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Credit: Motor Trend

IMSA driving ace Steve Millen’s Stillen operation has a long history of squeezing extra urge out of Nissan products, so it’s little wonder that the Maxima SE sport sedan inspired Millen to create something special.

Called the SMX, this modified Maxima has key improvements concocted to elevate performance but keep the cost and complexity quite reasonable. The SMX can be ordered directly through Nissan dealers, transformed at Millen’s Costa Mesa, California, facility, or constructed piece by piece in your own garage.

An engine-management computer upgrade along with breathing help on the intake and exhaust side of the 3.0-liter V-6 bring the estimated crankshaft horsepower to 224 (up from a claimed 190 horses stock). Dyno figures notwithstanding, the SMX’s acceleration times barely budged from stock numbers. The 0-60-mph sprint times took 6.7-seconds, followed up by a 15.1-second, 92.2-mph quarter-mile run.

Far more tangible are the advances on the handling front, where the SMX enjoys meaty improvements in every performance measure. The Yokohama-wrapped 17-inch MOMO wheels combine with shorter progressive-rate springs to transform the Maxima. Ultimate skidpad grip jumped from 0.83 g stock to 0.90 g, and the slalom speed increased by 3.6 mph to a steamy 68.7 mph. Berserk laps around the racetrack revealed no evil habits, just predictable manners and substantially higher limits. Only the $100,000-plus RENNTech E60 was capable of lapping faster. The SMX’s stock Nissan dampers were a touch slushy on the track, but allow the car to retain much of its comfortable ride compliance.

Stillen’s extensive brake work pays off in measured testing and on the track. Nissan 300ZX calipers with metal matrix pads squeeze cross-drilled ZX discs up front; the stock Maxima rear brakes also get the pad and drilling treatment. Stopping distance from 60 mph plummeted from 131 feet to a 111. On the track, the big brakes proved they could do the deed over and over again with minimal fade and maximum control. At racetrack temperatures, though, the binders are prone to squealing. That, however, is the only glitch we discovered in the Stillen. With functional changes totaling less then $5000, the SMX is clearly a cost-effective upgrade for the Maxima SE.

All information shown comes from Motor Trend, December, 1996.

This SMX does not have the engine-management computer upgrade.


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