hands, but it was a blast when I had it.

    I am still fond of them- the VQ30 was super balanced and overall the car was very quiet (I think its Cd was 0.3 even). The rear beam suspension was pretty awful over rough roads, and the front suspension didn’t take kindly to the lowering that was necessary to make the car look good IMO (2.5-3″). My biggest pet peeve with these was that manual transmission though- good gawd. Awful clutch and shifter. This could have been a 14 second car with a better transmission. If I did another one I think I’d have to swap in the later 3.5L and 6 speed transmission. ~250HP, 3000lbs, better refinement than a same year RX300… would make for a sick highway commuter.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      What aspects of refinement does a tuner Maxima excel in relative to an RX300? This word refinement; I do not think it means what you think it means.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        My mom had her RX at the same time I had my Maxima. About the same age & my Maxima had more miles. Her engine was nowhere near as smooth stock as mine was, even with an intake and exhaust. Maxima’s interior materials were better too. It surprised me.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          sporty, highly doubtful. Having dabbled in Nissans a tad now (driven a 4th gen, own a 5th gen), they are definitely less refined than an equivalent-year Camry, closer to an Accord if anything, but with cheaper fit/finish/build quality. My Maxima with brand new struts still doesn’t ride particularly well (by my standards) and my ’00 interior is definitely worse for the wear in terms of the rubberized coating on interior trim becoming sticky and scratching off. Something must have been seriously wrong with the RX300.

          The motor is an absolute jet turbine, the rest of the vehicle that is wrapped around it is thoroughly mediocre IMO. 4th gens are somewhat less cost cut, and I’m guessing if you went back to the IRS third gen car those are the best in terms of overall build quality and interior materials.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            Nissan definitely put the bulk of the money into the engine and left a little over for the dashboard and uplevel leather trims. The rest of the car is about on the level of something out of GM for the time. No argument there. But yes the VQ30 was more refined than Toyota’s V6 at the time, no question about that.

            CoreyDL learn to read- nowhere did I say the VQ35 was refined; I was talking about the VQ30. VQ35 IS fun on the highway (my last car was a Z and I’ve driven pretty much every VQ35 equipped car) because it makes boatloads of low and midrange torque.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Are -you- sure of what you wrote?

            “I think I’d have to swap in the later 3.5L and 6 speed transmission. ~250HP, 3000lbs, better refinement than a same year RX300… would make for a sick highway commuter.”

            You were talking of the VQ35, and refinement, and the RX300.

            “nowhere did I say the VQ35 was refined”

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          So you think the Toyota 3.0 is less refined than the VQ35.

          As a VQ35 owner, I snicker in your general direction.

          You think the VQ35 is better for highway commuting than the VQ30.

          The snicker turns into a chuckle.

          And the RX300 interior pales in comparison to a Maxima.

          My eyes are watering now.

          • 0 avatar
            KalapanaBlack

            Having owned a 1998 Maxima with a VQ30 (and five speed! In gorgeous “rosewood metallic” which my friends called “Barney purple”), a Mitsubishi 6G74 in a 2002 Diamante, and now 3 Toyota 1MZ-FEs in 1995-99 Avalons, I can say the Toyota engine is the most refined of the three, but also the most appliance-like. Definitely smoother (the only one of the three with hydaulic engine mounts) but simply makes its power rather than any excitement. The Nissan was a little more fun, and almost as smooth, but in a more technically elegant way. No undue noises, slightly rougher, peakier, but a little playful. The Mitsubishi was technically less spohisticated, gruffer, more down to earth, and way more fun than either. Torque steer, mechanical induction noises, a nice growl at WOT, and still far better all around than the unsophisticated but torque-heavy GM 3.8s I grew up around.

    • 0 avatar
      LS1Fan

      My hand me down was also a 4th Gen. 1995 SE, loaded-but automatic.

      Refinement? Hahahahahahahahahah…..ok.

      Basically Nissan used the F body engineering formula, and it showed. Sweet engine, but the rest of the car was junk.

      The rear twist beam axle combined with the straight line power meant turns were dicier then a Mustang leaving a C&C event. Nissan should have called this the Datsun Understeer-until that beam axle hit a bump mid corner, then look out. For all the crap GM got for its unrefined cars of the same era, at least they had IRS by the late 90s. It took the 6th Gen for Nissan to get the memo.

      The backseat was equally as impractical as an F-Body. My stepdad was no fool giving this car to me as a teenager- because any hormone motivated experimentation with the ladies needed to happen elsewhere.

      Highway cruising was a pain. Nissan clearly had a weight target to meet, and they met it with the furvor of a Hollywood actress. So , tinfoil sheet metal thickness and dollar store sound deadening. This Maxima made a 1999 Grand Am door feel like a BMW’s.

      Yeah ,it was a rocket in a straight line- even in 4 speed configuration it served more then a few SN95 and New Edge Mustang GTs. A few choice mods could make them even quicker.

      But , ultimately you still have a FWD family sedan. Which doesn’t even have IRS.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnster

      The 3rd generation that was built from about 1989 to 94 was really good for its time and a step above the 4th generation. The 4th generation with the beam rear axle never rode or handled as well as the 3rd generation ones and had a really stiff suspension.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Many Gtems also have such a car.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      There are many Gtems in my country. They are an educated People.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Almost done with the last of the paint and body work, need to do the rear brakes, and then just a bit more polishing up and she’s ready to ship off down the line.

      If it weren’t for the rust issue, I definitely would hang onto it.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You think you’ll be able to break even on what you’ve spent on it?

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Should be able to at least break even or make a few hundred. I’m into it about $2100 total. With the refreshed cosmetics and some good photos and a well written ad, and undercutting the rustier and rougher maximas on the local CL on price by a few hundred, I’m hoping for a pretty quick sale.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Well here’s hoping. It’s always exciting in a car-nerd way to me to sell something quickly.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            The most rational thing would be to just hang tight with the 4Runner for the winter and not buy a beater to replace the beater Maxima, and that’s what I’ll probably do. But the other night I found myself looking at a clean local ’95 W124 E320 (single family owned since new, 132k miles) and thinking “hey at least it wouldn’t have rust issues.”

            To a degree, I’m beginning to think that Euro-car ownership may sort of make sense to me: if I’m going to inevitably be spending a bunch of time wrenching on an older vehicle, might as well wrench on something that’s really nice to drive. The other big thing is the much better rust-proofing (in general) of German and Swedish cars compared to similar year Japanese and American stuff. Having said that, there’s a whole spectrum of Euro stuff as far as what is manageable to use as a fairly affordable/reliable DD, and what will bankrupt you. The clean 91k mile W140 S320 with “just a coolant leak” that caught me eye is probably the latter. I think I’m just being a bit too influenced by my hero you-tuber in Russia with his garage-ridden W140 S600.

            indianapolis.craigslist.org/cto/5732802769.html

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            No, but you will get to replace the entire biodegradable wiring harness if that hasn’t been done already.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    One small point: the Maxima was never based upon the Z. The only connection was the creation of the car that became the Maxima’s predecessor, the 810 which was fitted with the inline six from the Z car. Aside from this and the usual parts-bin sharing, any other connection to the Z is marketing hype.

    Having said all that, as the lessee of two of these Maximas (a ’95 and a ’97 SE with 5-speeds), I have to say I’m torn. While they were decent cars (with a great motor), they really served to show how much cost-cutting Nissan did compared to the previous Maxima (of which I owned an ’89 5-speed and leased a’93 5-speed). The ’89 was, perhaps, the best front-wheel drive sedan of its era. I cross-shopped it with an SHO Taurus and I’m absolutely convinced I made the right choice.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Pedantry note- the A32 Cefiro was sold here as the Infiniti I30. That was the one you bought if you didn’t like the ES300 for whatever reason. A few years ago, I saw an I30 parked next to an ES300- both were that classy Japanese pearl over tan. I would have snapped a pic if I’d had my phone.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      A family friend in Russia upgraded from a totally beaten up Volga GAZ-31029 (think Russian GM B-body) to a clean A32 Nissan Cefiro in the early 2000s, I remember him picking us up from the airport in it. My brother pointed out to him the he was driving with the overdrive off this whole time. The engine being so smooth compared to just about anything else on the roads there at the time and the total lack of familiarity with an automatic transmission meant that this guy never even realized his error. A few years later the Cefiro was quickly succumbing to a total lack of care coupled with terrible Siberian roads. It was sad to see it go downhill so quick, through no fault of the car mind you.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Nissan also used the I30’s design for the Renault Samsung SM520 (just SM5 today), generation one and two, over in the South Korean market. Have a look.

      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/20101003_renault_samsung_sm5_001.jpg

      The base 520 was more Maxima-like than the 520V, the luxury variant. Ignore the link text descriptors, as that person is plainly an idiot.

      http://img13.deviantart.net/3ed0/i/2009/299/5/c/different_rear_of_samsung_sm5_by_kia_motors.jpg

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I got to drive one of these with the five-speed a few times. Nice shift and clutch feel, and nice acceleration.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Ah the wonderful 90s: The VQ30 3.0-liter V6 made an impressive-for-the-mid-90s 190 horsepower

    I so wanted a Maxima so bad in the 90s. I ended up with a ’97 Altima instead, the first gen with the KA24DE engine and a 5-speed. Whoo-wee that performance ;)

    • 0 avatar
      Higheriq

      Same here – wanted a 5-speed Maxima in the late 90’s (to replace a 96 Taurus, the transmission in which had decided to expire just after the warranty expired). But I ended up with a 97 Altima 5-speed (solely due to price), which considering everything, really wasn’t a bad car at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I had that engine in a ’95 Altima. Admit it, you didn’t miss that extra 40 HP anyway.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I had the 1997 version of this car (it’s the same) with the 5 speed manual transmission. I bought it new near the end of the model year; the salesman was anxious to move it because of the manual, no one wanted it.

    I enjoyed its power, driving it about 100,000 miles before selling it to a neighbor’s college age son. Other than one power window quitting on it, I never had a problem with that car, very consistent and reliable! That said, it was a bit boring in spite of its grunt – it just wasn’t the kind of car that you could get excited about.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I drove a friend’s datsun maxima 5speed MT as a teenager, I think it was 81 or 82 MY. It was the first front wheel drive six cyl. MT I had ever driven. It was quite fun and was the oh so japanese combo of light blue over blue velour. I think she drove that one well over 180k, I think it had over 120k when I drove it and it was tight as a drum.
    The second generation boxy flared-out was absolutely gorgeous in black over tan interior(also velour). It was 80s sports sedan icon where USDM could only compete with 6000STEs and Eurosport chevys.Let’s not forget the Cressida from Toyota, a bit more conservative styling but in my opinion was the first lexus.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I like the looks of this generation more than any other to wear the Maxima name. I’d take a clean SE 5-speed.

    That said, I’d much rather have a 1979 or older Datsun 810 with its smooth Inline 6 and classy look. Coupe would be great, but a sedan or wagon would do. I’d consider upgrading to a 2.8L I-6 over the factory 2.4L.

  • avatar
    TrstnBrtt89

    I’ve always loved this generation of Maxima. It just seemed so different to any other Japanese cars on the road at the time. Way more exciting than an Accord or *shudder* Camry. The design has definitely aged well.

  • avatar

    my sister bought a brand new 99 SE. Fast car, but so much road noise, it made her 84 Sunbird seem like a limo-quiet in comparison. Plenty of room inside, but yeah, build quality was pretty mediocre for materials.

    Hers was an automatic, but I’ve driven the manuals, and absolutely HATED the feel of that incredibly vague and rubbery shifter – it’s so bad it makes the crap GM put out on the muscle cars of yore feel rifle-like and and precise.

    Still a good looking car though.

  • avatar
    Bonzai

    I’ve always had a soft spot for this gen Maxima. Wasn’t much of a looker but the VQ30’s a bulletproof engine. This was the last Nissan that exemplified Japanese reliability and durability.

  • avatar
    skloon

    A girlfriend of mine had one of these with the top level trim, I loved it till she said her husband was wondering about the photo radar tickets he was getting- this put a bit of a crimp in the relationship to put it mildly, I still miss the Maxima though

  • avatar
    john66ny

    I still miss my ’98 5-speed some days. Only reason I got rid of it was when the second kid came along, two car seats plus a 100-lb dog didn’t work in the back seat. Moved to a Legacy GT Wagon, which is granted a bit more powerful and fun to drive but where was something about that normally aspirated VQ…

  • avatar
    Rochester

    I bought a 1999 Maxima SE 5MT brand new 17 years ago. It was a classy, nimble, sporty sedan.

    I bought a 2003 Maxima SE 6MT brand new 13 years ago. It was way ahead of every other car in its market. And it was a great platform for some very effective bolt-on modifications.

    The Maxima died for me and countless thousands of Maxima enthusiasts with the CVT in 2006, and the absence of a proper manual transmission.

    R.I.P.

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