When Nissan redesigned the Maxima for 1995, it nabbed several honors and asserted itself as a tiger in the midsized sedan class. For 1996, the Nissan Maxima got a larger cupholder, two new exterior colors and a power seat on the passenger's side.
The 1995 redesign was prompted by a desire to broaden appeal beyond the sports-car enthusiast segment.
Nissan definitely succeeded on that front by modifying the body design in a way that downplayed the sportier looks of the previous Maxima. While the more rounded body design drew some yawns from the more sportily inclined, the new Maxima scored big among family-sedan buyers.
But if the appearance of the fourth-generation Maxima does not make the heart of performance enthusiasts go pitter-patter, all is forgiven once they get behind the wheel. Nissan chose a wise strategy. If the redesigned Maxima may look more conservative than its antecedents, it actually packs more power.
Therein lies the genius of the redesigned Maxima: Road-burning acceleration in a quieter, roomier and smoother-riding 4-door sedan.
The Maxima comes in three models: The entry-line GXE, the sport-equipped SE and the luxury-line GLE. Our test model SE was granite pearl in color, that is a deep gray to you and me, and sported a base sticker price of $22,679.
Standard equipment on the GXE includes air conditioning; cruise control; stereo cassette player; tilt steering wheel and power seats, windows, door locks and mirrors.
SE included such standard equipment features as sport-tuned suspension; liquid-controlled front suspension (on models with automatic transmission); alloy wheels; rear-deck spoiler; front fog lamps; sport velour seat cloth; leather-wrapped steering wheel and black-on-white analog gauges.
The upline GLE offers such additional standard amenities as woodgrain trim; automatic transmission; 8-way power driver's seat and 4-way passenger seat; automatic climate control; keyless remote entry system and Bose CD audio system.
Our SE came with nearly $4000 worth of options. They included: antilock brakes ($999); power sunroof ($899); Bose audio system with CD player and six speakers ($799); the security and convenience package--which includes power driver's seat, keyless remote, intermittent wipers and illuminated vanity mirrors ($699)--and a cold-weather package that includes a heavy duty battery, heated front seats and heated outside mirrors ($199). That brought the total suggested retail price up to $26,274, and Nissan's standard destination charge adds another $405.
Again, the latest Maxima's styling is a little more subdued than the previous generation, marketed as the 4-door sports car. But the Maxima is designed with a different buyer in mind, the one who is currently in a Ford Taurus or Honda Accord and might be looking for a change.
Although this is still a lean, purposeful shape, the back end appears to have been chopped off a tad early, the shapes of the grille and the lower air intake below appear visually incongruent with one another. The mirror housings, recessed door handles and slender side moldings are stylishly body-colored.
If you happen to be following along behind a Maxima, you will not have any trouble discerning what model it is: The word Maxima is emblazoned in bigger-than-average chrome letters across the trunk. The taillights are square and generously proportioned for easy visibility.
When it made the commitment to giving the Maxima a big tent appeal, that is, to include more conservative and less sport-minded buyers, it expanded the interior space to accommodate kids, dogs and rollerblades. That's especially true in the rear seat, where previous editions were a bit cramped.
The front compartment provides plenty of head and legroom, even for taller drivers. The front bucket seats, which are swathed in smart-looking gray-velour coverings, are comfy and supportive. The interior of our test car was done in a monochromatic three shades of gray decor that is quite handsome. In addition to two small cupholders for styrofoam cups of java, a new, larger holder has been added for ceramic mugs and such, and it is notched to accommodate the cuphandle.
In the SE the gauges are niftily designed so that, during the day, the dials are marked by black-outlined gray digits on a white background. But at night, they miraculously mutate into a white-on-black design for greater visibility.
The switches and dials are cleverly located to allow the driver to spot everything without having to lean forward and peer under or over the steering wheel.
Though the cruise control on-off switch is still on the instrument panel, the system can be operated via the buttons on the lower-right quadrant of the steering wheel, instead of diddling with stalk-mounted switches.
The Maxima claims to seat five. But, as with most vehicles that make such a claim, the fifth person had better be short, featherlight and skinny-hipped, because she or he is going to be sitting over a hump in the floor, with a fold-down armrest for back support.
Lurking beneath the Maxima's demure body design is the soul of a predator. When Nissan designers redesigned the Maxima, they built the engine--a 190-hp 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam 24-valve V6--from lighter aluminum alloy, allowing the the Maxima to shed 100 lbs., down to 3010 lbs. They also tweaked the engine's electronic controls. The result? A heart-stopping time of 6.7 seconds in the zero-to-60 sprint for the Maxima SE. That's quicker than any other Japanese sedan sold on these shores--including the ones with 8-cylinder engines. It's also faster than the Taurus SHO.
But buyers of 4-door sedans are more interested in the car's performance in freeway passing situations or emergency maneuvers than stoplight acceleration. And the Maxima SE is similarly brisk in freeway traffic, pulling smartly ahead of the crowd when it needs to.
The SE is equipped with Nissan's patented Multi-Link Beam suspension. By minimizing camber change, this new system provides precise handling and stability during cornering. Though its maximum performance limits aren't quite as high as the previous system, it's more compact, improving interior space, and cheaper to manufacture.
The reduction in camber change also means that softer bushings and shocks can be used, thereby reducing suspension friction. That translates into a smoother, softer ride.
Some sport-driving enthusiasts have indeed found the overall ride and handling to be too soft, at least in comparison to the previous edition of the Maxima. However, that is not as much a problem with the sport-tuned SE. In any case, the average driver will likely welcome the trade-off of road feel for softer ride.
The 5-speed manual transmission responded obediently, meshing nicely with the potent V6 engine. Steering was sure and responsive for the most part, although in really hard corners the Maxima's rear end seemed to lag behind the front end, a more or less universal front-drive trait known as understeer. But another trait that commonly goes with front-drive understeer is absolute predictability, ease off the throttle and the nose of the car tucks back on line.
When the cruise control was engaged at 65 mph, the Maxima purred along at a quiet 3300 rpm. Nissan designers have also reduced noise and vibration levels at higher speeds, another plus in the mainstream midsize market.
Initially, the power-assisted antilock brakes seemed a bit grabby. But, halfway through our test drive, rain began to fall. And on a wet surface, the brakes rose to the occasion, providing straight, assured stops every time.
It's a crowded car market out there. During the gestation of the new Maxima, Nissan knew there was more gold to be had in the midsize sedan market, in spite of the world-beating sales numbers posted by the Taurus and Accord in the last few years.
By repositioning the Maxima, Nissan has clearly made inroads into that market, offering Accord and Taurus buyers a speedier, more nimble alternative in the process. Although the sports car imagery has been discarded, this is still a 4-door family sedan that will leave most of its rivals in the dust.
Build and price your dream Nissan Maxima in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2013 Nissan Maxima$19,494 | 37,096 mi
2013 Nissan Maxima$20,998 | 35,970 mi
2013 Nissan Maxima$23,995 | 27,701 mi
2013 Nissan Maxima$25,971 | 2,594 mi
2013 Nissan Maxima$27,990 | 17,668 mi
2012 Nissan Maxima$17,495 | 55,975 mi
2012 Nissan Maxima$17,500 | 32,312 mi
2012 Nissan Maxima$17,920 | 36,712 mi
2012 Nissan Maxima$21,977 | 31,689 mi
2012 NISSAN MAXIMA$22,990 | 11,459 mi
2012 Nissan Maxima$25,497 | 34,232 mi
2012 Nissan Maxima$26,000 | 27,529 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$19,997 | 73,389 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$21,600 | 27,887 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$21,750 | 21,988 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$21,785 | 11,411 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$23,479 | 36,334 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$23,950 | 20,346 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$25,650 | 25,534 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$25,991 | 27,714 mi
2011 Nissan Maxima$26,995 | 31,568 mi
2010 Nissan Maxima$20,335 | 60,289 mi
2009 Nissan Maxima$20,998 | 40,143 mi
2004 Nissan Maxima$5,990 | 191,165 mi
2003 Nissan Maxima$7,695 | 155,040 mi
2002 Nissan Maxima$7,495 | 141,916 mi
2002 Nissan Maxima$8,999 | 114,881 mi
1996 Nissan Maxima$3,999 | 142,000 mi