Vehicle Overview
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. For 2006, either Sirius or XM Satellite Radio can be installed, and a Bluetooth-based hands-free phone system is available.

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 tires. 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 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 is optional.

Driving Impressions
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. 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 sunroof is most appealing to rear occupants.