Vehicle Overview
Plenty of extra power goes into the 2002 edition of Nissan’s top front-drive Maxima sedan, which isn’t much bigger than the Altima. The two models are now the same length, and though the Altima is still considered second in rank, it has a longer wheelbase than the Maxima.

Nissan took a curious route when it redesigned the Altima for 2002. Formerly a compact, the Altima gained 7.1 inches in wheelbase, leapfrogging it right past the midsize Maxima and into full-size territory, as measured by But in most shoppers’ minds, the Altima ranks below the Maxima in both size and price.

The Maxima was redesigned for the 2000 model year, but the 2002 model gets a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces 255 horsepower (33 hp more than before). The new version also is fitted with a drive-by-wire throttle. The grille and fascia have been restyled, high-intensity-discharge headlights are installed, and side sill spoilers are standard — all to impart a sportier character and a modestly more aggressive look.

A new close-ratio six-speed-manual transmission is available for the Maxima SE sedan, and the automatic unit has been strengthened, according to Nissan. Antilock brakes gain electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist. The Maxima’s gauges are now titanium-colored rather than white-faced, and a Meridian Edition for the SE and GLE includes heated seats and mirrors.

Nissan describes the current Maxima as having “aggressive styling with fluid forms sweeping front to rear,” led by the restyled grille. New taillights incorporate clear reflectors, and new side sill spoilers are standard. On a 108.3-inch wheelbase, the four-door sedan measures 191.5 inches long overall and stretches 70.3 inches wide. Aluminum wheels hold 17-inch tires on the SE and GLE models, while the lower-end GXE gets 16-inchers.

Only the roof is shared with the Infiniti I35, which evolved from the same basic design; other body panels are unique to the Maxima. Nissan’s California studio did the styling, whereas the I35 was designed in Japan.

Five-passenger seating consists of front buckets and a rear bench. The 60/40-split rear seatback folds down to add cargo space beyond the trunk’s regular 15.1-cubic-foot capacity. Seats may be ordered in cloth or leather. An eight-way power driver’s seat is standard, with memory and an entry/exit feature optional. The seven-speaker, 200-watt Bose premium audio system includes a cassette player and an in-dash six-CD changer, along with steering-wheel controls, speed-sensitive volume controls and Radio Data System (RDS) operation. Nissan’s 3-D Birdview navigation system is optional.

Under the Hood
The new 255-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine replaces a 222-hp, 3.0-liter V-6. A four-speed-automatic transmission is standard on the GXE and GLE and comes as an option on the sporty SE sedan, which also is offered with a standard close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox.

Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist are standard. Side-impact airbags for the front seats are optional. Traction control can be ordered as an option on GLE and SE models with the automatic transmission.

Driving Impressions
The Maxima displays masterful control on demanding roads and responds rapidly to driver inputs at the steering wheel. Sure-footed on the pavement and precise in control, the sedan also delivers a generally appealing ride, but its overall quality depends on the model.

For gentle cruising, the GLE might be the wiser choice. The SE model’s suspension isn’t as absorbent as some, so rough surfaces can stir the sedan’s occupants at times. In fact, the SE suspension borders on stiff. Serious bumps can produce quite a jolt, but the ride on smooth roads is just fine. Except for a bit of tire noise, the SE proved to be quiet.

Acceleration is just as energetic as the engine’s horsepower rating suggests. Automatic-transmission shifts in the SE sedan can come a little too soon for full performance when starting off from a standstill, but otherwise the unit operates smoothly.

The seats are inviting and satisfyingly supportive in an interior that is somewhat sedate. But gauges are distinctive, and the dashboard’s center panel is steeply angled. The latest Maxima is refined, civilized, decidedly sportier and more performance-focused than the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Then again, so was its less-potent predecessor.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2002 Buying Guide