Body Styles of the Nissan Maxima

by Richard Rowe
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There's no overstatement in referring to the Maxima as a four-door Z-car. The original Maximas were four-door Bluebirds, which were consumer-coupe versions of the 280ZX. The Maxima has changed a lot over the years, transitioning from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel and gaining about 500 lbs. in the process. The latest-generation Maxima is the sportiest in over a decade, with performance and looks to rival any other sedan in its price bracket.

Datsun 810, 1976 to 1980

The first generation Maxima was only known as such in its Japanese homeland, where it was formally known as the Nissan Bluebird Maxima. In the United, this car went by the name Datsun 810. The 810 came as a two-door, four-door or station wagon and used the same chassis and engines as the history-making 280ZX. This boxiest of Maximas looked something like a same-generation Skyline with the front end from a four-headlight, 1976 to 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.

First Generation Maxima, 1981 to 1984

This car forms the missing link between the Bluebird/810/Maxima nameplates in America. This generation carried the Datsun Maxima nameplate in 1981, both the Datsun and Nissan nameplates in 1984 and the Nissan badge for every year after that. Resembling a 1980s Mercedes sedan with a Caprice front end, this car came with both the 280ZX's 2.4-liter inline-six and a 2.8-liter diesel six-cylinder. It was available as a sedan or station wagon.

Second Generation Maxima, 1985 to 1988

The second generation Maxima was visually very similar to the previous generation, distinguishable mainly by its rubber door bumpers and two large, rectangular headlights in place of the second generation's four square headlights. Nissan dropped the old inline-six in favor of its new VG-series 3-liter V6. The VG would later evolve to become the 500 horsepower VS-series six cylinder found in the Nissan GT-R supercar.

Third Generation Maxima, 1989 to 1994

Third generation cars were V-6-powered, front-wheel drive, offered only as a four doors and represent the formula that Nissan would use to build every subsequent generation. Nissan built Maxima to directly compete with the Acura Legend and Toyota Camry, and it shows in the car's styling. While the fourth generation's styling is far from distinctive, its optional 190 horsepower engine catapulted this Maxima to the top of its class for performance.

Fourth Generation Maxima, 1995 to 1999

Mechanically and visually similar to the previous generation, the Maxima's fourth iteration's styling was different enough that it remains quickly distinguishable from its older sibling's. The car lost its 1980s grille and gained a single cross-bar and lower air-dam with a huge central duct. The MkIV Maxima got the VQ30DE V-6, which is essentially the same engine found in the 470 horsepower Nissan Skyline race car minus its twin turbochargers.

Fifth Generation Maxima, 2000 to 2003

The Maxima's fifth generation body was more rounded and aerodynamic than ever before, measuring higher in both inches and pounds than ever before. The fifth generation had a brand new, more rounded nose with a more incorporated grille opening and wrap-around headlights integrated into the bumper, hood and quarter panels. The MkV's looks were, in a word, inoffensive. It's 255-horsepower VQ35DE V-6, on the other hand, was a bit more polarizing.

Sixth Generation Maxima, 2004-2008

The MkVI Maxima was an entirely different animal than its predecessor. The VQ35 was back with an additional ten horsepower, but the Maxima's body lines were sharper than they had been for nearly 20 years. The sixth generation Maxima's straight body lines and creases were confident in a way that its somewhat androgynous fifth generation's weren't.

Seventh Generation, 2009-later

The seventh generation Maxima offers dramatic styling, a 290-horsepower VQ53 V-6 and chassis engineering sophisticated enough to make it competitive with any number of similarly-priced, rear-wheel drive cars from Germany. The MkVII's sharply faceted headlights, rakish stance and bold body lines make it a stylish option for younger, family-oriented drivers.

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