Unlike its third generation which had the upmarket sporty sedan segment largely to itself, when the fourth generation Maxima (A32) arrived in 1995 there were numerous new competitors from all directions. In its home market, the American-centric Maxima faded away and was replaced by the more internationally flavored Cefiro. Notably, the Cefiro wore Infiniti I30 styling in advance of its North American debut. In addition to the handful of variants for other markets like the Maxima QX and QX (which both wore Cefiro clothes), the A32 Maxima was also transformed into a very important car for the Korean market. Let’s talk about some business deals.
It turned out that 1994 was a high point for the Nissan Maxima. The third-generation sedan was just about the ideal mix of driving dynamics, quality, luxury, and whiz-bang tech features. It was offered in well-equipped GXE trim for lovers of comfort, and sportier SE for Sports Enthusiasts (or something). After its introduction for the 1989 model year, Nissan made relatively few changes to its impressive sedan.
Sales were around 100,000 units in its first two years, and then around 85,000 for the next two years. But in its final model year of 1994 the third gen’s sales nearly doubled, to 163,138. It was time for a new Maxima in 1995. It was a generation that branched out to become other interesting vehicles but also started the model’s decline.
The new third-generation (J30) Nissan Maxima went in a bold new direction from its predecessors. Larger, more luxurious, more technologically savvy, and better made than the first two, the third Maxima was the first to cater to the North American market. The Maxima’s sudden transformation was so complete that it diverged from its former sibling the Bluebird to become an entirely separate model. First up today, we consider 4DSC styling.
After its short-lived first generation outing as a rear-drive car from 1981 to 1984, the PU11 Maxima of 1985 adopted the front-engine, front-wheel drive format the Maxima kept permanently. But that wasn’t the only precedent set by the PU11, as Nissan decided to move forward with V6 engine configurations and leave the inline-six in the past.
The addition of the sporty SE trim with its monochromatic details, and fancy electronic options like a Sonar Suspension System were both indications of where Nissan was headed with the Maxima. It was a sportier and more interesting direction than its stiffest competition, the staid and conservative rear-drive Cressida. Sales showed what buyers preferred, as the Maxima outsold the Cressida many times over throughout the mid-Eighties. And at the end of the decade, Nissan gave customers more of what they wanted with the very first 4DSC, a four-door sports car.
After its first few years as an 810, 910, Datsun by Nissan, Maxima by Datsun, Datsun/Nissan, and similar, the Maxima settled into its permanent home under Nissan branding. The well-equipped compact sedan sold over 198,000 copies in the United States between 1982 and 1984 (‘82 is the earliest year sales data is available) before an all-new Maxima arrived in 1985. With its second generation, Nissan veered off to distinguish the Maxima from its most direct competition, Toyota’s Cressida. Picture it, October 1984.
With the recent and not surprising news of the Nissan Maxima’s planned demise in 2023, it’s time for a Rare Rides retrospective on a nameplate that was once lauded as one of the best sporty sedans on the market. From its origins as a rear-drive Datsun to the eighth generation that’s a shadow of its former self, the Maxima persisted with its unique value proposition: That it was a step up from the standard Japanese family sedan. Our story begins in Japan, with the Bluebird range.
The PU11 Nissan Maxima was among the Japanese sedans to experience a complete identity shift in the mid-Eighties. Nissan was rebranding itself from a discount Datsun identity and took Maxima upmarket. Packed with technology and on its way to the 4DSC identity that defined the model, the Maxima deserves a place at the table with the V20 Camry and CA Accord. Let’s get technical.
Breathtaking, isn’t it? Just the right size, its lovely proportions carry off a premium look well. It was always a cut above the Camry and Accord with its superior drive and buttery smooth VG30 V6 as standard. Four-door Sports Car it was called, 4DSC stickers proudly on display. Nissan had a winner with that Maxima. But that Maxima was three decades ago, and after an experience with a 2020 Maxima, I’m here to tell you Nissan most definitely gives no more shits about its most expensive sedan.
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?
In contrast to the Try Very Hard Japanese sedans of the Nineties, the early and mid-2000s period was a time for Japanese manufacturers to rest upon their laurels. It was a time to save some cash, and put in a bit less effort than in the tiring decade prior.
And lucky you, today you get to pick one to buy.
Even as Toyota kept the Cressida a rear-wheel-drive first cousin to the sporty Supra (sales of that car continued here well into the 1990s), Nissan moved the formerly-Z-based Maxima to a front-wheel-drive platform for the 1985 model year. The new, roomier Maxima continued to be loaded with futuristic electronic gadgetry and a Z-Car engine, and sales of the wagon version continued all the way through the 1988 model year. Here’s a well-traveled ’86 Maxima wagon in a Denver-area car graveyard.
Nissan’s Maxima turns 40 this year.
“This year” is a tricky statement, of course, since the year of production isn’t necessarily the same as the model year, but whether you mark it from the beginning of production in 1980 or the first model year in 1981, either way you slice it, the Maxima is hitting the big 4-0.
And Nissan is marking the milestone with a special edition package. Naturally.
Nissan’s future will not see it become everything to everyone, and certainly not in all markets. The 2010s, and the market share-chasing, globe-straddling expansionism that characterized that decade’s car-buying orgy, are violently over.
Also soon to be over, apparently, is the Nissan Maxima’s gasoline-powered powertrain.
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