Just in case I’ve ever seemed too pointedly Euro-centric in my posts, here’s what is most likely the most American car I have ever driven. It’s a 1998 Maxima in appliance white, but what makes it stand out amongst Finnish Nissans is that it’s originally been sold new in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Like the Mustang featured some weeks ago, it’s been brought into the country by a Finn moving back here. There are Mass stickers here and there and other little quaint US market details that make it look like it’s been through a Stargate or a space wormhole and just been transplanted into the midst of Finnish used cars. By its special brand of blandness, it stands out. Despite being one of the most anonymous cars in America, a watchful eye here notices its pedigree from afar.
Since a large share of the Hooniverse community has most likely been subjected to these Maximas, either inside or outside them, for me to truly fit the picture I wanted to take this one for a spin.
The European Maxima, itself a rebadged Nissan Cefiro, differs somewhat from this car. The sheetmetal is different, as the fenders have less pronounced wheelarches. The bumpers, headlights, taillights, everything that identifies a car is just so subtly altered that not much is bolt-on, and I wonder whether even the doors can be swapped. While the European Maxima has blinkers next to the headlights, this has them on the bumpers. With the original 4DSC Maxima there were no real differences between the Euro and US models, but this and the next generation evolved on their own paths.
Today, not only is there not a Maxima in the Finnish lineup, but not a single sedan either. Everything is either a hatch/coupe or a crossover or a commercial vehicle. Even the obviously now-dated and never replaced 2002-onwards Primera has been ousted, and the sales figures are dominated by the Qashqai and Juke. Back in the ’90s, a Primera or an Almera (=substitute G20 and Sentra) were strong sellers and quintessential Nissans, but they grew long in the tooth and sales gradually withered.
Either the rear springs have seen better days, or the set of summer tires that are in the car are heavier than one would suspect. Anyway, the Maxima rides with its ass lower to the ground.
The ad for the car claimed the odo reading as “160 000”. That isn’t exactly the truth, as the odo is in miles and reads 118 000; and converted to kilometres it should be 190 000. Probably just lazy advertising, but worth noticing.
The white paint on the car was very flat and dull, as was the headlight glass. Judging by the plates and the 2002-expired sticker, the car had arrived here somewhere in 2003-2004. Plates beginning with “KOP” are often worn by cars imported used from the States or Japan; I remember a friend’s Japanese import (!) 1994 Camaro having similar plates.
Another thing was that the car reeked heavily of smoking. It’s rare with used cars here these days to be smelly, as at least they’ve been detailed inside and something is often done to whatever iffy smell there is. But as the car had arrived recently and was of the cheaper end of the used cars, it had had to stay pretty much as-is. Thus it was still saddled with those sad wheeltrims and it had merely been driven through the carwash once.
All the upper plastic wood on the car has been wrecked by the sun. This never happens to Finnish cars, so it was odd to behold at first. Everything could probably be replaced with trim sourced from a junkyard, if it’s a straight swap.
The driver’s door hinges had worn and the door sagged and clonked against the rear door. With 190 000 hard kilometres, that’s possible.
It’s not all bad news, though. The car ran and pulled pretty decently and the trans shifted well. The steering was lighter and more assisted than I would have thought, but it sort of fit the rest of the car. I liked the grunt of the 3.0-litre engine; while it didn’t make much noise of itself, it pulled the car along with very little use of the throttle pedal. Most Maximas here were saddled with the 140-hp 2.0 V6, which I imagine to be considerably more sluggish.
The engine bay was somewhat dirty, and it looks like the motor could do with a new camcover gasket. Another thing was that the hood struts were dead, so it was no longer self-supported.
European Maximas have a different trunklid, with a full-width reflector. The rear of this US car has a more Malibuan look. It’s also been fitted with a rear fog to meet regulations, and as the plate surround is smaller than the European required size, the plate is a double-decker. Overall, the rear is really fussy with everything that has been crammed in there, and the tow bar doesn’t help things.
The dealership wanted 3700 EUR for this Nissan. While there was not that much wrong with it, there are little redeeming features to place it above a comparable Finnish Maxima. Design features aside, as those are really matters of taste, the .fi Maximas are more often better kept as they’re really only been owned and driven by old guys, the type that takes ridiculously good care of their cars. Rougher Maximas have accumulated heavier mileages, so there’s little point in buying one with an admittedly low odo reading but a similar need for touching up – for a higher price. This car has only really been priced by the odo reading.
And you need to remember, that while drivetrain-wise the car can be maintained with European parts, replacing anything USDM-specific broken in a parking garage shunt would be a serious pain.
What about the A32 Maxima itself? I like the car, and if a low-mileage, fastidiously kept example would be found close by I would be tempted to replace my Sapporo with it, believe it or not. Replacing a 2.4-litre 8-valve SOHC four with a 24-valve V6 would be a revelation.