If status is one reason you're thinking of buying a Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or BMW, go right ahead. But if these models are appealing because you seek a fine, world-class, high-performance luxury sedan, then consider a '95 Nissan Maxima. It may be just the answer -- and a relative bargain.
The '95 Nissan Maxima is available in three models: the GXE, the sporty SE and the top-of-the-line GLE. Our test vehicle was the performance-oriented SE, a car that's sure to delight people who love to drive. Standard equipment on the SE includes all-season tires, a rear spoiler, front fog lamps and sports-tuned suspension.
Nissan had not announced its prices for the '95 Maxima at press time, but it's projected to be in the $30,000 neighborhood. If that seems a bit steep, be aware that this car is quite comparable to luxury sedans in the $40,000-and-up range.
Options available on the SE include anti-lock brakes (ABS), a power sunroof, a Bose six-speaker CD system and leather interior trim, all of which were in place on our test vehicle. Our Maxima also had the five-speed manual transmission, as opposed to the optional automatic transmission.
Speedy acceleration was the first sign that this car has a newly developed engine -- a smaller and lighter 3.0-1iter, 24-valve V-6 that puts out 190 hp. In one expressway test, it went from 0 to 85 mph in the few seconds we had expected it to reach 60 mph, and the engine barely groaned. Gas mileage was also good, reaching 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
The '95 Maxima's styling is new, but not radically different. Less boxy than last year's model version, it's comparable to the current rounded styling of luxury cars, such as Lexus, Infiniti, the new Buick Riviera and the Oldsmobile Aurora. It will look right at home parked at the country club or in the management lot.
As you examine the exterior of the Maxima, you'll find perfect fit and one of the best finishes around. Our car was Super Black, and for the most part, it looked like a very glossy black car. But in the sun, we could see glints of other colors.
Nissan uses a new cross-linking clearcoat paint that features special resins with molecules that link together during the curing process. It's supposed to provide exceptional protection against the elements and greater resistance to dulling hairline scratches, compared to conventional clearcoat finishes. Other paint colors available are Ruby Pearl, Dark Blue, Pebble Beige Metallic, Black Emerald, White Pearl and Granite Pearl.
Although Nissan designers have updated Maxima styling to meet the latest in tastes, they were conservative with trim. This car doesn't sport any decals and not much bright metal, but the body-color door handles and attractive, bright-finished alloy wheels combined for a classy, contemporary look.
A remote keyless entry enabled us to lock and unlock the doors or trunk with the push of a button. We liked this feature very much (since we could lock the doors after exiting, it made locking our keys inside the car highly unlikely).
Raising the hood was easy, and access to fluid-level checkpoints was good. It took us a few minutes to figure out where everything was in the jam-packed engine compartment, but this is true of most current cars. What is not true on some other cars is that everything we needed to check was easily accessible.
It's not apparent from looking at the body, but Nissan designers improved the overall rigidity, increasing torsional and bending stiffness by 10 percent. This translates into more protection during an accident through better body-crush control and improved handling due to the stronger mounting of suspension components.
The Inside Story
Driving the '95 Maxima was like driving a fine, expensive sports car. The steering wheel and shift lever were covered with leather. Extremely comfortable bucket seats held us securely in place but did not interfere with easy entrance and exit. Visibility through each of the windows was excellent. The instrument panel was attractive and readable with its white-faced analog displays for speedometer, tachometer, and fuel and temperature gauges.
Controls were easy to see and reach. The temperature-control system was simple to use and very responsive. It also included an outside temperature reading, a feature that wasn't necessary but we liked it.
The wheelbase of the '95 Maxima has been increased by two inches to 106.3 inches, which, along with a more compact suspension design and a thinner roof panel, enhanced interior roominess.
Other nice touches: a multi-adjustable driver's seat, power side-view mirrors controlled from the driver's door console and an air conditioning system that uses non-CFC refrigerant.
Among standard features are a digital clock, AM/FM stereo with a cassette player, cruise control, two-speed intermittent wipers, a center console with an armrest and dual overhead map lights. There's a driver-side cupholder, but none for the front-seat passenger, which seems a bit stingy for a car of this caliber.
Ride & Drive
This is where the Maxima really excelled. Its new V-6 engine puts this car in the front rank of performance sedans. It did 0 to 60 mph in less than nine seconds, but there was none of the muscle-car brutishness we'd expect with such speedsters.
Nissan engineers wanted a smaller engine for '95 that would not sacrifice power. What they developed was a more compact cylinder head that reduces engine height, width and weight (a 64-pound reduction).
The more compact engine has resulted in less idle noise and vibration. Nissan also micro-finishes the Maxima's crankshaft and camshaft surfaces, a practice well-known to builders of racing engines, which results in less friction and less energy loss.
Another factor in the Maxima's user-friendly feel is its multi-link beam suspension, which combines the best attributes of a composite linkage system and a torsion-beam axle. The emphasis is on the rear tires maintaining optimum gripping force under all driving conditions -- a goal that's easily achievable with front-engine, rear-drive cars but more difficult with front-engine, front-drive cars such as the Maxima.
Nissan's refinements have paid off. The Maxima gave us an exceptional ride, and its handling is as good as you're likely to encounter. Cornering was precise, flat and stable, and the ABS provided straight, sure stops -- even on the Midwest's pothole-ridden roads of spring.
The 1995 Nissan Maxima is a front-drive alternative to the existing rear-drive, high-performance luxury cars. It's also a car that can match its higher-priced, rear-drive rivals in performance, ride and handling.
When it comes to the bottom line, the Maxima will probably cost more than most front-drive performance luxury cars. But if you want a winner in comfort and in performance, try the Maxima. You may actually save a few bucks.
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