Redesigned for 2004, Nissan's front-wheel-drive flagship sedan received a stronger V-6 and a new Skyview roof that features a narrow glass panel running lengthwise between the front and rear seats. An Elite Package included a fixed, full center console that provides four-passenger seating, with rear buckets rather than a bench seat.
Performance-oriented 3.5 SE and luxury-focused 3.5 SL models are offered. The 3.5 SE sedan uses either a five-speed-automatic transmission or an optional close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox, which promises improved shift action for 2005. Titanium-tinted interior trim is new, and traction control is now standard.
The Maxima features distinctive C-pillars that extend beyond the rear window in a "flying buttress" configuration to form a coupelike silhouette. Boldly sculpted fender openings add to the car's sporty nature. All Maximas come standard with the Skyview roof, but a traditional front sunroof is optional.
Combination headlight elements are available with xenon bulbs. Six-spoke alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires on the 3.5 SE, while the 3.5 SL gets 17-inch rubber. Two fully independent suspensions are available: performance-tuned for the 3.5 SE and luxury-tuned for a supple ride in the 3.5 SL.
Seating for five occupants is standard, but the Elite Package reduces the seat count to four with the installation of twin bucket seats and a console in the rear. The package includes heated rear seats and a powered rear sunshade.
An eight-speaker 320-watt Bose premium stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer and either XM or Sirius Satellite Radio capability is standard in the 3.5 SL. A navigation system is optional.
Under the Hood
The Maxima's 3.5-liter V-6 produces 265 horsepower and 255 pounds-feet of torque. The engine in the 3.5 SL drives a five-speed-automatic transmission. The 3.5 SE can be equipped with either the automatic transmission or a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox.
Standard features include four-channel all-disc antilock brakes, side-impact airbags and side curtain-type airbags. The front seats have active head restraints. Vehicle Dynamic Control with traction control is optional on models with the automatic transmission.
Even though the Maxima delivers more road noise than expected, it's a top-notch highway cruiser. Ride quality in the 3.5 SE is excellent. Riders will feel significant bumps, but that's a small price to pay for such sporty handling and precise response. Surprisingly, the Maxima remains impressively flat through curves. The 3.5 SE's five-speed-automatic transmission performs with extra-smooth gear changes and prompt reactions.
Expect plenty of power from the refined V-6, which cruises comfortably and pulls avidly. The 3.5 SE's six-speed-manual gearbox is exceptionally smooth. The Skyview roof is most appealing to rear occupants.