1992 Nissan Maxima SE
1992 Nissan Maxima SE

By Jeremy Cato

Ed is a 33-year-old accountant and like all good family men he has his Walter Mitty moments.

Ed, you see, is a responsible guy with a wife, three kids, a mortgage and a dog. His own kids, by the way, are supplemented by a stream of young neighbors who parade through the house after school and during summer holidays. (You should know that Ed’s wife, Melissa, is the only stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood.)

So when Ed and Melissa decided to buy a second family car they set a few ground rules: the car had to be reliable, have four doors, seat five comfortably (two adults up front, three kids in the rear), have plenty of luggage room and fit the family budget.

And because Ed is a husky ex-football player whose working life is consumed by spreadsheets, the company payroll and quarterly fiscal projections, Melissa said to Ed, “Ed, you’re going to commute to work in this car, so let’s get something fun.”

The upshot of all this is that Ed and Melissa bought a used 1991 front-wheel-drive Nissan Maxima SE. This older SE has proven to be a good antidote to what I would consider spreadsheet torture.

Yes, even after more than a decade of use, Ed’s powerful, sweet-sounding Maxima V6 engine sees to that — as does the sharp and sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes, and firm, sports-tuned suspension. And he paid less than $6,500 for this older sports sedan. A good buy.

The SE was the sportiest of the third generation Maxima which ran from model year 1990-94, when an updated car arrived as a 1995 model. In all, three third-generation versions of the Maxima were offered — GXE, sporty SE and top-of-the-line Brougham. All were powered by a single-overhead cam 3.0-litre V6 engine. Borrowed from the then-300ZX sports car, but with just two valves per cylinder, this engine initially churned up 160 hp at 5,200 rpm and 182 lbs-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. Even today, older Maximas should be able to reach 100 km/h from zero in under 11 seconds.

Ed, of course, was looking for a sedan with a standard transmission and was thrilled to find that his 11-year-old SE has a five-speed manual. The shifts on the original car were clean, if not spectacularly smooth, and they have remained so over the years.

For the record, the SE was the only Maxima offered with a five-speed; GXE and Brougham Maximas came standard with a four-speed automatic, while the automatic was an option on the SE. Automatics were designed to shifts in the right spots, although a bit abruptly during hard acceleration. That remains true on older cars.

While the Maxima’s powerplant was always hearty and willing, it is the car’s chassis which really makes this car a sports sedan even today. Struts and coil springs on each corner and an anti-roll bar at each end combine for a suspension which is poised and controlled during all but the most harsh driving. Steering is somewhat on the firm side, which is good for a sports sedan, and as long as the brakes have been well-maintained, used buyers will find them confidence-inspiring with accurate pedal feel and relatively little fade even after repeated use.

For Ed, the Maxima’s cabin is a pleasant place to spend commuting time. The form-fitting bucket seats of the 1991 model were refined from the originals from the fall of 1989. While older car seats are sure to have packed down somewhat, what you get in a used Maxima should still be firm enough for comfort on a long drive.

The dashboard of this Maxima evokes a smooth-flowing feel thanks to rounded sculpturing. Unique to the Maxima SE were analog dash gauges which automatically reverse at night from black-on-white to white-on-black. Very cool, and they enhance visibility, too. Standard features on this model ran from power windows to central door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, climate control and a power sliding glass sunroof. Ed’s used car came with what was in 1991 optional leather upholstery. GXE models are slightly less well equipped, while the Brougham is the full luxury package.

One of my very few criticisms of the Maxima of this generation is the lack of rear-seat leg and head room. Taller folks might find themselves wishing for a bit more room. On the whole, though, an older Maxima remains a relatively sleek-looking, refined sports sedan which right now is pleasing an accountant with three kids and a tight budget.

Speaking of budgets, the Maxima has always had strong reputation for reliability and durability, dating all the way back to the 1980 calendar year when the car arrived as a 1981 model called the 810 Maxima. Later on Nissan dropped 810, leaving just Maxima.

For the record, Ed likes this used car, but didn’t care about the history lesson.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

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