The stock suspension was definetely a drawback with those Maxima's but other than that they were literally perfect... The canadian spec SE model with the VLSD differential more than made up for it especially compared to Mazdas open differential. If you had an american spec Maxima with the open differential your preference for the Mazda becomes a lot more clear.You have GOT to be kidding. We bought a 1997 Maxima SE and drove it (about 15,000 miles/year) for several years, mostly on Oregon and Washington roads of all kinds. The Maxima handled a smidgen better than your average building contractor's brick. In particular, in tighter radius turns at speed (by "speed" I mean >25 mph), the outside front corner dove and plowed.
The SE was delivered new, of course, with so-called "all-season" (read: "good in no season, but mediocre/OK in dry weather") tires, which were sufficiently inadequate that the tires' deficiencies pretty much disguised the suspension's flaws. I swapped out the OEM tires after a year for a set of Goodyear Eagle [two-letter or three-letter] tires (I forget the specific model designation) that were constructed around a steel cord carcass with Kevlar belts in the tread, and those tires corrected many of the Maxima's traction problems, but no tire swap could correct the fundamental problem of the Macpherson Strut geometry of the front suspension.
The Macpherson geometry was developed in the 1960s by the British division of Ford to cut costs so that low-end English Fords could better compete on price with GM Vauxhalls, etc. The clever idea was to use the front shock absorber (necessary to damp spring bounce) as a part of the steering geometry, eliminating one of the two arms of the superior geometry that now generally is denominated "double wishbone"; in a Macpherson suspension, one of the wishbones' function is taken over by a shock absorber, which then does double-duty as a suspension component, locating the wheels to establishing caster and camber during road- and load-induced deflections, and at the same time performing that same task that a traditional shock absorber does. As with most multi-function compromises, the result of the Macpherson compromise is that the front suspension does not do an outstanding job on either wheel location or shock absorbing. The angle at which the strut is positioned between the wheel assembly and the chassis can be optimized for shock absorption or for caster/camber/steering geometry; but it cannot be optimized for both at the same time. However, compared to a double wishbone geometry, a Macpherson suspension can save in the order of magnitude of tens of dollars in cost per vehicle, which can add up when the manufacturer is turning out millions of cars.
After a few years with the Maxima, we sold it and purchased a 2004 Mazda6 wagon, which we still drive in 2019. One of the primary criteria I applied in selecting the Mazda was that it features a double-wishbone front suspension, which makes for a HUGE improvement in handling compared to the Nissan Maxima. A night-vs.-day difference. Of, course, with the second generation of the Mazda6, the green eye-shades at Ford (which then owned controlling interest in Mazda) dictated cost-cutting measures that included switching to a Macpherson strut front suspension.
Which is why our 2004 Mazda6 is quite probably the last Mazda that we ever shall buy or drive.
It is absolutely great that the first generation Mazda 6 is a double wishbone setup.. My friend had a first gen automatic v6 and the suspension on that thing was really good. My problem was the awful lack of low-end torque when the 3L V6 was paired with an automatic. I tried a manual v6 first gen twice and it was much better... Nissan's 3L VQ is definitely more reliable than Mazda's and it has a better mid range as well (max torque at 4000 VS 5000RPM) , with the exception of the VQ30DE being more refined, they otherwise feel quite similar in design.
That's literally one of the last cars in it's class with proper double wishbone suspension, but the American assembled interior was another big drawback for me. The third gen's built in Japan have excellent fit/finish which is strange to see in comparison to a newer car.