Midsize car; Built in Japan
  • 4-door sedan
  • transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,000 – $1,800*
Pros:
  • Acceleration
  • Antilock brakes (optional)
  • Handling/roadholding
  • Instruments/controls
  • Ride
Cons:
  • Fuel economy
  • Head room (w/optional sunroof)

This verdict is a simple one: the Maxima heads our must-drive list of near-luxury sedans from the early 1990s.

Overview

New aerodynamic sheetmetal replaced the Maxima’s former boxy look. The new model was not only longer and wider, it rode on four additional inches of wheelbase. Under the hood, the Maxima retained the former 3.0-liter V6, but engineering changes resulted in 160 horsepower instead of 154. Choose the GXE and the only transmission was a 4-speed automatic. Meanwhile, the sporty SE came equipped with either a 5-speed manual, or the automatic at no extra charge.

Yearly Updates

1991 Maxima
Equipment changes include redesigned outside mirrors and black instead of charcoal, for the optional leather upholstery.
1992 Maxima
An optional driver-side airbag and a more powerful engine for the sporty SE model are the major changes for Nissan’s front-drive flagship model. Now standard on the SE is a new double-overhead-cam, 24-valve, 190-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. The optional airbag retains the tilt steering wheel. And antilock brakes, previously optional only on the SE, can be ordered on both models for 1992. Minor appearance changes this year include a freshening of the front grille and taillamps.
1993 Maxima
The driver-side airbag becomes standard for 1993. The change coincides with the addition of built-in safety belts for an optional rear child-safety seat.
1994 Maxima
With a new Maxima looming on the horizon for 1995, Nissan provides few changes to the 1994 Maxima, which begins its sixth year in its present form.

Engines

transverse front-engine/front-wheel drive

Both Maxima models are powered by 3.0-liter V6 engine. Initially, both SE and GXE came fitted with the single-overhead-cam version, producing 160 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 182 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. However, since 1992 the sportier SE version comes equipped with a 24-valve, double-overhead-cam version of the engine. The upgraded powerplant boost output to 190 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 190 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The SE comes with either a manual 5-speed transmission or no-cost 4-speed automatic. The automatic is the only transmission provided on Maxima GXE models.

ohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/181
Engine HP 160
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 182
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
20/26
19/26
20.4

dohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/181
Engine HP 190
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 190
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
21/26
19/25
21.9

Road Test

With 190 horsepower on tap, the SE is a potent and sporty performer that matches up well when compared with higher-priced European models. Those preferring a touch of luxury will discover the GXE is also well worth considering. Maxima comes with a well-organized instrument panel and comfortable driving position. It provides the kind of poised front-drive handling and competent road manners that others have tried to emulate, coupled with a comfortable ride. With its softer suspension, the GXE leans a bit more in the turns than the firmer SE, but both models respond to steering inputs quickly and precisely.

Especially worthy of praise is the twin-cam V6 that powers the SE model. It’s smoother, quieter, and feels stronger than engines offered by most of the Maxima’s rivals. It propels the Maxima SE to 60 mph in under 9.0 seconds with the manual transmission, while the GXE equipped with the mannerly 4-speed automatic performs the task in about 10.5 seconds. The interior has ample head room in front and back, plus enough leg room for tall people to stretch out comfortably. Our only complaints focus on the slow addition of airbags–dual airbags didn’t become standard until 1995.

Ratings

Model Tested: 1994 Nissan Maxima SE

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 7
70%
Fuel Economy - 3
30%
Ride Quality - 6
60%
Steering/Handling - 6
60%
Quietness - 5
50%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Front - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
40%
Cargo Room - 4
40%

Other

Value - 7
70%

Total: 54

Specifications

4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
104.3 187.6 69.3 55.1
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
14.5 18.5 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.5 36.9 43.7 33.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1994 Maxima 4-door sedan

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
60%
Front Passenger Injury - 3
60%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 123
Injury 110
Theft 198

Trouble Spots

Airbags
Description: A voluntary recall was issued to replace an airbag sensor to reduce the possibility of the bag deploying when it is not needed. (1992-93)
Automatic transmission
Description: Burnt transmission fluid and no reverse gear may signal a defective rear-control valve and low/reverse brake. (1993-94)
Automatic transmission
Description: If the transmission does not shift properly until warmed up, make sure it is filled only with Nissanmatic “C” transmission fluid. (all)
Clutch
Description: The clutch plate, pressure plate, and release fork must be replaced if there is clutch judder. (1990-92)
Coolant leak
Description: Coolant may leak from the front of the cylinder head, which may appear to be a head gasket, but comes from a threaded plug in the front of the head. (1990-94)
Engine noise
Description: Noise from the top of the engine can be traced to a problem with the spring assembly in the variable-valve timing control (VTC). (1992-94)
Heater core
Description: Poor heater performance is likely after the coolant is changed due to air trapped in the heater core. (1990)
Manual transmission
Description: If the manual transmission slips, the clutch disc will be replaced with a revised one. (1994)
Rough idle
Description: Idle fluctuation may result from the use of the wrong air filter, or if the original air-filter housing was not replaced with a revised unit for a funnel-shaped filter. (1990)

Recall History

1990-94 registered in CT, DE, DC, IA, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WI, and WV
Description: Mixture of mud and salt could become trapped between fuel-filler tube and wheel housing; corrosion could result in fuel leakage.
1992-93 w/driver-side airbag
Description: In some underbody impacts, sensor activates and causes airbag to inflate when not needed.
1993-94 GXE w/aluminum wheels
Description: Excessive clear-coating may position wheel nuts too far away from hub when tightened.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.