Photo: Laurance Yap, Click image to enlarge
by Paul Williams
photos by Paul Williams and Laurance Yap
Los Angeles, California – Peeling around corners in an orange 2004 Maxima is a great way to test the new Nissan’s handling, and its looks. But as well as improved handling and the snazzy Radiant Ember colour, the latest Maxima takes a step firmly into the near-luxury segment.
“It’s for people who are looking for something that stands out – a reward for their efforts – but priced so that it’s still attainable,” said Ian Forsyth, Marketing Director of Nissan Canada.
Indeed it does stand out. The sixth generation Maxima is new from stem to stern, and is clearly the most athletic Maxima ever. For the first time, Maxima will be assembled in the United States at Nissan’s manufacturing facility in Smyrna, Tennessee.
The 2004 Maxima gains 5 cm in length and 2.5 cm in wheelbase over the Altima, its now-smaller sibling. Passenger volume remains virtually the same between the two cars, however.
As the flagship sedan, the Maxima is intended to incorporate the most advanced technology and provide an enthusiastic driving experience. Nissan describes it as a premium four-door sports car.
There are three models, each offering a specific qualities and features. The 3.5 SE five-seat is the performance-oriented model. It’s available with a six-speed manual transmission and optional limited slip differential, or a five-speed automatic.
The 3.5 SE four-seat is a variation of this model. A large console separates the rear seats in this car. Both 3.5 SE versions feature metallic-look interior trim panels.
The 3.5 SL is the luxury-oriented model. It arrives with a four-speed automatic transmission, and wood trim.
Externally the car borrows some features from the 350Z. The shape of the lights, front and rear, is reminiscent of the sporty Nissan coupe, as are the sculpted fender openings. The two character lines down the hood also, “Bring a certain amount of ‘Z-ness’ to the car,” as Mr. Forsyth puts it.
All Maximas now feature a unique “Skyview” roof. This consists of two glass panels in the middle of the roof that extend from the front to the rear windshield. There are sliding panels inside that can be used to block the light when desired. Neither of these glass panels opens, although a conventional sunroof can be specified for the front-seat occupants.
For the past couple of generations, an appealing tail-end treatment has seemingly eluded the Maxima, but this is no longer the case. Taillights, trunk, rear glass and bumper are now integrated into a pleasing whole. The C-pillars blend into the rear deck to suggest a coupe-like profile. An attractive, and functional, finishing touch is the quad exhaust tips,
standard on all models.
Ironically, it’s the front that may now receive some criticism. The grille is bold by design, but the large, centrally located Nissan escutcheon takes up fully a quarter of it. Owners will be kept busy cleaning the 48 chrome inserts. The grille will serve to quickly identify the car, however.
On the road the Maxima is stable and fast. It’s now equipped with a six-link rear independent suspension that noticeably increases stability on uneven pavement and sharp corners. The 3.5 SE receives a performance-tuned suspension while the 3.5 SL is equipped with a version tuned for luxury. Both models receive stabilizer bars front and rear.
All models are supplied with Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre DOHC V6, now up to 265 horsepower, and 255 lb.-ft torque in the Maxima. The smooth engine delivers significant punch when asked. Anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution, and Brake Assist (which senses panic stops and maximizes braking capacity) are standard.
Also standard is traction control for Maximas with automatic transmission. A sophisticated Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system is standard on the 3.5 SL, 3.5 SE four-seat with automatic, and part of a leather package on the SE 5-seat with automatic.
The automatic transmissions do differ between the 3.5 SE and 3.5 SL, with the former receiving a five-speed and the latter equipped with a four-speed. The five-speed automatic is quick to respond in manual-shift mode. The four-speed automatic is described as offering smooth shifting and a luxurious feel.
Inside, the dashboard is fully redesigned and acquires a family resemblance to other Nissan (and Infiniti) products. The entire facia appears to “float” in front of a cowl that flows into the door panels. The carpets, fabrics and leathers look and feel expensive, but some of the hard plastic items are easily marked and comparatively fragile.
Gauges are housed in a sporty three-pod cluster. The three-spoke steering wheel is now a standard Nissan feature. The buttons that control the cruise and audio controls are thankfully distinguishable by touch.
Seating is comfortable and supportive, generous even, with 8-way power standard for the driver. The steering column features tilt and telescope functions (power for leather-equipped cars) that complement the extensive adjustability of the seat.
A 320-watt Bose sound system with eight speakers and a six-disc in-dash CD changer supplies the tunes. All settings for it are shown on a central information display, as are the settings for air conditioning and heating. A navigation system is optional.
Nissan research suggests the target buyer for the new Maxima enjoys driving, is a discerning person, mature with a youthful spirit. According to Mr. Forsyth, the new Maxima is, “A car that offers the very best that Nissan has to offer.”
Prices haven’t been announced, but it’s expected to range between the mid-$30,000s and low-$40,000s. The 2004 Maxima will go on sale in April, 2003.