1989-1994 Nissan Maxima
The First Infiniti
Until the Infiniti nameplate arrived on these shores for the 1990 model year, the Maxima was Nissan's premier sedan in N. America. Evolving from the 70's 810 sedan, the Maxima went from the somewhat tacky 810 through two boxy restyles to arrive as a clean and attractive design for the 1989 model year. Along the way it changed from being a Datsun to a Nissan and from being a rear-driver to a front-driver. And it picked up healthy doses of sophistication and refinement.
A wagon had always been an offering in the Maxima line, but was dropped after '88. Nissan positioned this new Maxima in the marketplace as a sports sedan (a "four door sports coupe"), and although the base model was a bit soft, the Maxima SE carried the sports sedan moniker with justification.
A complete redesign for 1995 was a disappointment for most Maxima devotees. The all-independent suspension was gone, materials seemed cheaper and lighter and the styling was a big letdown.
The Maxima was trimmed in two versions: the base GXE and the sporty SE. The 3.0 Liter single overhead cam V6 engine developed 160hp. Beginning in '92, the SE began packing a double overhead cam, 190hp version of the same engine. There were no transmission options on the GXE, it came only with an automatic. The SE could be had with either an automatic or a 5sp manual. The standard equipment list for the Maxima was lengthy. Major equipment such as air conditioning, power windows and locks, alloy wheels, AM/FM cassette stereo, and cruise control were all standard, along with gizmos such as keyless entry and cornering lights, so don't pay extra for these items. Optional equipment on the GXE included power drivers seat, power glass sunroof, leather seats, a premium Bose audio system and a digital dash. The SE added the Bose audio system and glass sunroof and added items such as front & rear disc brakes, sport suspension, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped steering wheel and fog lamps. Only ABS brakes and leather seating were offered on the SE as options.
In our eyes, the Maxima is an extremely attractive sedan, with strong BMW-esque cues throughout. From any angle, this car just looks right. It is certainly a strong point of the car.
Interiors are somewhat spartan, which is surprising since this was marketed as an upmarket sedan. The non-leather steering wheel especially looks and feels cheap. The dashboard is nicely laid out and has a complete set of big, legible gauges. All controls are conveniently located. Body color shows up through gaps in the kick panels, which is no big deal except that the rest of the cabin is finished so nicely that it jumps out at you.
One inexcusable feature is the use of idiotic motorized seat belts. Nissan was counting too many beans when they decided to forego airbags for the cheaper belts. While ok for an econobox, a car of the Maxima's stature didn't deserve the indignity.
While the Maxima was marketed as a sports sedan, in reality only the SE qualified as one. The GXE just doesn't have the power or the agility. In fact, the GXE seems downright floaty at times, especially compared to the SE, which is always composed and controlled and never harsh. It's no wonder why the SE has earned such a devout following.
All Maximas came with bucket seats, a floor mounted transmission and five passenger seating. Room and comfort for four is very good. The front seats are firm and supportive. The middle passenger in the rear sits on a high, hard lump, so don't expect him or her to be happy for very long. Rear seat legroom is barely adequate and the lack of toe-room under the front seats exacerbates the situation.
Cabin noise is subdued at low to moderate speeds, due mostly to the wonderfully smooth and quiet motor. The noise level rises to average on the highway.
While checking out the interior, we noticed that the doors seemed somewhat light and notchy in operation. They didn't feel as substantial as the rest of the car.
The Maxima received a fairly good, but not exceptional, safety rating as a result of its performance in government crash tests. The aforementioned motorized belts substituted for proper dual airbags. A driver airbag became optional in '92 and was made standard in '93. Unfortunately, passenger airbags were never made available. ABS brakes were optional only on the SE.
The Maxima has consistently earned top marks for reliability. The SE's clutch doesn't appear to be especially durable, but that could be attributed to over-enthusiastic drivers. This car is tough to fault with regards to reliability. We've also seen more than a few automatics go after 100,000 miles.
We can fault it here, however. A few calls to local Nissan dealers revealed some pretty steep prices for routine service. A timing belt replacement ran between $300 and $500, new brake pads front and rear were $200-$300 and a complete exhaust system (less converter) will set you back $600-$800. Struts came in at an astronomical $1000 plus. Even independent shops couldn't get it below $600.
We love this car. Used, the Maxima retails for around the same price as a top-of-the-line Accord or Camry, but is a better automobile. Now if only we could get rid of those motorized belts!
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