The cars we loved.
The Nissan Maxima had started out as a dowdy looking compact rear wheel drive sedan at the beginning of the 80’s. It was the largest car ever produced by Nissan in the American market. By the second generation introduced in the Fall of 1984, a sportier more performance oriented car had evolved. This time it shared the same 3.0 L V6 with the 300ZX and was now front wheel drive. With 157 hp, available 5-speed transmission (SE only) and four wheel disc brakes, the Maxima unofficially launched the Japanese Performance sedan market in America.
The angular design combined with large 15in wheels and low profile tires made for an aggressive appearance. Toyota responded with it’s Cressida, but Nissan’s Maxima looked and performed better. The term “Four door sports car” or 4DSC was developed around this time as Nissan sought to position the Maxima as a European import competitor.
The media responded positively, noting that the Maxima 0 to 60 time of around 10 seconds out performed many sports and gt cars of the day. The public took to the Maxima in a big way, making it a popular seller. Buyer s had many options to choose from as the Maxima was offered three flavors, the base GL, GXE and SE. Generally the SE was the sportiest coming only with a 5 speed manual transmission. The GXE usually was loaded with comfort and convience features, and the GL was stripped down. Regardless of trim level, all Maximas shared a sporting nature derived from a fully independent sports tuned suspension.
The Maxima was not unlike many Japanese cars from the era that employed technology ranging from practical to ridiculous. The options list was long and complicated, with packages that stressed, comfort, convience or performance. All the expected gadgets were included, but some novel features like the sonar suspension system made the Maxima stand out.
The sonar system scanned road surfaces and adjust the ride accordingly. It lasted for a few years and was replaced with a more conventional driver adjustable suspension in the third generation car in 1989. For a brief time, the second generation Maxima was available as a station wagon, as it had been through most of its development until 1985. Having a wagon did nothing to distract from the image of sportiness Nissan had been cultivating with the Maxima. 1987 was the last year for the wagon option, but it’s general look carried on with the smaller Stanza. The overall look of the Maxima changed very little from year to year with the biggest and most obvious changes occuring with wheels and minor interior treatments.
The Maxima signaled many first for the Japanese auto industry, like the first high volume mass produced V6 engine for use in America. Perceptions of Japanese cars as weak 4 cylinder powered boxes changed as the Maxima signaled a new era for Asian imports. Today we take high performance Japanese sedans for granted, but the Maxima was the first one and can trace its conceptual heritage to the high powered Infiniti, Acura and Lexus sport sedans of today.