Wagon Wars! 1985 Nissan & Toyota Wagons

Wagon Wars, coming to a reality tv network near you (insert grinding guitar sounds and two back-to-back, sleeveless-denim-shirt-wearing, tattooed, goatee’d tough guys)! Wait, they probably wouldn’t be working on Toyotas or Nissans, scratch that. These battling wagons are both from the smack-dab-middle of 1985 and one of them may or may not be a better vehicle and/or a better value than the other is. They’re a 1985 Nissan Maxima Wagon, sent in by Pat L (thanks, Pat!), and a 1985 Toyota Cressida Wagon. The Maxima is on craigslist in Fayetteville, Georgia with an asking price of $4,500 and the Cressida is on eBay in Bend, Oregon with a Buy It Now price of just $2,499! Let the battle begin!

The Nissan Maxima is arguably the nicer, more ready-to-go car and the price reflects that. But, if you’re good with tinkering on somewhat vintage Japanese cars, the Toyota is a good deal. It’ll need a bit of bodywork for dents and some mechanical work like a new rack and pinion steering unit and diagnosing some on-again-off-again check-engine lights and faulty power door locks, etc. But, it has a ton of new parts and pieces and reportedly is jump-in-ready! The Maxima is in “99% factory condition” and is also ready to go! But, it’s two grand more expensive. Hmm.. It’s sort of a Chevy vs. Ford thing with Toyota and Nissan. Some people just like one brand over the other and there’s no changing their minds no matter what anyone says.

The Toyota Cressida obviously has the bigger storage compartment. No, wait, that’s just an odd, close-up camera angle, never mind.. The Toyota Cressida wagon was over $1,000 more expensive when new than the Maxima wagon was at $15.945, which is the equivalent of $35,765 today. That may seem like a lot but this was it for Toyota in those days, thee top of the line. There was no Lexus or Infiniti in 1985, you just went with a Cressida if you were a Toyota lover or you went with a Maxima if you were a Datsun/Nissan lover. It sounds and looks like there is no rust on either car, which for anything 32 years old, is amazing.

The Maxima is scary nice, as in, I’ll be in trouble (again) if I look at it too much longer. As in, “We don’t have any more space for yet another car” trouble. Both cars are automatics, of course, these were the “luxury” offerings and as such most of them were automatics. And, power windows and locks? Yes, on both. AC? Of course, but no word on if it works on either car after 32 years.

One difference between the two cars, other than the obvious design and mechanical differences, is that the Toyota Cressida wagon has 186,770 miles and the Nissan Maxima has a mere 46,800 miles on it. The Maxima wagon gets 2 mpg less in both city and highway than the Cressida wagon does, if anyone cares about such things. I don’t, but some do.

In the looks department, Nissan’s VG30E, 3.0L V6 with 152 hp is the clear winner. It’s basically a detuned Nissan 300ZX engine and, come on, parts of it are red! Plus, it has a new fuel pump, new tires, new power steering hose, and a new battery. Not to mention, it has over 100,000 fewer miles on it. That’ll be hard to top. Toyota, you’re up!

Well, there it is, in all of its non-flashy Toyota’ness. This is Toyota’s 5M-GE 2.8L inline-six with around 155 hp! And, to touché the 300ZX-derived Maxima engine, this one is basically from the Toyota Supra! Whoa, the battle is on! Although, when the hoods are up at the car show the red-sprinkled Maxima engine is the clear winner. This Toyota Cressida engine has a list of new parts that’ll make your head spin, such as a “new timing belt and tensioner, new cam, crank, balancer shaft seals, new cam tower gaskets, new rear cam seals (Toyota parts), new distributor gasket (Toyota parts), new air intake seals, new muffler and tailpipe, and new ignition cylinder and keys.” The Maxima is just a low-mile car so maybe eventually it’ll need most of those things once it adds another 100,000 miles on the clock. I know which one I’d choose and I’m going to try to resist. Is there a clear winner in this latest episode of Wagon Wars? Which one would you choose?

Fast Finds


  1. DrinkinGasoline

    Having owned two Nissans…an ’89 Sentra 4 spd coupe that cost next to nothing to buy and next to nothing to own, and a ’90 Pathfinder 4wd that earned it’s keep in butt cheek deep snow, My vote is cast for the Nissan.

    • Anthony

      P.s yes the AC works and it blows ice cold
      Wowo look how crazy I just came across this page I done a search and boom I seen my pic that’s my blue 1985 Nissan Maxima Wagon I posted on craigslist several years ago back . I remember the today I took those pictures. I still own this car till today I can be reached at adamspga404@gmail.com

      Like 1
  2. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Scotty, to me the biggest difference is FWD vs. RWD. That being said, I’ve liked the Maxima’s boxy styling and comparatively huge wheels for a long time. I don’t think I could make the Toyota look and feel like the Maxima for the price difference, so I’d take the Maxima. Reluctantly.

    • Scotty Staff

      That’s a good point, Jamie. Wagons can be fun to drive if they’re set up right and a sizable part of that could be having rear-wheel drive. But, that Maxima is so nice!

  3. Joe

    Well… There’s one important detail which is bound to influence someone in buying one over the other. The Toyota is rear wheel drive, the Nissan is front wheel drive.

    As much as I’m a fan of the era for both brands, having owned an ’84 Celica Supra I’d go with the Cressida.

    However, if this was an earlier generation rear wheel drive Maxima, especially a diesel L-series inline 6 I’d be going for that. I’m partial to those too, having driven a 280ZX for a little while as well.

  4. gene

    Toyota is a better build car, period.
    Easier to work on. Like replacing a transmission.
    Toyota inline six is way smoother , replacing motor mounts in a Nissan is a pain.
    Nissan’s exhaust manifolds warp and brake the studs.
    Toyota’s timing belt job is a piece of cake compared to Nissan.
    I can go on and on , but to each it’s on.
    I am an ex Jap tech and yes I used to own a Maxima.

    • DrinkinGasoline

      I can certainly appreciate your technical experience given your former vocation and can somewhat sheepishly, relate to the Jap reference but….I think we’ve gone way beyond that reference. It is, after all, 2017 in the 21 first century. If you would like to compare Toyota, to Nissan, to Subaru, as well as Honda….I have worked for all of them as well as domestic manufacturer’s in dealer capacity as a Tech, a Service Manager and a Parts Manager and I would relish the conversation :)

  5. DrinkinGasoline

    The key is knowing how to navigate a RWD vehicle in adverse conditions. Yes, a FWD is the easy choice, but is it the high road choice? Nope. If one can drive a rear wheel drive boat in all weather conditions, then they can drive anything. Case in point:
    When I was 14 years old, My Father took me with him to look at a car. He said he found this cool old car cheap and wanted to check it out.
    We pulled up to this dilapidated house, in Dad’s 67 Plymouth Fury wagon. Scary to say the least. Dad knocked on the door and the gentleman came out and asked: You here fer the Chevy? Dad said yes. “it’s in the back” the owner barked. We went “to the back”…and there it was, a 1937 Chevrolet four door sedan. Gun Metal gray body and all four fenders were a different color ! One dark blue, one light blue, one black and one dark gray. The owner said she runs and stops without any problems. Dad asked if we could take it for a ride and the owner said “You don’t trust me??” My Father stammered…The owner said alright, lets go for a ride. That… was my first car. Dad said, if you can drive this, then you can drive anything. Since then, I’ve been able to drive FWD,RWD,AWD, tracked vehicles…whatever, in all conditions. I thank My Father for that.
    These wagons are less than scary, regardless of drive :) It’s not a matter of how they are set up, but a matter of… are you set up to drive them…. You drive a vehicle, they do not drive you :)

  6. steve m

    Love that Nissan……really nice, but the RWD and straight 6 in the yota………..NICE. But this comes from a BMW guy, we like our pistons in a straight line.

  7. Howard A Member

    Neither one. While there’s no denying, these were great cars,,,when new, but it’s been my experience, these older Asian cars, regardless of mileage, have ongoing electrical issues, that will drive you nuts. Just try and get either one of these passed by NYDOT ( or any other state with stringent inspections) Recently someone I know in NY had an older Subaru with the “check engine” light on, and spent hundreds trying to remedy it. Nice cars, just not for me.

    • karu

      In many states cars over 25 years are exempt from emissions testing.

  8. Tenspeed

    I like both of these wagons, but the smoothness and torque of the Toyota straight six would win for me over the coarseness of the Nissan V6. That is one reason I haven’t been a big fan of the new V6 Nissans, at higher RPM their engines get coarse and noisy. We looked at a new Cressida in late 91, and it was very nice, but went with the new V6 Camry instead because of a little more room for a tall driver.

  9. gregwnc

    From memory, both really great cars, with an edge going to the Toyota reliability wise. Personally, when these were new, the Maxima was the car that all my friends drooled over before BMW’s became the “in” car among us. Now, we were definitely partial to to the sedan vs the wagon. It’s still hard for me to deny the looks of the Nissan. Nice find!

    • Howard A Member

      Hi greg, that’s true. I had a friend that had a Maxima sedan, and he said, he HAD to set the speed control, because 80 mph didn’t feel any different than 50.

  10. Sam

    Nod to the Nissan. The Honda Accord wagon of that period is more stylish. Honda, Toyota, Nissan should re-introduce Accord/Camry/Maxima based sports wagons….would rather have as opposed to small/mid SUV. Accord Crosstour was interesting but missed the mark…a more “wagon-esque” version would have competed well with an Outback.

    • DaveT

      Sam I searched high and low for what you’re describing. Enter this. The only 2wd wagon sold in North America. 35mpg hwy, more cargo room than a current Ford Escape and FWD. Aren’t we all old enough to remember when we were told that front drive was going to save us all from ice and snow? Meanwhile for the first time since records started being kept it didn’t snow in Chicago during the months of January AND February. I really wanted the Outback (Indiana made!) but they don’t sell it in Legacy trim. If all hell breaks loose the (t)rusty 4runner will do. Sigh…
      Internet rant over

  11. jtnc

    A close friend bought a new Cressida wagon for his wife in ’84. It had this same twin cam Supra-derived engine in a bodystyle similar to this but a little less crisp. For a wagon in that era, it was downright ‘bitchin! It might not seem fast today, but it would easily outrun his BMW 528e of similar vintage, and it was a veritable dragster compared to the other wagon they considered, Volvo. I didn’t like the velour seats all that much, but for the time the Cressida was a great touring wagon and an unsung performance car and gets my vote.

  12. HeadMaster1

    Toyota all the way, both because it is RWD and also because a next generation turbo supra motor will bolt right in……You can’t bolt a twin-turbo Z-motor into that maxima…..ALSO, the Toy won’t “talk” to you, those Datsun’s were famous for their speaking co-pilots “a door is a jar”……NO, it’s a effin DOOR

  13. Car Nut Seattle

    I find the Toyota Cressida wagon more attractive than the Nissan Maxima wagon.

  14. Jubjub

    I owned each of these and preferred the Cressida, even though the wagon was a little wallowy in the rear. It was more solidly built, most service items were easier and that straight six felt and sounded better too. But…they are both fine machines.

    The VU meter on the Maxima radio was pretty amusing.


    In 2010 I got a free 1990 Sentra and gave it to my son as his first car and to learn how to drive stick.
    Neat little car that was fun to drive but the only problem was the thing disintegrated right from under him and there was no saving it.
    It ran like a clock but rust and NISSAN go hand in hand.

    Love the Maxima but the Yot won’t rust as fast.

  16. David Miraglia

    I’ve owned two Nissan, a 200Se two door sport coupe and my present gifted
    2009 Sentra FE. I’ll stick with the Nissan.

  17. karu

    The Cressida wagon. Maxima will soon be in need of a timing belt change which looks like it will be a pain, plus, 3 liter 6 is an interference engine. If T-belt breaks, most likely there would be engine damage.

    • Maxwell

      I previously owned an 85 Cressida and these days I own an 88 Maxima wagon. I much prefer the styling of the Maxima versus the Cressida but hands down, the Toyota is a much higher quality vehicle, handles far better and a much more impressive engine than the Nissan.

  18. TaG

    To this day I’ve never heard an engine run smoother then that in-line 6 inside my father’s Cressida engine bay in 1986.
    And yes that engine seemed to love being beaten (I was 16 at the time). It was giving you more speed, more speed, and more speed untill you just had a second thought about your driving licence. It was a shame cause just when things started to be interesting, that in-line 6 having the sound of a space ship at high rev, it was mandatory to calm down, the speedometer was already indicating 120 MPH :-)

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