The T12 Nissan Stanza was called the Nissan Auster in Japan, but even if you owned this sub-Maxima compact it didn’t necessarily mean you were living in austerity. It offered styling and features above its station in the Nissan lineup, and provided excellent value — as long as you weren’t expecting it to do everything its big brother Maxima could.
The T12 Stanza was the baby Maxima, a car that by 1987 was well on its way to securing its reputation as the sportiest of the Japanese sedans. In their review at the time, though, Motorweek found that the Stanza’s suspension was much softer and the gearbox notchier than those of the Maxima. The 2.0-liter four, shared with the S12 200SX, gave 97 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque, resulting in an ho-hum 12.5-second 0-60 time. As such, it couldn’t quite live up to the sportiness of the Max.
But what it lacked in performance, it made up for in an all-around upscale feel. Motorweek noted that despite being four inches shorter than the Maxima, it featured the same sharp design that made its big bro such a hit. And that design, in typical 80s fashion, was square, square square. Every edge on the car is a straight line, every corner 90 degrees. Everything, from the greenhouse to the vents, the accordion-style shift boot to the instrument pod housing, is rectilinear. Even the gauges are decorated with a graph paper pattern. After four decades of hindsight, it would seem that the design was pretty forgettable, but Motorweek dug it at the time.
It wasn’t just the styling. The Stanza wore a stand-out paint job, according to Motorweek. The oh-so-80s brown and light blue metallic of their test cars (with matching interiors) sure looked nice, VHS-quality resolution or not. A spacious trunk with split-folding rear seats and in-trunk release added to the deluxe aura.
The cabins featured extremely plush-looking buckets with lumbar support, nicely contoured bolsters, and even headrest adjustment along the forward-rear axis. Tilt wheel, a stereo-cassette system, cruise control, and not one, but two roller-style trip odometers proved this was no stripped-down econobox. You might need them both to keep track of your excellent fuel economy, which was rated at 23 city, 28 highway, but Motorweek got 29 tooling around Owings Mills.
And how much did all this sensible luxury cost? The GXE model started at $11,299, but could by fully optioned to just $12,049. Normally the gulf between the highest trim level’s opening bid and a maxed-out sticker would be in the thousands, but with the Stanza it was just 250 bucks.
This strikes us as exactly the type of car a certain type of miserly but fastidious owner would keep for decades. Not an enthusiast per se, but someone who notes down the mileage every time they top off the fuel in a little glovebox-kept logbook. We don’t recall ever having seen one at JCCS, but hopefully one of you will sniff one out soon.