2003 Nissan Maxima SE; photo by Laurance Yap. Click image to enlarge
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Nissan Maxima, 2000-2003
Like many car nuts, I’ve long had a soft spot for the fourth-generation Nissan Maxima. It looks good, drives nicely and is a fun way to move yourself and four friends around.
So I, like many of the other aforementioned car nuts, was a little dismayed by what Nissan did to the styling of the subsequent, fifth-generation – sold from 2000 through 2003 – model’s styling: the look wasn’t that much of a departure, but it was just weird enough to turn off a few people.
Thankfully, they didn’t mess with the rest of the formula. The fifth generation Maxima was still a four-door, six-cylinder sport sedan, and in my opinion, its only weakness was that it didn’t route the engine’s power through the rear wheels.
The 2000 Maxima was powered by a revised version of the 3.0-litre V6 found in the previous generation, tweaked to make a little more horsepower (222 versus 190; 2001 SE models had 227 horsepower). In 2002, the 3.0-litre engine was ditched for the new 3.5-litre V6 that would become Nissan’s V6 of choice for several years. The larger motor made 255 horsepower.
2000 Nissan Maxima GLE. Click image to enlarge
In 2000 and 2001, a five-speed manual transmission was the base choice in GXE and SE models, while the GLE used a four-speed automatic that was optional in the lesser versions. In 2002, transmission options changed, with the four-speed auto becoming the standard (and only) choice in GXE and GLE models, with the sportier SE getting a six-speed manual.
With a manual transmission, 3.0-litre Maximas earned EnerGuide fuel consumption ratings of 10.9/7.9 L/100 km (city/highway); automatic cars used about 10 per cent more fuel in city driving, while the highway rating is unchanged.
Later model year cars with the larger engine use a little more fuel, but the difference isn’t dramatic: 11.2/7.7 for manual transmission cars, and 12.1/8.2 for those with the automatic.
As with many more recent Nissan models, the fifth-generation car is typically less reliable than the car it replaced. Where pre-2000 cars earned an “above-average” used car rating from Consumer Reports, the 2000-2003 models were only “average”.
2000 Nissan Maxima GLE (top); 2002 Nissan Maxima SE. Click image to enlarge
CR cites the fuel and electrical systems as key culprits, and the exhaust and brake systems appear suspect, as well. The 3.5-litre engine seems to be the source of minor engine troubles; this isn’t the first Nissan product that was more reliable before this engine came along.
The 3.5-litre’s main issue is oil burning due to bad piston rings, something that apparently affects newer Nissan and Infiniti products, too.
Some posters in this thread at Maxima.org say the six-speed transmission suffers from notchy shifting moving from first to second and second to third, problems that weren’t common with the older 3.0-litre cars.
There’s a suggestion in that thread that oxygen sensors and catalytic converters are problematic, much as they tend to be in the 2002-2006 Altima.
The blower (fan) motor in the HVAC system is a common fault, too, says another forum member.
In terms of less serious issues, sound system troubles are fairly common, too.
The Maxima earned an “acceptable” crash safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which cited leg injuries as the main reasons for the so-so result. The IIHS didn’t conduct side impact tests.
2000 Nissan Maxima GXE. Click image to enlarge
A 2000 Maxima tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earned four stars (of a possible five) all around in frontal and side impact testing. Their test vehicle included side airbags, which were an option in Canada. In 2002, side airbags became standard on all by the base GLE model, and 2003 Maximas included them as standard across the line.
According to the Canadian Red Book, used values start at a low of $6,800 (2000 GXE) and range to a high of $11,025 for a 2003 GLE model. My choice here would be a 2000 or 2001 model, preferably in GXE or SE trim, simply because they used a manual transmission – a natural fit for a powerful sport sedan like this.
The fifth generation Maxima is a nice car, no doubt, but the previous generation’s superior overall reliability make it a better choice.
Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) October 2008:
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Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003267; Units affected: 74,143
2001-2003: On certain vehicles, the circuit board for the crank position sensor may have an improper solder joint. This could cause the Service Engine Soon warning light to come on, create a no start condition, cause reduced engine power, or cause the engine to stop running without warning during vehicle operation. Correction: Dealers will replace the crankshaft position sensor and both camshaft position sensors.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002088; Units affected: 4,800
2002: On certain vehicles the pin at the inboard end of the front lower control arm may break. This may result in difficulty in directional control and tire contact with the inner fender. Correction: Dealers will replace the front control arms.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002022; Units affected: 2,851
2002: Certain passenger vehicles equipped with an electronic throttle control system. The stopper for the accelerator pedal will prevent excessive movement of the accelerator position sensor. If the driver applies overly excessive force to the accelerator pedal while at the same time pushing it to the right, the pedal can “over travel” due to the design of the pedal stopper. This will cause the engine malfunction indicator lamp to come on and the engine speed to be severely limited. If this occurs unexpectedly, it could lead to a crash. Correction: Dealers will install a new accelerator pedal stopper.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
For more Used Vehicle Reviews by Chris Chase,.