The 1987 Nissan Maxima looks very much like the '86 model and for very good reason. Nissan is not about to mess with success.

Sure there's been a slight facelifting - the grille is sloped slightly toward the bumper and some of the car's lines have been smoothed out - and if you don't look two or three times you're liable to miss it. Since it is Nissan's fastest selling car, there is no real reason to get radical about making big changes, especially when you consider that the Maxima was totally restyled for the 1985 model year.

Also not changing for the new model year are the Maxima's V-6 engine (same as the one under the hood of the non-turbo 300ZX), its luxury interior, its scores of standard equipment and gadgets and, obviously, its popularity. But, then, the Maxima (and its predecessors) has always been a special car from Nissan.

It was one of the first of the ''European'' touring sedans from Japan and it tried to cash in on the image of the more expensive European sedans. This type of car is now offered by auto manufacturers from across the world in all price ranges, but back in the middle of the 1977-model year, it was indeed unique. This was when Datsun (nee Nissan) brought out the 810, a small car with a good-sized fuel-injection engine (actually taken from the Datsun 240Z), a good deal of luxury, lots of gadgets and a moderate price tag.

This same car with the same sort of marketing philosophy remained constant over the years, even though its name did not. It was next known as the Datsun 810 Maxima, then the Datsun Maxima and now the Nissan Maxima. Over the years it did become more refined and better looking. Of some interest is the fact that the 1981 model was the first talking car (''Key is in the ignition.'' ''Headlights are on.'' And that sort of stuff.), which may or may not impress you. Nevertheless the Maxima made it through the years and is now one of the established cars in the industry.

The Maxima comes in two body styles; four-door sedan and four-door station wagon. The test car was a station wagon. As such it was quite practical though not quite as sporty-looking as the sedan (there is only so much you can do with station wagon styling).

With a volume index of 120 cubic feet (89 passenger/31 luggage) the Maxima is classed as a small wagon (less than 130 cubic feet of passenger and cargo volume). It can hold five passengers and if the front seats aren't set all the way back, rear seat passengers will even have leg room. Head room is especially good. Even though the car had a sunroof (for this year it now tilts as well as slides back), there is plenty of head room up front for even tall people. The split rear seat can be folded (one or both sides) to provide more cargo space.

Basic dimensions include a wheelbase of 100.4 inches, overall length of 184.8 inches, width of 66.5 inches, height of 55.7 inches and a curb weight of 3,280 pounds. All-in-all, not really big but not small either.

Driving the Maxima wagon is an absolute snap. Just put that four-speed automatic in gear (only transmission available but there is a five-speed manual on the SE sedan), aim it reasonably straight, step on the gas and you are on the way. No blood, sweat and tears over this baby. The power steering is responsive though not sensitive while the power four-wheel disc brakes can stop on a Susan B. Anthony dollar with a minimum of fuss. In other words the car responds without giving it a great deal of though.

Perhaps one of the reasons driving it seems so easy (or so unobvious) is that it has characteristics more like a conventional front engine/rear drive car than a front-wheel drive car, which, of course, it actually is. Responsible for this are the equal-length half-shaft drive axles that virtually eliminate ''torque steer.'' You can tromp all over the accelerator and it doesn't move to one sid or the other on hard acceleration.

The four-wheel independent suspension features MacPherson struts up front and a parallel-link, strut-type set up in the rear. The wagon's suspension is tuned on the soft side for a more comfortable ride. Rather interesting, the sporty SE sedan version (with the same basic suspension) features adjustable shock absorbers that are controlled by a switch on the center console and can be set for soft, medium and firm. On the firm setting, the sedan is a real road car. The wagon is no slouch for handling but it really is designed as more of a luxury car than a sports wagon.

As mentioned, the Maxima is powered by the same double-overhead-camshaft, fuel-injected V-6 as the 300ZX. Well, nearly the same. The Maxima's engine is mounted transversely and it comes in at eight horses less. It is rated at 152 horsepower at 5,200 rpm (instead of the 160 for the 300ZX) and 167 foot pounds torque at 3,600 rpm. Performance, not surprisingly, is good. And if you restrain yourself a little while driving it, fuel mileage isn't bad either. The test car averaged 17 miles per gallon for city driving and 24 mpg over the highways.

Full price on the test vehicle came to $17,309, which includes a delivery charge of $210, the only other charge. The Maxima, obviously, is not any longer a moderately priced vehicle. It is thoroughly equipped. In fact, the only option available is two-tone paint. Standard equipment includes: air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, a theft- deterrent system, power steering, power brakes, power glass sunroof (with shade), a top-of-the-line AM-FM stereo cassette, power mirrors, power front seats and a switch to turn off the talking car system.