Although Nissan has been exporting their cars outside of Japan since the ’50s, there’s no denying that the ’90s were a banner decade for the manufacturer. Some of the cars Nissan made in the ’90s include the Sentra, Altima, and Maxima, as well as the Pathfinder SUV, the introduction of the Nissan Frontier pickup, and a number of amazing performance-focused vehicles. Models like the Nissan 300ZX, the NX1600, and the 240SX were not only popular when first released, but they continue to sell at used Nissan dealerships for high prices.
Whether you’re a child of the ’90s, got your first car during the dot-com boom, or you’re curious about what was available before you were born, looking back at what Nissan has done over the years can be quite informative. So today, we’re going to check out the Nissan lineup throughout the ’90s to see what they offered here in the US. It was certainly a different time and a very different lineup from what you see today.
The Nissan Sentra
The smallest sedans offered by Nissan in the ’90s, the Sentra was introduced here in the US in the 1980s and remains a popular part of the Nissan lineup even today. Nissan kicked off the 1990s with the third generation for the Sentra, which was a compact model available as either a four-door sedan or a two-door coupe. It featured a standard 1.6L engine and was available in numerous trims with an available power package that included power windows, door locks, and mirrors – there was even an optional sunroof. Enthusiasts may also remember the sporty Sentra SE-R, which was only sold as a coupe and came with a larger 2.0L engine. A fourth-generation Sentra was introduced in 1995, but while it was more comfortable, it lost the coupe body style and a lot of the third generation’s sporty character.
The Nissan Altima
Slightly larger than the Sentra, the Nissan Altima was initially a compact sedan that has grown to become a midsize model over the years. The first-generation Altima was released for the 1993 model year and featured a 2.4L engine with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. A second-generation Altima closed out the ’90s with a release for the 1998 model year; it featured similar overall performance but had a new interior that felt roomier and more stylish – some would argue it became a midsize model at this point, though it grew even more with its third-generation 2002 model.
The Nissan Maxima
The last of Nissan’s ’90s sedans, the Maxima is also still available today and is a true midsize model that is larger and more spacious inside than the other two. A third generation for the Maxima launched for the 1989 model year and spanned through 1994, featuring a standard 160 hp 3.0L V6 engine. However, the SE trim boasted a 190 hp engine along with a five-speed manual and limited-slip differential, making it a lot of fun to drive. A fourth-generation Maxima was released for the 1995 model year and featured a new 190 hp engine standard on every trim. An available Bose sound system for this generation made it even more popular, and it was highly regarded for its quiet interior.
The Nissan Pathfinder
During the 1990s, Nissan had a single SUV available: the Pathfinder, which was introduced in 1985 as a compact model but grew into a midsize SUV in 1995 with the launch of its second generation. This second-generation model featured a 168 hp V6 engine, and it switched from a body-on-frame design like a truck to car-like unibody construction. The Pathfinder was quite popular throughout the ’90s and is still available today. It’s interesting to note that this was Nissan’s only SUV during that decade, while it’s now joined by six other SUVs in their lineup.
The Nissan Quest
Remember minivans? The 1990s was a stellar decade for minivans, and they were available from most manufacturers as they enjoyed the peak of their popularity before SUVs started dominating the market. Nissan had the Quest, a minivan they first introduced for the 1993 model year and designed as part of a partnership with Ford. The first-generation Quest featured a 3.0L V6 engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission; it had seating for seven passengers, including a removable second-row bench for two people and a sliding third-row three-person bench seat. A second generation for the Quest launched for the 1999 model year with a more stylish exterior and improved engine; two more generations followed until 2016 when Nissan discontinued the model.
The Nissan Hardbody
Also called the D21, this was the Nissan truck available for most of the 1990s. Powered by either a 2.4L 4-cylinder or a 3.0L V6 engine, the Hardbody was a compact pickup available until 1997. It was quite a popular competitor to models like Toyota’s compact truck, but it lacked a marketable name. This resulted in it being replaced for the 1998 model year by…
The Nissan Frontier
Also called the D22 Frontier, since it followed the D21 Hardbody pickup, the Nissan Frontier delivered on a more attractive and marketable truck. This trend was shared by other auto manufacturers: Toyota introduced pickups with names like Tacoma and Tundra, while Chevy released the Silverado. When first released, the Frontier was a compact pickup like its predecessor, though it became a midsize truck in the ’00s. The Frontier is still a central part of Nissan’s lineup, where it has been joined by the full-size Titan and the more-powerful Nissan Titan XD.
The Nissan 300ZX
Throughout the 1990s, Nissan offered three performance vehicles that were unassuming from the outside, lacking the kind of flash that you see in something like the Corvette. But the 300ZX proved itself time and again as an enduring hallmark of the kind of power and performance that Nissan packed into their vehicles. Also called the Fairlady Z in other markets, the 300ZX was released in the US in 1983, and a new generation kicked off for the 1990 model year. The 300ZX of the ’90s featured a 3.0L V6 engine that delivered 222 hp, though a twin-turbocharged option was available that kicked that up to 300 hp. Sadly, the 300ZX came to an end in 1996 due to changes in the auto market and an increasing price tag.
The Nissan NX
The second popular performance option from Nissan in the ’90s was the NX series, with two different models available. These vehicles were based on the Sentra and offered either a 1.6L engine (NX1600) or a 2.0L engine (NX2000). This was a two-door coupe, though models were available with a targa top, and it featured front-wheel drive. While many sports cars are designed with rear-wheel drive, the NX models are generally considered among the best-handling front-wheel drive vehicles ever built. Despite how impressive they were, the NX models were only available from the 1991 model year through 1993.
The Nissan 240SX
Finally, we have the 240SX, which was the last sports car Nissan offered in the 1990s, and it remains a legend to this day. First released for the 1990 model year, the 240SX was available until 1999, making it the perfect expression of ’90s performance. It was powered by a 2.4L I-4 engine, paired with either an automatic or manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. While the 240SX was available in the early ’90s as a coupe, hatchback, or convertible, by the late ’90s, only a coupe model was available.
It’s interesting to note that the 240SX came to an end simply because demand fell as the 1990s came to an end; people focused more on practical vehicles, and SUVs began to take over the market. Despite reduced demand, the 240SX has remained incredibly popular – in fact, demand for it boomed over the last decade as drifting has found increased popularity in racing and motorsports. Due to its light chassis and incredibly balanced overall weight distribution, the Nissan 240SX is widely considered to be one of the best drifting vehicles ever made. Today, a used 240SX in good condition can sell for more than it did when it was offered as a new model more than 20 years ago.