Is it a challenge to write for CC? Well, it all depends what one has to work with. Sometimes, it’s a true classic, something from the ‘60s or earlier – those are always fun. The ‘70s and ‘80s stuff is more hit and miss. And then you get to the ‘90s, and it’s more miss than hit. I’m not complaining. I have plenty of material in my files that would be more stimulating than the Cefiro, but a challenge is sometimes what you need.
Well, I’m not sure it’s what CC readers need. My JDM posts are pretty niche, to say the least – if this one gets ten comments, that’ll be pretty good. But there are many cars that CC hasn’t covered yet, and many of those are passing on my street downstairs. They’re not cars I’m familiar with, usually, which is part of the challenge. But they can also be rather boring, which definitely adds to said challenge.
The Cefiro we’re looking at though is not that novel. It’s just a different name for a car we’ve all seen before – though not necessarily noticed that much. Cefrio was the Nissan A32’s Japanese name. Well, that’s an oversimplification: a few other Asian markets also used the Cefiro nameplate – Yulon even built them in Taiwan, though they were badged as Nissans. The JDM Cefiro A32 saloon was launched in August 1994 and sold until December 1998 only.
In many global markets, the A32 was marketed as a Maxima (bottom right) – sometimes with the “QX” letters added in Europe and Russia (but not in North America) – from 1995. In Korea, Samsung built A32 saloons as the SM5 (top right) from 1998 to 2005. In the US, higher-trim Cefiros became the 1995-2002 Infiniti I30 (bottom left).
This was the second generation Cefiro, though it was about as different from its edgy, RWD, straight-6-powered, Skyline/Laurel-based predecessor (above) as it could have been. Not unlike the Leopard, the Cefiro was a nameplate looking for an identity. For this second generation, it became a Maxima clone (that nameplate was also used in Japan) and emphasized a soft and plushy kind of semi-luxury, one step below the Cedric / Gloria.
The Cefiro and the Cedric / Gloria used the same 2-to3-litre V6 engines, but the Cefiro was a bit smaller and front-driven. Still, it was a finely-crafted conveyance, aimed at folks of a certain age. The Excimo (Eskimo?) was the deluxe trim version, with as much “wood” on the centre console as the poor thing could hold.
By all logic, given that Nissan only managed to sell 66,000 units in five years domestically (a rather poor showing), the Cefiro should have been dead and buried after production stopped in 1998, but the rest of the world was actually pretty hungry for the dull-yet-solid Maxima/SM5/Whatever Else. It wasn’t all things to all peoples, but being locally-built meant that it felt a little home-brewed to a lot of folks. The Infiniti version sold like hotcakes, the Korean one had Renault’s enthusiastic backing, the Taiwanese one became the default taxi on that island…
So the Cefiro was slated for a third generation, which took over from the A32 starting in December 1998 – right when the giant Nissan supertanker had to turn on a dime or sink. The former solution was engineered, but the A33 Cefiro did not prove to be very instrumental in this endeavour: it sold even less than its predecessor. By 2003, Cefiro joined the Laurel, Leopard and Silvia in permanent retirement.
It seems Nissan’s Japanese clientele never forgave the firm for having castrated the Cefiro and rendered it a docile, rounded and dreadfully boring Camry-fighting machine. I’m pretty sure the folks who bought them, if they’re still alive, are still enjoying them, like our feature car. Unexciting as they may be, they’re pretty bulletproof. The much-vaunted A31, on the other hand, has vanished from the streets – I might have seen a couple at most, i.e. very few compared to the other Nissan saloons of the era. Playing it safe was not a winning strategy for Nissan on its home market, but it did bear fruit abroad. Guess you can’t be right everywhere at once.
COAL: 1999 Nissan Maxima SE – Best. Used. Car. Salesman. Ever., by James Pastor