Nissan Maxima offers distinctive styling, a sophisticated personality, and above-par performance. Straddling the line between mid-size sedan and a near-luxury sport sedan, it's a car designed for auto aficionados who appreciate something different. Something other than a Camry or Accord, for example. The Maxima is a more specialized product than the Altima midsize sedan with a daring design that looks weird from some angles, but we like its quirky looks and innovative design, as well as its focus on performance.
Buyers can choose between the more responsive SE and the softer SL. Either way, cruising on the highway is effortless with Nissan's 265-horsepower V6.
Both models are stuffed with luxury features. The refined cabin is innovative and comfortable with supportive, luxurious seats. The interesting Skyview roof, a standard 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, another feature seen primarily on futuristic concept cars. Together, the bucket seats and Skyview roof make back-seat riders feel more like first-class passengers and less like coach-class cattle. Granted, the Maxima is not as family-friendly as the Altima, particularly with the optional four-bucket-seat interior, but that's not a problem for people who don't have children.
Safety features include a sophisticated traction control system that comes standard. The navigation system interface has been improved for 2006, and Bluetooth and satellite radio are now available.
The Nissan Maxima is a four-door sedan with a V6 engine and front-wheel drive. The 2006 edition comes in two distinct flavors: the sporty 3.5 SE and the more luxuriously equipped 3.5 SL.
SE ($27,750) comes with a sports suspension, traction control, and 18-inch wheels and tires. It offers the choice of six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic (for the same price). It comes standard with cloth upholstery and metallic interior accents. Otherwise, it comes standard with all the conveniences you'd expect in a top-end mid-size sedan.
SL ($30,000) comes with the five-speed automatic, a softer suspension and 17-inch wheels and tires. Leather upholstery, woodgrain trim, 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.
The Skyview roof comes standard on both SE and SL. A conventional power glass sunroof ($900) is also available.
Options let buyers upgrade an SE to SL-level luxury. SE options include the Bose Premium Audio Package ($1,000); a Sensory Package ($2,350) that combines the Bose audio with leather-appointed heated seats, a four-way power passenger seat, heated 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 when you open the door to ease entry and exit.
The Elite Package, available for both the SE ($4,600) and SL ($1,750), replaces the rear bench seat with two heated bucket seats and a center console extending the full length of the interior. This option also includes everything from the Driver Preferred Package, plus a power rear sunshade with front and rear controls, auto up/down rear windows, and an extra rear 12-volt power outlet.
Options for both SE and SL include a DVD navigation system with seven-inch color LCD display ($1,800); XM or Sirius satellite radio ($350); Vehicle Dynamic Control ($600). New for 2006 is a Bluetooth hands-free phone system ($300).
The Nissan Maxima features a chiseled, muscular body 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 fills in the twin nostrils in Nissan's signature grille, split by a dark chrome medallion at the center, with aerodynamically integrated headlight clusters wrapping 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; 17-inch, seven-spoke on the SL. The relatively open wheel design shows off the black-painted brake calipers nicely.
The Maxima's rear roof slopes into the trunk lid flanked by buttress-like sail panels. 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 feel 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.
The Maxima's steering wheel is familiar Nissan issue, functional but not beautiful. It tilts and telescopes, and for 2006 the redundant controls on the wheel are illuminated. In front of the driver are three small gauges set in their own pod, like those on a motorcycle.
We like many of 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 systems are too small to be easily read, and the audio and trip computer seem to have more buttons than they should need. The display is hard to read in bright sunlight with polarized sunglasses.
We didn't care, either, 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.
When seated in the back of a four-seat Maxima with the Elite Package, you get the feeling you're in the passenger seat of a two-seat sports car. With the narrow Skyview window above your head, you don't feel like you've been relegated to the kid seats while the adults up front enjoy all the luxuries. The Skyview window does not open, but Nissan says it found a lot of people rarely open their sunroofs. We're among them. For those who prefer it, a conventional sunroof over the front seats is available.
Nissan offers a choice of XM or Sirius satellite radio, both factory-installed for 2006. 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. Being news hounds, we enjoy being able to keep up on current events with the 24-hour TV news stations, such as CNN or Fox News. 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. We preferred the SE over the slightly softer ride of the SL because it felt more connected to the road. Both models handled bumps well, a benefit of the independent multi-link rear suspension.
Cruising on the highway is effortless in the Maxima. The 3.5-liter V6 develops 265 horsepower and pulls strongly in passing situations. The V6 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. It's a great engine, and is considered one of the best V6s available from anyone.
Both the six-speed manual and the five-speed automatic transmissions are well-matched to the smoothly revving engine. We prefer the automatic. The shifter on the six-speed manual feels tall. Ours seemed balky initially and the first-to-second shift required good timing, but once we got used to it the gates were easy to select. Clutch pedal travel was notably long as well, so you'll be working that left leg in heavy traffic. For these reasons and others, most people choose the automatic. And we think they're right.
We drove the Maxima down some winding canyon roads and found it handles very well with high grip limits. The Maxima does feel noticeably bigger and more ponderous than the lighter Altima, however. The Maxima and Altima share basic structures, but the Maxima weighs more. The steering is accurate, though it seems light and slow. Body roll is minimal, meaning it doesn't lean much in corners. But turn-in is slow, so when you come into a high-speed turn and turn the steering wheel the car is relatively slow to respond. Charge into a corner past the grip of the tires and the car understeers initially. Coming out of the corners, the Maxima doesn't spin the wheels, which is a good thing, but there is some torque steer, a slight tugging sensation at the steering wheel.
Overall, the Maxima feels like a sporty sedan that's enjoyable to drive.
The Nissan Maxima is individualistic and indulgently luxurious, with innovative styling and interior features. Its engine is powerful and its ride is smooth and quiet.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Phil Berg filed this report from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Nissan 3.5 SE ($27,750); 3.5 SL ($30,000) |
|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 ($27,750) |
|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, heated front seats and mirrors, a four-way power passenger seat, 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. |