The Nissan Maxima is a quick and stylish premium mid-size sedan. It coddles its driver with refinement and dazzles with luxury gadgets.
Now that the Nissan Altima has assumed the role of a roomy mid-size sedan, the Maxima has moved up-market to a premium position. The Maxima has become a more specialized product and makes no apologies for what it can't do: It's not ideal for families, it looks weird from some angles, and it's not significantly quicker than the Altima. And that's just fine by us.
We like the Maxima's unique, highly styled personality, and we like its focus on performance. The sporty Maxima SE rides smoothly and quietly, while the more luxurious Maxima SL rides more softly. Cruising on the highway is effortless. Nissan's 265-horsepower V6 delivers responsive performance for quick passes.
Maxima's interior is innovative and comfortable with seats that are supportive and luxurious. The interesting Skyview roof, a glass panel running lengthwise over the front and rear seats, is the sort of feature associated with futuristic concept cars. Also interesting are the available rear bucket seats. Together, these features make back-seat riders feel like full-fledged adult passengers.
Safety has been enhanced for 2005. Front-seat passengers benefit from Nissan's Advanced Air Bag System as standard equipment. An advanced Traction Control System (TCS) is also standard.
The Maxima is a four-door sedan with a V6 engine and front-wheel drive. It comes in two distinct flavors: The 3.5 SE is aimed at the driving enthusiast, while the 3.5 SL is more luxuriously equipped.
SE ($27,200) comes with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic (for the same price). SE comes with a sports suspension and 18-inch wheels and tires. It comes equipped with all the conveniences you'd expect in a near-luxury sedan, plus the unique Skyview roof, a narrow band of glass that stretches down the roof front to rear. Traction control comes standard.
SL ($29,450) comes standard with the five-speed automatic, a softer suspension and 17-inch wheels and tires. Leather upholstery, heated seats, xenon HID headlamps, a premium eight-speaker Bose stereo, and conveniences that are optional on the SE are all standard on the SL. SL also features the Skyview roof. Woodgrain trim replaces the SE's metallic interior accents.
Options include a DVD navigation system with seven-inch color LCD display ($2,000); XM or Sirius satellite radio ($400); Vehicle Dynamic Control ($600). A power glass sunroof ($900) replaces the Skyview roof with a conventional power-opening glass sunroof.
The Elite Package for the SE ($4,600) and SL ($1,750) replaces the rear bench seat into two heated bucket seats with the center console extending the full length of the interior; the package includes everything from the Driver Preferred Package, a power rear sunshade with front and rear controls, auto up/down rear windows, and an extra rear 12v power outlet.
SE can be upgraded to SL levels of equipment. SE options include the Premium Audio Package ($1,000) with the Bose system; a Sensory Package ($2,350) that includes the Premium Audio Package plus leather-appointed seats, a four-way power passenger seat, heated front seats and mirrors, and a compass; a Driver Preferred Package ($3,650) that combines the Sensory Package with a rear spoiler, memory driver's seat with power lumbar support, power tilt/telescopic heated steering wheel with memory, auto-dimming outside mirrors with memory, xenon HID headlights, and a feature that power-retracts the driver's seat all the way back to ease entry and exit.
Nissan Maxima has a chiseled, muscular shape with pronounced character lines. It's aerodynamic and modern and yet architecturally Art Deco, like some Flash Gordon fantasy of yesterday's tomorrow.
This is especially true at the front end, where a rounded-rectangle texture (anyone remember the '58 Buick?) fills in the twin nostrils in Nissan's signature grille, split by a dark chrome medallion at the center. The aerodynamically integrated headlight clusters wrap over the top and around at the sides.
Big, round fender openings accented by flattened wheel lips pay homage to enormous alloy wheels: 18-inch, six-spoke units on the SE, with 17-inch, seven-spoke wheels on the SL. The relatively open wheel design shows off the brake calipers nicely, so for 2005 they are painted black.
The Maxima's rear roof slopes into the trunk lid with buttresses; and two large triangular taillight clusters, like the headlights, wrap around to the sides of the car.
Maxima's bold design innovations include the Skyview roof, a glass panel running lengthwise over the front and rear seats.
The interior of the Maxima is innovative and comfortable. The seats in the SL look nice and are supportive and luxurious at the same time: You dream of all-day interstate cruises across the West in seats like these. The seats in the SL are firm yet pillowy, wide without a lot of side bolstering. In front of the driver are three small gauges set in their own pod, like those on a motorcycle.
We like the details of the Maxima's interior, specifically the light colors and the proximity of the switches and controls to the driver. However, the labels for the climate and audio controls is too small to be easily read, and it seems like a lot of buttons for the audio system and trip computer. The display is hard to read in bright sunlight with polarized sunglasses. The Maxima's steering wheel is familiar Nissan issue, functional though not beautiful; it tilts and telescopes.
The metallic trim in Maxima's interior wears a new, warmer titanium tone for 2005. Still, we didn't care for the large, flat splash of trim on the center stack, neither the titanium-colored plastic in the SE nor the faux wood on the SL. It seems like wasted space. Also, there's a lot of dashboard area that stretches way out to the leading edge of the windshield.
Seated in the back of a four-seater Maxima with the Elite Package, you get the feeling you're in the passenger seat of a sports car. With the narrow fixed roof window above your head, you don't feel like you've been relegated to the kid seats while the folks in the front seats enjoy all the luxuries. Nissan says it found a lot of people rarely open their sunroofs. Still, a conventional sunroof over the front seats is available for those who prefer it.
Nissan offers a choice of XM or Sirius satellite radio. Satellite radio can be great companion on long trips, delivering CD-quality sound nearly everywhere. Not having to change stations on a cross-country trip has distinct advantages and we enjoy being able to keep up by listening to the 24-hour news stations. Finding stations is easy with RDS (radio data system), which clearly identifies programming on the radio's display.
Three cargo nets are provided in the trunk and work better than most for holding down a load of groceries.
The Nissan Maxima SE rides smoothly and quietly, even on bad pavement. You really need to have a sensitive backside to prefer the slightly softer ride of the SL. Both models handled bumps well, a benefit of the Maxima's independent multi-link rear suspension. The SE feels more connected to the road than the SL.
Cruising on the highway is effortless. The 3.5-liter V6 develops 265 horsepower and pulls strongly in passing situations. Both the six-speed manual and the five-speed automatic transmissions are well-matched to the smoothly revving 3.5-liter V6. The engine has such a broad power band that the Maxima is happy being either a high-revving hard-charger or a boulevard loafer. You can keep the engine at high revs to extract the most acceleration on challenging roads, or you can lug it along at a cruising pace without concern.
We prefer the automatic. The six-speed manual shifter feels tall and has a lot of extra movement when compared to that of the Nissan 350Z. It seems balky initially and the first-to-second shift requires good timing, but once you get used to it the gates are easy to select. Clutch pedal travel is also notably long. That means manual-shift devotees will be doing a lot of aerobics while they drive. Nissan expects fewer than 10 percent of Maximas will be sold with the manual gearbox.
We drove the Maxima quickly on twisty canyon roads around Mount Palomar in Southern California. Its limits are very high, but it feels noticeably bigger and more ponderous than the lighter Altima. The steering is accurate, though it seems light and slow. Body roll is minimal, but turn-in is slow and the Maxima feels prone to understeer initially. Accelerating out of corners, there's no wheelspin but there is some torque steer, a slight tugging sensation at the steering wheel.
The Nissan Maxima has become more indulgently luxurious. The Maxima offers innovative styling and interior features. Its engine is powerful and its ride is smooth and quiet.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Phil Berg is based in Michigan.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Nissan 3.5 SE ($27,200); 3.5 SL ($29,450) |
|265-hp 3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6 |
|five-speed automatic; six-speed manual |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), traction control; front dual-stage airbags, front side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, front active head restraints, front seatbelt pretensioners |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|VDC electronic stability control |
|Basic warranty: |
|5 years/60,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Smyrna, Tennessee |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Nissan Maxima SE ($27,200) |
|Standard equipment: |
|power mirrors, windows and driver's seat; remote keyless entry; 240-watt AM/FM/CD with steering wheel controls, trip computer; dual-zone climate control; garage and universal garage door transmitter |
|Options as tested: |
|Driver Preferred Package ($3,650) includes 320-watt Bose AM/FM/6CD stereo with eight speakers, RDS, speed-sensitive volume, and steering-wheel controls; leather-appointed seats; a four-way power passenger seat; heated front seats and mirrors; memory and lumbar support for driver's seat; compass; rear spoiler; power tilt/telescopic heated steering wheel with memory; auto-dimming outside memory mirrors; xenon HID headlights |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|front-wheel drive |
|3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|265 @ 5800 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|255 @ 4400 |
|six-speed manual |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|20/29 mpg. |
|111.2 in. |
|193.5/71.7/58.3 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|61.0/61.2 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|40.0 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|40.1/53.5/43.9 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|37.3/54.8/36.5 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|15.5 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|1000 lbs. |
|Suspension F: |
|independent, MacPherson struts, lower control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar |
|Suspension R: |
|independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar |
|Ground clearance: |
|5.5 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|3485 lbs. |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc with ABS, EBD, brake assist in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|20.0 gal. |