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By Richard Truett
January 16, 1992
Nissan isn't kidding about the Maxima being a four-door sports car. This roomy sedan packs more muscle than most other cars in its class, handles like an expensive European thoroughbred and contains just about every creature comfort you could want in a
car. If you are looking for a high-performance mid-size sedan, the Maxima should be added to your list of cars to test drive. ENGINE, TRANSMISSION, PERFORMANCE One reason the Maxima SE performs like a sports car is that it has a sports car
engine. Nestled under the hood is a slightly tamer version of the 3.0-liter V-6 found in Nissan's 300ZX. In the Maxima SE, the engine develops 190 horsepower; in the 300ZX it makes 222. (The standard Maxima has a 160-horsepower version of the V-6 engine.)
The Maxima can tear awayfrom a stoplight fast enough to snap your head against the seat. The power really starts to come on at about 3,500 rpm, where you feel a slight surge. It's almost as if a turbocharger were suddenly kicking in. The car quickly
picks up speed. The test car came with a five-speed manual transmission, though you can opt for an electronically controlled four-speed automatic. However, if you are the type of driver who likes to extract the maximum performance from your vehicle,
stick with the stick shift. The gear ratios are nicely spaced to take advantage of the engine's horsepower while allowing for fuel economy. Because the engine pulls so hard, and because it can be revved high (6,700 rpm), gear changes are not required
as often. The Maxima SE is EPA-rated at 26 miles per gallon in highway driving and 21 mpg in the city. On a trip to West Palm Beach, the test car delivered nearly 29 mpg; in town, using the air conditioner, I got 23 mpg of regular unleaded.
STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING The Maxima SE suffers from none of the maladies common to many high-performance front-wheel-drive cars. There's no trace of torque steer, a slight pulling to the left or right when accelerating. Even under heavy
acceleration, the front wheels pull straight. The steering is not as crisp and responsive as it could be. The car reacts somewhat vaguely to short, quick movements of the steering wheel, though the turning radius allows for sharp turns in tight
places. A four-wheel independent suspension system consisting of struts, stabilizer bars and coil springs provides a firm yet fairly nimble ride. If you like to breeze through curves quickly, you are likely to find the Maxima SE a willing
companion. I sailed through a tight turnpike off-ramp curve at 65 mph without experiencing any undue fuss. The tires did not squeal in protest, and the car remained easy to control. There's a stretch of Lee Road in Winter Park where the pavement is
very coarse. I take the test cars there to determine how much road noise finds it way to the interior on bad pavement. The Maxima is only fair in this area. The anti-lock bra
kes (a $995 option) are superb. Four-wheel discs are standard on the SE model. The pedal requires a hefty push for the anti-lock feature to engage, but the system is nicely engineered and does not cause the car to lose its composure in panic stops.
FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS The Maxima is one of those cars in which you immediately feel comfortable. The driver's seat allows for excellent visibility over the hood. The dash is busy with buttons, knobs and switches, but it's sensibly assembled so
that your attention is not diverted from the road for more than an instant or two when changing the radio station or setting the temperature. The instruments are unique. During the day the faces of the speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge are white
with black numbers. They reverse at night and are easily read. The test car came equipped with power windows and door locks that are controlled by small switches on the driver's door panel. These are not lighted an
are difficult to use at night. The electrically operated sunroof added a nice touch. Other amenities included a powerful Bose AM/FM cassette stereo and fog lights. The test car came with the $1,000 optional leather bucket seats. They were firm,
supportive in the lower back, comfortable on a long trip and attractively made. However, adjusting the lumbar and other controls is a bit of a chore. The adjustments are on the lower side of the seat. You must feel around and squeeze your hand in
tight places to configure the seat. The Maxima was the most spacious mid-size Japanese car I have yet driven. There is plenty of room in the rear for three passengers. The trunk, though not very deep, is wide and extends far into the car. I have
only one major gripe about the Maxima: You have to pay $500 for the optional driver's side air bag. For a car with an asking price of more than $20,000, this safety item should be standard equipment. In any case, Nissan will have a tough job improving
the Maxima SE. It's a sensible, well-built car that gives all the performance you are ever likely to need. And the nice part is that it comes in a terrific-looking package.