Chances are that if you’re tyre-kicking Stageas, you’re already reasonably versed on the topic. But many looking for a neat mid-sized wagon out of left field, particularly the late-gen M35 “Volvo-looking thing” occasionally spotted on the road, here’s what it is. And, for any interested parties, it’s worth seeing how they’ve aged and how they might fare today as cut-priced premium family hauler or enthusiast toy.
Nissan’s Stagea, launched in 1996 and surviving just 11 years, is a bona-fide petrolhead cult car and a tale of two halves. Its first WC34 generation (1996-2001) minted its legend, a sports wagon technically amalgamating the humble Laurel with the heroic Skyline with which it shared powertrain DNA, including the GT-R-ified Autech version. Conceived in Japan’s so-called Great Turbo Era, the WC34 offers much to unpack…perhaps for another time.
Here in overview is the second-generation M35. It arrived, in 2001, at the dawn of a huge technical shift for the Japanese carmaker, boasting the then-new FR chassis architecture and VQ engine family that been used by Nissan and Infiniti ever since, including 350Z/370Z and R35 GT-R.
Tamer, arguably more mature, more European, the M35 Stagea, like its predecessor, was a Japanese domestic offering, slipping into other markets in scant numbers via the grey import route. It survived just six years before the nameplate was put to pasture.
At launch, the gen-two Stagea mirrored changes found elsewhere in Nissan’s line-up. It was more solid and measurably more refined than its forebear, not to mention larger and roomier as well. And while both generations of the wagon offered mild to nicely warmed-over variants, the M35 brought a stronger sense of luxury and innate comfort right throughout its range. But unlike gen one’s (GT-R-powered) 260RS Autech Version, a proper fire-breathing high-performer never found its way into the ranks.
Despite being a sole model on a limited lifecycle, the M35 Stagea spurned a dizzying array of variants. Turbo and non-turbo engines, rear- and all-wheel drive, high- and low-riding guises… wading through it appears complicated, until you break down some fundamentals that limit Aussie buyer choice in availability…
The M35 was split into two series. Series 1 (2001-2004) offered both (one) turbo and (three) naturally aspirated engines. Of these four, two engine choices – the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre VQ25DD and 3.0-litre VQ30DD engines – are ineligible for Aussie import compliance. No foul – these are the bread and butter options.
Instead, Aussies get the nicer stuff, notably the turbocharged 2.5-litre VQ25DET petrol V6 outputting 208kW (or 206kW as quoted in some literature) and 407Nm. Torquey and driveable, it’s considered by many as the pick of the M35 Stagea crop.
The other available engine is the naturally aspirated high-revving VQ35DE petrol V6, with an advertised 208kW peak to comply with Japan’s ‘gentlemen’s agreed’ power cap and bringing 353Nm. But, as the ‘350Z’ engine, it was pitched as the flagship choice in the 350S Autech Axis version.
The ‘early’ turbo M35 Stageas, all AWD, are quite prolific in Oz. Choices include the regular 250T RS Four V model and a version with Nissan’s Hicas four-wheel steering system, as well as a 250T RX Four with improved niceties such as dual-zone climate and high-grade audio.
For a bit of European soft-riding vibe, Series I brought the ride-jacked 2.5-turbo-powered AR-X Four, complete with greyed out plastic over fenders and specific 18-inch wheels.
Then Series II arrived, in August 2004, with Nissan dropping turbocharging from the range completely.
There were five core models to the latter-day line-up and ineligible for import are the 250RX variants with their humble naturally aspirated 158kW 2.5L V6s.
Aussies do get access to a fresh-badged 350RX and 350RX Four – rear and all-drive respectively – using the VQ35DE, though power was pegged at 200kW. And the high-riding AR-X Four returned, albeit with turbocharging ditched in favour of similarly neutered 200kW 3.5-litre natural aspiration.
Meanwhile, the fancy Axis by Autech package, with specific styling, suspension and 18-inch wheels, can be had in turbo AWD or with 3.5L N/A motivation in a choice of rear or all-wheel drive. A unicorn six-speed manual version of the Axis was offered for just one year (2003-2004) and is ineligible for import – all available Stageas in Oz will have five-speed automatic transmissions.
What do you need to look out for when shopping for an M35 Stagea? Let’s find out…