Versus the competiton:
The Maxima used to be Nissan’s only four-door sports car, but that role has changed with the advent of the feisty Altima 3.5 SE. The Maxima maintains its station at the top of the product totem, offering a higher level of comfort and performance.
Key to the Maxima’s performance is the 255-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that is as sweet and powerful as any in production. This engine, also used in various Infiniti products, has been named as one of the “10 Best Engines” by Ward’s Auto World for seven consecutive years. It sports continuously variable valve timing, a variable intake system, electronic throttle and a silent timing chain. This engine has well-toned muscles, yet it always feels civilized. A six-speed manual and limited-slip differential are available for those who want maximum performance, but the test car was equipped with a four-speed automatic that was much nicer in everyday city driving.
The current-generation was all-new in 2000, but it has a handful of changes for 2002. The oval grille is larger and filled with large chrome bars, the headlights have a four-bulb design with high-density xenon lights, windows have UV-reducing solar glass and the side sills have been redesigned. With the SE’s rear spoiler, the Maxima looks lean and elegant, although some might think the headlight design is too fussy.
Prices start at $24,699 for the GXE, $25,449 for the SE and $27,099 for the GLE. The sporty SE, driven for this review, has light-faced gauges, deeply contoured seats, 17-inch wheels and a suspension that is tightened up for sharper handling.
Inside, your eyes fall on an instrument panel whose design is excellent. The center panel arcs gracefully from the windshield down to the center console, and it houses fresh-air vents, navigation system, stereo controls and the heating/cooling unit. Its matte finish surrounds large, soft-touch buttons that have the look and feel of expensive home-audio gear. The folks at Nissan’s design center in California have done a great job with this car’s interior. Thoughtful touches include a cupholder whose divided insert can be removed to accommodate giant bottles and an adjustable armrest atop the center console so that shorter drivers can use it as an elbow support.
Nissan’s navigation system, a $1,995 option, includes the three-dimensional Birdview map display that has a rolling display that shows buildings, gas stations and points of interest in a realistic fashion. It allows the driver to look over the horizon, which makes orientation easier. The traditional flat map image is also available. A voice guidance system provides directions, lowering the radio volume when directions are spoken.
The test car’s Bose audio system was outstanding, but trunk-mounted CD changers are not at all handy.
The test car was loaded with leather seats, automatic climate control, power passenger seat and a power moonroof.
The Maxima SE is a sedan that thinks like a sports car. It is e ntertaining to drive because it has plenty of power and a luxurious interior. The sports suspension rides firmer than the other models, but overall agility is significantly enhanced. Larger wheels and tires contribute to its cornering prowess as well. Anti-lock, four-wheel disc brakes erase speed with impressive ease, and Brake Assist applies maximum stopping force in emergency situations. Traction control is a $299 option.
To counter the performance image of the Altima 3.5 SE, the Maxima raises the bar with a greater feeling of comfort, convenience and power.
The base price of the test car was $25,449. Options included the Bose audio system, navigation system, leather package and power moonroof. The sticker price was $31,465.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
Point: The current Maxima is two years old but it received a fresh face and a more powerful engine. It remains one of the leaders in the performance-sedan segment, yet adds features such as NissanUs three-dimensional navigation system.
Counterpoint: Traction control should be standard in a car in this price segment.
Engine: 3.5-liter, 255-hp V-6
Transmission: automatic Front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Curb weight: 3,218 lbs.
Base price: $25,449
As driven: $31,465
Mpg rating: 20 city, 26 hwy.