In most instances, the best car values are found when expensive cars depreciate to the point of purchase for regular folk, with pricey maintenance and repairs being the inevitable elephant in the room. But sometimes, the best bang for your hard-earned dollar is right in front of your face.
The Nissan Maxima remains, to this day, a flagship model for the Japanese automaker, spanning a production run of three decades, with eight generations of cars from its inception to the current iteration. Although the first two generations were great competitors to Honda’s Accord and Chrysler’s K-car, the most notable additions happened in the early 1990s to early 2000s, as these were the most experimental and iconic variants of the ubiquitous model.
The 3rd generation (1989-1994) Maxima, also known as the model that spawned the 4-Door Sports Car, or 4DSC label, was a particularly good looker, and although it was designed and released in the late 80s, it had a quintessentially ‘90s look. It doesn’t resemble anything new today, but it is unashamedly retro, with a reliable simplicity that was a sign of a time when the phrase “everything you need, and nothing you don’t” was taken quite literally. Even in base trim, the car was equipped with all the amenities of something you’d find putting off the showrooms today, save for a fancy-ass navigation, because what are ya, too good to use a map?!
The bread and butter of the marque, however, was the 4th and 5th generations - the ones that also were the first to feature the stellar VQ30DE and VQ35DE engines. The 4th generation (1995-1999), pictured at the top of this article, in addition to being my very first car, had one of the most pleasing shapes for a four-door car in the ‘90s. It had sweeping, almost bubbly curves that gave the car a molded, rather than chiseled look. I was absolutely enamored with it when I purchased my first one at 18, and I still hold the aesthetic of the car in high regard.
The 5th generation (2000-2003) expanded on the design language, giving the car more of a pissed-off-gorilla look and more of the avant-garde Japanese styling that made iconic imports like Toyota’s Altezza (known as the Lexus IS300 in the States) so popular with customers young and old alike. Just take a look at just one of the frankly awesome commercials Nissan came up with for the 5th gen:
Although the ad lent itself to exaggeration, the car’s acceleration was (and still is) quite sprightly, in no small part helped by the fact that...
In the mid-90s, as most car makers were trying to figure out how to make an anti-lock braking system that didn’t bankrupt the company, Nissan was hard at work making the Maxima as light as physically possible. The result was a four-door sedan that had ample room for five adults, power everything, an optional five-speed manual transmission, and a fully-laden weight of a nearly a quarter and half a ton less than than its American and German competitors, respectively.
I’ll illustrate this fact with a personal anecdote: at a 1/4 mile track day with my first car, a 1998 Maxima GLE with all available options and a converted manual transmission with some gaudy subwoofers in the trunk, I placed it on the scales at the weigh station, and came up with a total of 2,860 lbs. My car wasn’t a gutted road racer with a single bucket seat and no sound deadening, it was in full daily driver trim, with dual power leather seats and four airbags. This car was lighter than any Mustang or Camaro of the period, while having one hell of a torque curve coming from its rev-happy and powerful dual-overhead-cam VQ engine, which translated into the fact that...
This car wasn’t fast for a four-door, it was fast, full stop. Although it wasn’t a supercar killer out of the box, a few key mods that opened up intake and exhaust inhaling and exhaling led the car to develop more than 200 horsepower at the wheels in the 4th generation variants, and 260+ wheel horsepower in the 5th generation, 3.5 liter generations. With more extensive modding, with power adders such as nitrous oxide, turbos and/or superchargers, power output could be pushed regularly to over 400 at the wheels, which is quite insane when you consider that it’s a front wheel drive car. Also, it had a rear beam suspension which meant that it wasn’t the best handler in the corners, suffering catastrophic understeer in any sort of serious racing application, so it was more of a straight-line track cruiser that certainly surprised the usual turnout of muscle cars on Test and Tune night at the dragstrip.
Here’s a video featuring the fastest Maxima drag pass (to my knowledge), made by JimE, a guy in Canada that swapped out the stock 3.0 engine in his car to a more potent 3.5 liter powerplant, added a high-stall torque converter to his, get this, stock automatic transmission, and gave it a generous helping of nitrous oxide. Along with some humorously small drag slicks, it allowed him to run a time that would go toe-to-toe with a Mclaren MP4 or Corvette ZR1. It wasn’t a one-time shot, either. JimE has been bracket racing for years, and his setup is built for consistency and reliability, so the obviously over-engineered engine, when pushed, doesn’t pack up and quit. And having a great example of a racing setup that is ultimately reliable is paramount to any prospective owner, because it’s shows that...
It’s a car that can be purchased on a minimum-wage budget and kept on the road with a shoestring budget. Take a look at this shining example, it’s a fully-loaded car with black leather, less than 100,000 miles, a valid inspection sticker and a manual transmission, and it sold for peanuts.
The deals don’t end there, even the later models, with the 3.5 liter engine and six-speed transmission can be had for way less than the down payment on some soulless tribute to economic hardship. It makes sense to drive something that you own outright, with enough power, reliability, and ease to repair yourself or at reasonable cost at any reputable mechanic.
There are no expensive modules that need replacing, the electronics are damn near bulletproof, the engine takes the worst kinds of abuse for years on end, there are no timing belts to change, and as long as you maintain the oil and fluids for the most part, it can make it to half a million miles without so much as a rebellious cough. In addition to the discount you’ll get on parts because the cars are absolutely everywhere, ownership of the car afford your entry into an indispensable online resource, proving that...
Some of you may have read how nearly a decade ago, I had my beloved Maxima stolen and stripped the day after I finished a costly and arduous engine swap. As I was picking up the pieces left by the unscrupulous bandits, the community took charge, donating parts and money to the cause of getting my car back on the road, and this is the best part - this is not the first time it has happened.
Forums such as Maxima.org and the no-longer-running NYCMaximas.org have given me some of the best human interactions I’ve ever encountered, with people I still converse with to this day. As with any forum, there’s a certain amount of vitriol and snark, but the underlying theme of the Maxima community in particular is a place for lovers of the model to come together, trade stories and learn more about what makes the surprisingly fast, light, and good looking car tick. I’ve spent years devoted to the car and its forums, and I don’t regret a second of it.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.