There was a time when the Nissan Maxima could have been considered, dare I say, cool. But then came along its way cooler cousin, the Infiniti G35, the Japanese attempt to take on the BMW 3 Series in the sport sedan wars of the ‘00s. And it successfully did the sporty sedan better than its aforementioned cousin.
While Nissan was on a mission to make a four-door sporty car and did embody it to a certain extent, it lost its way much like a college student forced to major in pre-med, but they really just want to go to art school.
In that time, Infiniti rolled in to take over, creating the true embodiment of the four-door sports car: All the usability and convenience of a sedan with the driving dynamics of a sports car, rear-wheel drive, a manual transmission (at least as an option), and excellent driving dynamics.
First, you have to take a look at how and when the Maxima lost its four door sports car mojo. Early on, Nissan had the right idea. Take a manual transmission and engine used in a sports car and drop it into a sedan. That’s exactly what Nissan did with the second-generation Maxima. Produced from ‘85 - ‘89, it used the same 3.0-liter VG30E V6 engine used in the 300ZX. Both cars even had the same 160 horsepower rating, coupled with a five-speed manual transmission and an adjustable suspension completing the total sports car package. From there Nissan realized the Maxima’s destiny and labeled it “sporty” towards the end of the second generation run.
The “4DSC” moniker carried on through the car’s third through sixth generations. As long as buyers selected the SE trim, they were provided with a higher-powered V6, a manual transmission and an adjustable sport-tuned suspension.
The sixth-generation Maxima, produced from ‘99 - ‘02, really did the 4DSC sticker justice though. SE trims got a 255 hp version of Nissan’s VQ35DE V6, a six-speed manual transmission, and a variable exhaust system Nissan says was derived from R34 Skyline GT-R
As the years went on, the Maxima lost its 4DSC window decal and the car skewed towards the more family sedan/luxury side of things. While there was still an SE trim, it was more an appearance package than anything, even with more powerful engine options.
By the mid-to-late 2000s, the Maxima was in its seventh generation. It had grown bloated, enough that it came to be mentioned in the same breath as the Toyota Avalon and Chevy Impala. Nissan further ruined it with the generation’s new CVT transmission.
This was when Infiniti’s engineers stepped it up and took off where the Nissan Maxima left off.
Infiniti took a platform that was used for a sports car and made a sedan out of it. Simple. It’s strange Nissan didn’t do this from the beginning. Nissan’s FM platform was ideal for a sport sedan due to its favorable weight distribution. FM stood for front-midship, which meant the engine was set back towards the firewall. The recently introduced 350Z at the time had a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution because of this. When the G coupe and sedan debuted, they mirrored this. The coupe had the same 53/47 weight distribution as the Z coupe. A feat considering that the G had a back seat; the sedan was 52/48.
Throw in an available six-speed manual and a 3.5-liter V6 that was shared with the 350Z and you could call it a Z with a backseat. Or a four-door sports car. Infiniti even did it proper by throwing in Brembo brakes when you optioned it with a manual. Car journalists were smitten with it. Motor Trend named the G its 2003 Car of the Year; Car & Driver put it on its Ten Best lists for 2003 and 2004 and it was nominated for North American Car of the Year (although it lost to the Mini Cooper).
As the years went on and the Maxima grew even larger and softer, like many of us in this pandemic, while the G gained a second kick-ass generation.
The G added a new 3.7-liter V6 shared with the 370Z at the end of the 2010s, compared to the Maxima’s 3.5-liter V6 and CVT. Laughably, Nissan brought back the 4DSC decal for the ninth generation.
Infiniti also expanded the G lineup. Briefly, there was a G25 model with a 2.5-liter V6 and a short-lived IPL performance model (unfortunately only available on the G coupe) in 2011 that just disappeared.
With the G now gone and replaced by the slightly better Q50/Q60 (the Red Sport trims are good, I still wish we could’ve gotten the Eau Rouge), the Maxima still wears the 4DSC decal. And while it looks the part and the engine has 300 HP, it’s far from what a sports car should be.
I reached out to Nissan to ask if the G cars were ever considered to be a replacement for the Maxima, but I have yet to receive a response. However, had it come about, a proper four-door sports car from the brand that makes the Z would’ve just felt right. But at least we can look back fondly on the G and see that some engineers at Infiniti had the right idea.