By on May 21, 2021

Last week we challenged you to pick a Buy from V6 versions of the 2007 Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima, and Honda Accord. The overwhelming feeling in the comments was in favor of an Accord purchase (and I agree with you). Today though, we step back a decade to the 1997 model year.

Does the Accord still win your vote in the Nineties?

Honda Accord

In 1997 the fifth-generation Accord is in its last model year, finishing out its short run since 1994. Available with two doors as a coupe or four as sedan and wagon, the Accord uses various inline-four engines or a single V6 depending upon the market. Trims are many for the sedan and include Value Package, Special Edition, EX, DX, and LX. Top-spec is the EX with automatic and 2.7-liter V6, today’s choice. 170 horsepower travel through the four-speed automatic. With leather, the EX costs $22,650.

Nissan Maxima

The Maxima is midway through its fourth generation in 1997, a body style that continues through the model year 1999. Unlike the Accord, Maxima is available only as a four-door sedan. Trims are limited to SE, GXE, and GLE, with a five-speed manual transmission available at the lower two trim levels. All GLEs come equipped with a four-speed automatic, as we aren’t yet in CVT world. All examples are powered by the same 3.0-liter VQ30 V6, which means 190 smooth horses travel through the front wheels. A top trim GLE asks $26,899.

Toyota Camry

Camry is new for 1997, as Toyota introduces the XV20 follow-up to the landmark XV10 of 1992 to 1996. There’s no Camry wagon in the lineup, and the coupe becomes the separately labeled and styled Camry Solara which changes its customer base considerably. Camry sedan is available in CE, LE, and XLE trims, as SE fades away. A five-speed manual is available only in CE guise, with a 2.2-liter inline-four or the 3.0-liter V6. Said V6 creates 194 horsepower, routed through the four-speed auto in today’s pinnacle XLE V6. Yours for $24,088.

These three sedans have greater gaps in asking price in the Nineties than they do in the 2000s, but which one is worth your dollars?

[Images: Honda, Nissan, Toyota]

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56 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: V6 Midsize Japanese Sedans of 1997...”


  • avatar
    airfidget

    I couldn’t go with an ’07 Camry, but I’ll take it here.

    Buy the Camry.

    Drive the heck out of the Accord.

    Burn the maxima, but again, is a Maxima the competition here or is the Altima? I know they are blurred lines, hmm… I guess looking at wheelbases, it’s really blurred. Accord 106, Maxima 106, Camry 103, and Altima 103. Weird.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr.NotSoGoodWrench

      As I mentioned in comments last week, Altima is the direct competitor, not Maxima.

      –Corey responded with tape measure and cost comparisons, but the fact remains, that Altima, Camry, and Accord were the contemporary comparos in all the magazines. In this class, each car had a base 4 cylinder engine, with available V6. In contrast, Avalon and Maxima (Honda did not participate) were the default competitors in the larger class and were only available with V6 power.

      I can only assume Corey was too young to remember such comparos.

      • 0 avatar

        You don’t want me to cite a tape measure, but keep saying larger class of car.

        So ya know.

        • 0 avatar
          Mr.NotSoGoodWrench

          Perhaps you can find marketing materials or reviews from the era that comparred Maxima against Accord and/or Camry? I don’t think you will. If you do, I will happily eat a full load of crow!

          • 0 avatar

            https://www.motortrend.com/cars/honda/accord/2000/2000-honda-accord/

            Enjoy your bird dinner.

            Furthermore, in the series here which I created, I pick the cars. And a 4-cyl 1997 Altima does not compare to V6 Camry and Accord.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        In the last comparison you had a point, but this gen Altima had no V6 (Don’t think that came along until the third gen after the rturn of the millennium) and certainly apeared to be a smaller car back then. The Maxima of this gen was closer size wise IMHO to the other 2.

        Drive Nissan – These were good driving cars but no fun to work on as they aged…the V6 was 11 pounds of motor under a 10 pound hood.

        Buy Accord. We were still in peak Honda at this point.

        Burn Camrry. The first generation Camry that wasn’t better than the one that came before it. This was the car that started the cheapening at Toyota. Mother in law had one and I recall something about a sludgey V6 back in the day.

        • 0 avatar
          Mr.NotSoGoodWrench

          You are correct about the Altima V6 coming later. I was wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            RangerM

            @Mr.NotSoGoodWrench

            You weren’t wrong that Maxima wasn’t a direct competitor to Camry and Accord, though. At least, not in America.

            I was a car-buying adult when these cars were made.

            If you lived in the USA, and were shopping Camry/Accord, you were most likely cross-shopping 626/Galant (both also had a base 4, with optional V6), and the Altima. Maybe the Subaru Legacy, too.

            If you were shopping Maxima, you were most likely looking at Avalon, Diamante, and Millenia. All these had base 6-Cylinder engines, and were among a “near luxury” class; albeit with different flavors–Maxima probably the most sporting, Diamante/Millenia the most luxurious, and the Avalon being most like a Buick.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            I agree with @rangerm. The Maxima was a ‘step up’ in prestige. A not exact comparison but one that might illustrate how important image/name plate could be was how a Cougar in the 1960’s to early 1970’s was considered to be a ‘step up’ over a Mustang.

            Or how in Canada for decades dropping a Pontiac body, bright work and instrument panel on a Chev, or a Mercury body, bright work and chrome on a Ford created a more ‘prestigious’ auto.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Oh look, a good Nissan.

    Buy: Maxima
    Drive : Camry
    Burn : Honda

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      I agree. It was the last new Nissan Maxima I owned/leased of four starting with the 1989 (which was the highest-quality, best-built one of the bunch). Quality steadily declined as cheapness grew like cancer.

      It did, however, have a great engine when coupled with the five-speed.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Ugh, transmission choice.

    This is the first post-bubble Maxima, and the interior is regrettably cost-cut, but the powertrain is amazing for the time. The 3.0 FWD VQ is still one of the best. Overall, I’ll take this Max over the other two on a combination of looks and handling, but I’d be asking every day why it wasn’t a manual. Buy with regrets.

    The Camry vs. Accord choice is harder. The Accord is a better handler but the Camry wins everywhere else. With the four and a stick, the Accord would be the easy choice, but with these powertrains I think I have to drive the Camry and burn the Accord. The aged C27 just wasn’t a great engine by this point, whereas the 3.0L MZ was really nice.

    Corey, I think you’re mixing up your Accord trims. The EX V6 was the top trim, adding a sunroof, the pictured alloys, and some minor interior features to what you could get on the LX V6.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Also, if you decide to do ’97 American V6 sedans you should sub in the Grand Prix for the N-body Malibu. Duratec Contour vs 3800 Grand Prix should at least be a battle instead of another Ford rout like the ’07 was.

    The Cirrus is probably screwed though.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah I think that’s fair.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Grand Prix GT vs Eagle Vision vs Contour 2.5L would be very competitive I think. Although the commenters might get heartburn over the wheelbases.
        And the “burn all 3!!!!11” dorks.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Why are we comparing a compact (Contour) with midsizes (LH and W-body)? The proper 1997 comparison would be Duratec Taurus LX vs. 3.5L Eagle Vision vs. 3800 Grand Prix.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I feel like the Contour was a “tweener” size class and there’s more internet love for the Contour 2.5L vs the Oval Taurus. I’m more thinking what would be the most interesting matchup today vs what Motor Trend would have done back then.

          • 0 avatar

            Contour is European midsize but by US standards it is slightly stretched compact. So true midsize comparison will be Ford Scorpio vs Cadillac Catera (aka Opel Omega) vs Audi…BMW…sorry Chrysler 300M.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Definitely more love for the Contour than that Taurus, but if we’re going to compare the Duratec Contour it should be against a 3.1-powered Grand Am and a V6 cloud car. Granted that’s pretty miserable competition.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      One year later and I’d vote for the Olds Intrigue. Really an enjoyable drive.

  • avatar
    Mr.NotSoGoodWrench

    I recently inherited a garage kept base model ’96 (same generation) Maxima in good shape with only 126k miles. I have been driving this car daily, and am absolutely smitten with it.

    As mentioned by dal20402, the VG30DE engine is an absolute gem, and the automatic is actually excellent too. I have been seeing consistent 28 mpg mixed, and I find the car to be VERY comfortable and quiet. For a person accustomed to driving more modern iron, it is very refreshing to drive a car with a lower beltline–the larger greenhouse is so much more airy compared to the caves most contemporary sedans have become due to crash standards.

    As for my Maxima, EVERYTHING works except the cassette player–even the cruise control and A/C. I have examined the service history on my car, and it has received very little maintenance over the years, yet it runs flawlessly. My Maxima illustrates the tragedy of what happened to Nissan over the past two decades.

    The only things my Maxima needs after 24 years of use is a thermostat (stuck open) and struts at all four corners. Beyond that, I have a great daily that tickles me pink.

  • avatar
    dumblikeyouTu

    BURN the Maxima. That was the generation with the twist-beam crap suspension and cheap interior.
    Buy the Accord, especially that generation that still adhered to Honda low-beltline, low cowl, front wishbone suspension
    Drive the Toyota….of the cliff

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Buy Honda Accord
    Drive Nissan Maxima
    Burn Toyota Camry

    1997 was a good vintage for all three of these.
    1997 Altima – burn, Burn, BURN! I agree the Altima is class competitor for Accord and Camry. Having said this, I don’t even want to see a picture of a 1997 Altima. And to my knowledge the Altima did not offer a 6 cylinder in 1997, so Maxima it is.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    I’m sorry that Camry is hideous…

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      It’s looks were part of the cheapening of the Camry. Toyota decided to go for market share. Car mags covered it pretty extensively. That grill that looks like an office A/C diffuser is the result of cost cutting by putting assembly simplicity to the top of the priority list. The entire car is like that. Compare most surviving prior generation Camrys to this and you can see how much better the older generation held up compared to this one. Peeling paint, bumper covers that no longer match…this stuff started showing up when the 97s hit their 10th birthday. To be fair though, the Toyota V6 was still excellent and reliability did not suffer. But it was clear – the quality of the brand was on the decline.

      • 0 avatar
        quaquaqua

        Sorry, no. The previous-gen Camry was of course the gen that made everyone stand up and notice, but I see this gen Camry all over the road still. My neighbor has one from 99 with 300k miles and the interior is still perfect – headliner, seat fabric, all soft padded surfaces look terrific. My aunt’s ’04 Camry, on the other hand, had way cheaper plastics inside. Still running at 200k but you can see where they cut corners. This ’97 Camry was still class-leading.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    This one’s easy:

    Buy: Camry
    Drive : Accord
    Burn : Maxima

    My parents had a 1998 example of the Camry which still felt almost new when my brother totaled it last year. Accord was a better handler and better looking (to my eyes), but Camry was much smoother, quieter, and comfortable car which I feel is more important in this category.

    And Maxima? This was a car from the period when Nissan was busy fighting within itself, each division trying to one up each other more than satisfying their customers. And it shows. Burn it.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Buy the maxima drive the maxima burn the others.

    That said the accords and almost all maximas from this era are long gone. I still see camrys from this era everywhere every day. Shows how true toyota reliability is.

    Also this is when nissan was stil nissan and built quality. That all changed in 1999 when Renault took over. The product design improved but the quality nossedived. 2002 altima is the prime example.

  • avatar
    Crashdaddy430

    Buy: Honda

    Drive: Maxima

    Burn: Camry

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Agree with Crashdaddy, although this one hurts…

    That Maxima model was the last one that we owned in the family and that car was loved. It was an SE 5-speed. The engine/stick shift was so much fun. But the interior was so much cheaper feeling than the 1990 that we had, and the beam axle rear was clear cost cutting.

    I would have to
    Buy the Honda, even though the styling of that generation never grew on me. The rear just didn’t seem to fit the front. However, the interior was pure Honda and it oozed of quality.

    Drive the Maxima, just like my family did, but with the gnawing feeling that the previous gen, even with the awful robo-belts, was just a little bit better.

    Burn the Camry. I HATED JUST HATED that generation as much as I hated the 2008-era one. It also reeked of cost cutting and the styling was just dull. It had to compete with the Lexus-Camry from the previous gen and this just couldn’t do it.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    A decade earlier it would’ve been laughable to compare the Camry and Accord to the Maxima. It was the smarter alternative to the Audi 5000 or BMW 3-series, minus the snobbery or yuppiness. That had to be Peak Nissan.

    • 0 avatar

      Maxima has had quite the decline. I look for it to be cancelled very soon, and merged into Altima.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        @Corey Lewis – I think they’ll give Maxima one more generation. But I think it might be tied into what Nissan decides to do with Infiniti. Months ago, there were articles posted about “what ifs” with Infiniti, so I won’t repeat those. But with Nissan having new turbo engines, a (finally) new non-CVT transmission, and possibly an Infiniti platform to play with, and maybe this is some long ago Nissan fan-boy speaking, but I think the Maxima has so much name recognition that Nissan will give it one last gasp.

        If Nissan decides to shut down Infiniti, I’d bet that Nissan will get the leftovers and that’ll be the new Maxima – use the existing or modified Q50 platform. They’ll get their halo car back, and with AWD as an option. If Infiniti sticks around, then I’ll agree with you.

        The Japanese, some German makers, and Koreans are showing that people still want nice sedans, so I think it would be foolish for Nissan to toss it aside.

        • 0 avatar

          You know what? I’d like to see Infiniti offer a performance liftback as a differentiator. Not likely to happen, but still.

          I can’t see them making the Max RWD or on an Infiniti platform as it would be too expensive. I can see another FWD gen with a real transmission. But that’s not gonna save it.

          If Nissan kills Infiniti that is a major towel throw. I’d be very surprised.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Buy the Maxima, those were fantastic cars at a bargain price. Styling still holds up. Nissan still made good reliable cars then.

    Drive the Accord, Honda was still on a roll with that generation, except for the auto tranny behind the V6 models. Cars felt far more upscale compared to something like a Lumina or Taurus.

    Burn the Camry. Even though it’s likely the most reliable, I absolutely hate that generation’s exterior styling. But I owned the ES300 which it was built on and the car would have run forever and was fantastic.

  • avatar
    theonlydt

    Buy – Honda Accord Wagon. I would then blackmail all my friends into also buying, so that by the time 2020 rolls around there are still mainstream, midsize wagons available to purchase (I’d do awful, awful things for the chance to buy a Mazda6 wagon like they have in Europe). It’ll be reliable and lots of space blah blah blah, but seriously, this is all about trying to retain the viabilities of wagons in the NA marketplace.

    Drive – Maxima. Swweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet V6.

    Burn – Camry, of course. Once we get to the XV50 and XV70 Camrys, especially hybrids, I feel better. But I just can’t love the previously beige generations of Toyota like I should.

  • avatar
    2ACL

    Buy the Maxima. It was cost-cut compared to its predecessor, but not so much that it didn’t credibly continue its mission as a powerful, sporty, and reliable four-door.

    Drive the Accord. The C27 can’t hold a candle to the VQ30, and while this was peak Honda in terms of ergonomics, build quality, and handling, they still had a lot of work to do on mitigating road noise.

    Burn the Camry. I respect the hell out of its powertrain, as my third car (’96 ES 300) had the 1MZ-FE/4AT combo. And while this generation’s build quality regressed from that of its overachieving predecessor, it was still engineered and built well enough to outlast all of its period peers. But this also was the first of the Camrys with scary high speed/transitory handling thanks to some awful choices in damping (ride quality was good from a commuting standpoint though) that would persist for several more model generations.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Buy Honda, great engine and tranny – resale
    Drive Maxima because, Maxima
    Burn Toyota

    96 was peak Toyota and 97 was the first year of decontenting. It was just boring.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Buy and drive them all. In this series, that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    In ‘98 my wife needed a new car; the final candidates were the Volvo S70, Acura TL, and Maxima SE. I thought the Maxima was the best driver…maybe not the quality interior of the other 2, but most fun to drive. We ended up getting the Volvo for the same price as the Maxima so that’s what she chose. About 2 years into the loan we regretted our choice. The Volvo was maintenance nightmare.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    I bought a 96 Max GXE automatic new. Hands down, the best car I’ve ever owned. I put 290k on it with proper maintenance and minimum repairs. Gave it to my daughter who had 2 teenaged girls needing a car. They went over 300k on it when their dad discovered considerable rust on the radiator support and said goodbye to it. Sold it quickly and for all I know, it might still be running!

  • avatar
    make_light

    Wow, you can really see the face of this generation Accord echoed in the upcoming Civic.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Correct answer in 1997:
    – Buy the Maxima, if you knew how to drive like a self-absorbed jerk
    – Buy the Camry if you planned to keep it more than 6 years
    – Buy the Accord if you liked Honda, but consider buying a Civic instead

    – Burn most other 1997 midsize sedans
    – Burn almost every 1997 car in any smaller size category

    Correct answer in 2021:
    – Buy the 1997 Camry, because parts availability

  • avatar
    MoDo

    I had a 99 Maxima SE, it was a really good car. The 3.0L was a perfect mix of power and efficiency. I later had a 2003 Maxima SE with the 3.5L and that thing was a fuel pig.

  • avatar
    renewingmind

    Buy Maxima – 90’s Maximas rocked. Back when Nissan made cars that were desirable and great to drive.

    Drive Camry – the 95-99 V6 Camry had a great engine and was completely bulletproof. I drove a 97 Camry for a week, and then a 2015 Altima the next week. The entire time I wanted the Camry back.

    Burn Accord – the Accord was king in the 80’s and overshadowed in the 90’s. The 2000’s the accord was good again, but this is the weak sauce of the three cars here.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    I had a maxima just like the black one pictured (except for the gold badging). SE with the white gauge faces, sweet VQ. Sawblade alloys. Roomy backseat, comfortable, dead reliable. It was my first 6 cylinder and man, I wore I would never go back to a 4 cylinder after that car. Definitely the driver of the bunch.

    Buy the honda I guess. My parent’s had the 97 Camry. Burn it not because it’s bad, just that nothing of importance is lost in the fire.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    I owned a 97 Maxima SE. Green. Best car I ever owned.Drive that
    So buy the Accord(my dad had an Accord of that era. Also dark green). Great car as well
    Burn the Camry, I guess. An ex of minevhad one just like pictured one. Another great car. Just boring as hell.
    This hard, as these were great cars. No shit box Chrysler product. Or the trash Ford made at the tome

  • avatar
    Bill Henderson

    I know it’s not a sedan (same year), but my wife chose her 97 Lexus SC300 with a straight 6/RWD over all these about 10 years ago. She still drives and loves that car.

  • avatar

    My brother bought a 96 GXE manual Max used when he graduated high school in 2001. Great car. Bose sound system huge interior very roomy one of the few cars where the seat was too far back when adjusted all the way for my 6’3″ self. Blast to drive. My brother got in a fender bender in it around 2004-5 and bought a G35X. My father took the maxima threw a fender on it painted it a weird shade of blue and drive it until the control arm mount rotted away and the wheel flew off on a RR crossing at around 20 years old and 255k miles.

  • avatar
    John R

    This is tough.

    Drive: Maxima
    Buy: Accord
    Burn: Camry (only because one has to burn. this vintage of both Accord and Camry were solid)

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    I made nearly the exact same comparo in 2002 when I was looking to by a 3YO ’99 off-lease.

    Ignored the Honda because I don’t want vanilla even if competent, and burned the Massimo because it wasn’t a 4DSC any longer.

    Wound up with a GREAT deal on an Avalon XLS Platinum that was so totally Buick it was wonderful…in all black it was a well-composed limo. Much better than the Camry, having had two already by then.

  • avatar
    Mr. Monte

    That Black Max in the 1st pic is not a 97, it’s pre facelift 95 or 96! It would be good as others have said to have the proper competitors buy/drive/burn; Max, Avalon, TL, Diamante etc. Are we gonna see a Lexus GS or LS versus an ES or it’s proper competitors in the market 5 series, A6 for GS and 7 series, A8 for LS. No one wants there Lexus GS or BMW 5 series compared to a Lexus ES!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    There are really no losers here. I bought a 1996 Altima, but I was really tempted to add another year or so to the loan and buy a Maxima. (I paid under $16,000 new for my Altima, well below the base versions of the Accord or Camry.) I test-drove an SE-5-speed, and it was fun, a lot less boring than either the Accord or Camry. Since I have to pick one, I’d say buy the Honda. Drive the Nissan, burn the Toyota. Truthfully though, there wasn’t a bad car in the batch.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Buy: Camry. You couldn’t get a more reliable mid size sedan back in 97 (and I think that still stands today).
    Drive: Maxima. VQ30 is a great engine, it must be a fun ride.
    Burn: Accord. Those early Honda V6 were thirsty and not quicker than the 4 cyl Accords. It also looked old. Not a bad vehicle in any way but it was edged by the other two.

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