The Nissan Stagea has for years dominated the premium side of the station wagon market in Japan. It might not be a looker, but it has a certain JDM charm about it that attracts those seeking well-equipped and well-priced alternatives to what the import market has to offer. The car you see here was a special edition version of the M35 Stagea called AXIS introduced back in 2003. So why a look at this car you may ask? Well I thought it would not only be appropriate for this month's Haulers & Sedans theme but also because in a very sad move Nissan has quietly killed off the Stagea. The station wagon market sector was never a profitable one for Nissan, so when the Skyline Corssover (sold as the Infiniti EX around the world) came to Japan, it was effectively the end of the Stagea.
Hearing that Nissan has no plans to bring back the big and sporty wagon I began to reminisce back to the time I spent with the AXIS version of the M35, a great car in all respects.
Autech, a subsidiary of Nissan in charge of building special projects and models, came up with a this edition of the Stagea featuring blistered wheel arches and an aggressive body kit.
The AXIS is easy to spot thanks to the large chrome grille that is usually found on every Autech model available from Nissan as well as a set of lightweight 18-inch multi-spoke wheels. Under the hood of the car I borrowed from Nissan all those years ago was a VQ30DD NEO Di, a 260 HP 3L V6 that gave the M35 a smooth and adequately powerful character. Back then Nissan still used to build a turbocharged version of the VQ, the VQ25DET, which was an option on the AXIS as well as the VQ35DE from the Z33 mated to the same 6-speed manual as used in the Fairlady.
The 3L model I drove had a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic, which wasn't sporty by today's standards, but a good match to the equally luxurious feel of the car. The interior was a very comfortable place to be in especially with the brick-colored leather interior, packing all sorts of gadgets like a CD-changer, MD-player (before the boom of the integrated iPod!), TV and Navigation.
The rear seats offered plenty of space and legroom…
…and when folded forward allowed the already copious trunk space to almost double! Think of all the camera gear you can dump back there!!
The AXIS felt nice and tight around corners but there was no hiding its weight and dimensions, rolling quite a lot when pushed hard.
If Nissan gave it a go they could create a very special successor to the M35, so it is very sad to think that they won't even bother trying. I already have mental pictures of a VR38DETT powered beast! They could even call it 380RS as a direct link back to the 1997 WGNC34 Autech 260RS!
But that will just not happen so we are forced to say goodbye to a car that was as JDM as they get. Farewell Nissan Stagea.
-Dino Dalle Carbonare